Providing Transformative Experiences through Student Engagement
Written by Vicki Jackson, PhD, Associate Professor, Biology —
One of my favorite things about being a professor is working with students to find opportunities for them to gain not only content knowledge and skills but also “soft skills”. Soft skills are those like communication skills, work ethic, and positive attitudes that will allow them to be successful no matter what career they pursue upon graduation. Scientists tend to focus on hard skill and knowledge acquisition in class and research; it is within our student organizations that we can provide opportunities to go beyond class room and laboratory experiences.
I have been the adviser of a university student chapter of The Wildlife Society since I began teaching in 2002. I helped initiate a chapter at the University of Central Missouri and watched it grow to one of the most active chapters in the state. I moved to the University of Central Oklahoma in 2015 and helped the Wildlife Club apply for recognition as an official Wildlife Society Chapter. I continue work with my colleagues and our students to provide seminar, workshop, and outreach opportunities to anyone who is interested in wildlife and natural resources.
When you can establish a community of active, engaged students who are working towards their professional goals or just exploring something that interests them, you can make life-long changes to the way they perceive themselves as a part of, rather than outside, nature. Not only do you get to help them explore but you also can allow them to lead the journey. All of our outreach and activities are student-led and driven by what they are interested in knowing more about. Faculty serve as mentors and motivators, helping when needed but not dictating the agenda.
When you can establish a community of active, engaged students who are working towards their professional goals or just exploring something that interests them, you can make life-long changes to the way they perceive themselves as a part of, rather than outside, nature.
There are many opportunities to grow as a member of an organization. Growth can be as simple as learning what sorts of jobs and research opportunities exist to something more complex as networking and time management skills necessary to run an organization. What the member gets out of their participation is directly related to what they put into it; officers often get transformed by the experience as they learn how much time and energy it takes to organize meetings, seminars, and outreach events; as well as the business aspects of running an organization (meticulous paper work and active communication). Members will at the very least be exposed to a variety of opportunities that exist to further engage their interests. All the members get access to a community of like-minded people who can be great resources of help and support.
How has UCO TWS transformed you? Quotes from members:
Theron: By providing us with information about upcoming work and possible research opportunities that we probably wouldn’t otherwise hear about.
Linda: Have loved hearing about research done both locally and internationally. Where else can I hear seminars on whale research at one meeting then at another bird research in the South American tropics without leaving my office building!
Jane: As an officer I have had a chance to practice my people and marketing skills and have come to realize I am sorely lacking. I now know that I have a lot to work on in that area and that improvement will help me with my leadership skills and help me as a future teacher.