Interview with Two Members of the Office of Student Engagement

There are a number of new faces in the Office of the Dean of Students, and because that office touches (directly or indirectly) so many of our students, I thought it might be good to sit down with some of them and interview them for the Daily Deac.  So I met with Tim Wilkinson and Betsy Adams in the Student Engagement office last week.

Wake Forest faculty and staff headshots, Tuesday, August 11, 2015. Tim Wilkinson.

Wake Forest Campus Life staff member Tim Wilkinson.

Tim Wilkinson is the associate dean for student engagement.  His most recent position was at Lehigh University, where he was senior assistant dean of students/director of fraternity and sorority affairs. Tim just won an award from the Association of Fraternity/Sorority Advisors, which will be bestowed this December.  (He’s also the proud father of a new baby, Liam, and is not afraid to show you videos of his cuteness).

Wake Forest student life staff member Betsy Adams, Thursday, October 1, 2015.

Wake Forest Campus Life staff member Betsy Adams.

Betsy Adams is the director for fraternity and sorority life, reporting to Tim.  Betsy comes to us from the University of Florida, where she was the program coordinator for sorority and fraternity affairs and the advisor for the Multicultural Greek Council and the Panhellenic Council.

Q:  What does your office do?

Tim:  Every student at Wake Forest should have their niche, should be able to figure out what excites them about Wake Forest.  When a student leaves Wake, we hope he or she can look back on at least one experience for which they felt great passion and energy.  It’s our job to help give every student the opportunity to find ways to get involved in campus in a meaningful way.

Q: How does your office interact with students?

Tim:  There are lots of approaches. We work with student organizations to make sure they feel supported and have resources they need to be successful.  We work with student leaders, and administer the Student Activities Fee and try to bring activities to campus that will appeal to students.

Betsy: When student organizations have challenges – if something doesn’t go well, or if they don’t know how to make an event successful – we support them through those challenges to help them see not just the way to move forward, but how to see the challenge as a learning opportunity.  We also work with students who just come to our office for some mentoring and help in finding that niche on campus.

Tim:  We also work with the Student Government Association, Student Union, all student organizations including Greek Life – and there are 150+ groups – as well as CHARGE and other student leadership programs.  Pretty much if it touches students and it isn’t academics or residence life, it comes through our office in some way.  So if a student wants to get involved, start a new group, or make their existing organization more effective, we’re the place to begin.

Q: What does the term “student engagement” mean?

Tim: It’s students’ sense of belonging.  That to me means finding your niche, and how that niche helped you figure out who you are as a person, but also how you -as an individual – fit in to our campus community.

Betsy: Student engagement gives students the chance to take the things they are learning in the classroom and apply them to real life.  Extracurricular activities and events provide a safe learning environment to get some practical knowledge.  For example, maybe you are an Accounting major and that’s your classroom focus.  Outside the classroom maybe you are the Treasurer of your student organization and you are able to apply your accounting knowledge to managing the budget for your group.  You have the room for trial and error in a safe place, so you can learn practical skills here that will help you in future jobs or volunteer roles.

Q: What does healthy or appropriate student engagement look like (or not look like)?

Tim: One of the things we want to do is help students understand the normal ups and downs of college (and life itself).  So many of our students always do so well in everything – and then when it goes wrong, they feel like it is a terrible thing.  We’re here in part to help when things go wrong – to help students see the other side of it and see how sometimes the tough times help you grow the most.

Student engagement can also be about harm reduction (how to make good decisions among complex choices), or how to help students be more productive by focusing on the positive learning aspects of situations they are in – and knowing what they might do differently next time.  In conduct cases, we can talk through students’ experiences and help them see where they can grow and learn.

Betsy: Ideal student engagement is when students are doing things they are passionate about and really enjoy.  Not just doing things for a resume builder, but things that really energize and motivate you.  Healthy student engagement is also helping students realize that there are many different roles they can play in individual organizations on campus (or in general).  People can be leaders, or they can be regular members of a group.  High-achieving students sometimes think they have to be the face of everything, but they can play just as important a role in simply being a member of an organization.  We want to encourage students to try different roles and learn what feels best for them.

Tim: Sometimes healthy student engagement is mentoring or coaching students to step out of their comfort zone.  Say a student comes in and talks about how they don’t like this or that about a program or activity their organization is doing – but they don’t want to bring their concerns to the group.  We want to work with that student to say “you don’t like X, but you don’t want to talk about it to the people who need to hear that feedback.  Is this the best way to proceed?” and help coach them 1-on-1 about how they might approach the situation more effectively.

Betsy: Social currency is very important to students – not just at Wake, at any college.  It’s hard for a student to see another student doing something and say “I am not cool with the fact that you are doing X” – whether that is dangerous drinking behavior or whatever.  How can we help students get more comfortable about how to share concerns in an appropriate way so that our community can be the best it can be?

Tim: Campus Life as a whole is going to be working with what is called Bystander Intervention Training to help students learn how to express concerns and reduce harm.  This will be rolling out in the residence halls but also in other formal and informal ways.  More info to come.

Q: What are you bringing to your positions that might feel new or different to upperclassmen?

Tim: We want to provide greater transparency to students, so they understand what we are doing and why.  We also want to bring a strong infrastructure to our office – how can we improve the web site and support materials for students.

We also hope to bring a common language to campus around common themes in campus life, such as leadership.  Right now students experience leadership in many ways – could be on one of our official athletic teams, or a leadership role in a student organization, or in a performing group on campus.  We want students to be able to recognize their common, shared experiences across groups – so that people can relate better to each other no matter their niche on campus.  So it isn’t an ‘athletic thing’ or a ‘Greek thing’ or a ‘Student Government thing,’ but to see the commonality across groups and experiences.  Finally, we want to identify and help nourish the competencies that all Wake Forest students should learn before they leave Wake Forest.

Q: Where does Greek Life fit in at Wake Forest?

Betsy: Fraternity and sorority life provides one of the strongest leadership development opportunities for students when done the right way.  In addition to the fun and fellowship they might experience in Greek Life, Greek students can learn things like budgeting, program planning, event management, risk reduction.  Those are wonderful, real-world competencies that will serve students well for the rest of their lives.

We want to help Greek students relate their fraternity and sorority life experiences to the other ways they are involved on campus.  So students can take some of the strengths and competencies they have learned from their organization and bring those skills to other groups for their mutual benefit.

Q: What resources are there for students who are not Greek?

Tim: The most important thing to know is that we have a commitment to grow our student organizations.  We want to take existing, high-performing organizations and make them even better, as well as help the newer ones grow and flourish.  Our goal is to give all student organizations the support they need to be successful.

Betsy: That could entail having event planning meetings with groups to help coach and guide them on how to plan and execute the best events possible, giving them training and tools, and work with groups and student leaders 1-on-1 so they have a personal touch and know we are invested in helping them thrive.

Tim: Non-Greek students should also know there are many other experiences on campus for them to enjoy fun, social activities.  Student Union, Tuesday Trivia, events at The Barn sponsored by student organizations, campus movies, artistic events – just take a look at the Events calendar online and you’ll see many options.

Q: Anything else you want Daily Deac readers to know?

Tim:  I’d want them to know that everything that comes out of this office presents a potential learning and growth opportunity for their students – if the students are willing to be open to those opportunities.  Our office is about possibilities.


— by Betsy Chapman

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