Listening to Student Voice
Anyone who worked with the ACT office prior to the pandemic knows that large-scale programming was attention-grabbing for student participation, and often resulted in positive feedback from local community partners. The pandemic altered our ability to implement these programs in our prior format and gave the newly formed Community-Engaged Leadership (CEL) office an opportunity to evaluate the purpose of our programming with a new lens to ask questions like: 1) What are the actual needs of our community partners? 2) Are our service programs currently filling this need? and 3) What type of programming do our students want to be involved with? Two of our student leaders, Meredith Ingram and Brette Patillo were critical in helping us answer these questions. Meredith and Brette were some of the only student leaders who experienced both pre- and post-pandemic programming within our office, and used the skills they learned in their leadership positions to advocate for the continuation of programming they felt was critical to the student experience. Meredith and Brette specifically advocated to bring back Farm Day of Service by creating a proposal and communicating the value this prior initiative provided for both students and the community to their advisor. CEL prioritizes student input in every aspect of our work, and therefore supported the revival of the event. Farm Day was a huge success from both the student and community perspectives in April 2022. The success of this event, paired with prior takeaways from student leader focus group conversations, heavily influenced the new Days of Service model CEL will be implementing for the upcoming academic year. Students communicated they were not only interested in more direct service, but that they wanted the service opportunities we offer to be accessible and open for participation from all App State students year-round. Beginning in Fall 2022 CEL will host five days of service throughout the academic year to bring more students into the Watauga County community to complete service with local nonprofit partners, while deepening their understanding of social issues impacting Boone. CEL has worked hard to create a culture where students feel comfortable to share their opinions and hone their leadership skills to advocate for their communities. Meredith and Brette are living proof this model is working. We are excited for all of the possibilities that will come from continuing to listen to student voices as we navigate tying post-pandemic programming to our newly formed mission as Community-Engaged Leadership.