Student Engagement Network hosts its first University-wide summit

Sean Yoder
October 25, 2018

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Penn State faculty and staff from all campuses and a multitude of disciplines converged at the HUB-Robeson Center for a summit on student engagement.

The Student Engagement Network on Oct. 18 brought together 130 Penn State employees from a diverse range of backgrounds. It was a full day of sessions, from identifying the societal impact of student engagement to designing the scholarship of engagement.

This was the first summit through the Student Engagement Network, which has been spearheading the development of both opportunities for students as well as the scholarship surrounding engagement. During the evening prior to the summit, the network organized the Student Engagement Expo as a showcase and celebration of student engagement experiences, many of which were funded by the network’s grant program.

The summit, however, was focused on the roles of faculty, staff and the community in improving the experience of students in all forms of engagement. These forms include student organizations and clubs, study abroad experiences, research, community leadership and performances, among others. It allowed staff and faculty to mingle together, sharing how student engagement is different for each of them in their own respective sectors of the University.

At the opening of the summit, Student Engagement Network Director Mike Zeman touched on the decentralized nature of engagement. He called the summit an opportunity for all partners to continue building on “an engagement ecosystem.”

For a day at least, barriers proved porous at the summit, evident from a breakout session on building a toolbox for developing engagement resources. Caitlin Ting, director of the University Fellowships Office, was joined by Brian Patchcoski, director of the LGBTQA Student Resource Center. Both shared how they’ve seen engagement from their corners of Penn State.

Patchcoski encouraged the session attendees to not see students as only one-dimensional and to appreciate a person’s many facets. He explained the concept of polycultural engagement, saying it was about “the cultures that are coming together that are actively inspiring and creating new cultural experiences.”

“We can’t define what that interaction is going to be,” he said of the polycultural engagement framework. “They’re going to be fresh, they’re going to be new. They’re going to be different in every environment that we engage with folks in.”

Ting, who routinely advises students applying for fellowships, said no one size fits all for an interaction with a student and it was important for them to think about their own multiple perspectives and incorporate all of their background into their personal narrative.

“You can help them grow, you can give them a scaffold and work with them as they develop their problem-solving, their critical thinking, their decision-making skills,” Ting said.

She said students need to be able to identify the skills that are serving them in the different roles in their lives.

“They can then start to draw these connections,” she said. “Ultimately they can then apply it to new, novel settings.”

In that same session, representatives from World Campus, Wilkes-Barre, Scranton and Hazleton gathered at a table to talk about their campus environments and the nature of engagement activities there, be they in student or academic affairs or libraries.

On his way out of the summit, Rob Knight, coordinator of student engagement at Penn State Hazleton, said he’s now thinking about how to get more students engaged.

“Something I was thinking about now that I wasn’t thinking about before was how do we get in contact with students who are missing engagement opportunities?” he said. “Who are they? What are their demographics? What can we put in place to reach out to those students?”

Megan Mac Gregor is the student engagement and outreach librarian at Penn State Wilkes-Barre. She said she sees herself as a connector. The library collections are vast and wide, she explained, so she helps students become aware of what’s there and how librarians and other faculty and staff can help them.

As she left the HUB to return to Wilkes-Barre, Mac Gregor said she is now considering how the community fits into the student engagement experience.

“I’m thinking of the bigger picture, so the whole community aspect of student engagement, because I haven’t thought outside of that individual student contact of ‘How do we get you here, how do we get you engaged?’”

Zeman said the summit was a way to discuss the critical issues surrounding engagement.

“The Student Engagement Summit brought together faculty and staff from all campuses and was an incredible platform for conversation around our most pressing issues, such as assessment of learning and resource development,” he said. “The presenters and faculty academy members led the lightning-round discussions and have ignited new action steps that will scale and enrich student engagement moving forward.”

Alan Rieck, associate vice president and associate dean for Undergraduate Education, said he was excited by the wide draw.

“The most exciting part of the summit was the participation of a broad and diverse group from the University,” Rieck said. “There was a dedication to creating the best possible network for Penn State. The contributions in all of the sessions were dynamic and exciting.”

The Student Engagement Network is a joint initiative of Undergraduate Education, Student Affairs and Outreach and Online Education at Penn State. The mission of the Student Engagement Network is to advance the power of participation by connecting students with experiences that empower them to make a positive impact as citizens and leaders of the world.

For more information about the Student Engagement Network, visit engage.psu.edu or email engage@psu.edu.

Last Updated October 25, 2018