Story by Courtney Fishman
It’s been described as an expectation. Others refer to it as a culture. But regardless of the name, Drake University students feel pressured to get involved.
As a result of the competitive job market, students strive to out-busy one another. This trend also stems from high school involvement, and already busy students are eager to get involved at Drake.
This is true for first-year student Josh Duden, 19, of Shawnee, Kan., who participated in a range of 13 to 18 student organizations in high school each year.
“Since fifth grade I started getting super involved and it just got worse,” Duden said.
At Drake, Duden is the president of Stalnaker Hall, voting president for the Residence Hall Association, first-year marketing representative for the Student Activities Board, a member of the first-year interest committee and campus advancement committee of Student Senate, a member of the student alumni association, outreach chair for Sigma Phi Epsilon and vice president of marketing for the Interfraternity Council.
“One of the strange things I found here at Drake is that once I had one leadership opportunity it was really, really easy to find more leadership opportunities,” Duden said.
Duden, a politics, LPS and international relations triple major, started in two organizations, and the list grew from there.
“A lot of the time I feel like I am just the right balance because I always have something to do and there is always something going on,” Duden said. “I think it fulfills this Drake expectation but also this expectation that I’ve had for myself.”
Sophomore Grace Wenzel, 20, of Ottawa, Ill., notices the Drake expectation as well.
“When I came to college I didn’t want to be ‘that girl,’” Wenzel said. “You know to be crazy over involved, but I think it’s just the culture almost. It’s the climate of Drake to be involved in as many activities as possible.”
Wenzel scaled back to focus on organizations related to her majors: radio/TV broadcasting and English.
This summer will be her second summer as an orientation leader. Wenzel is also residence assistant, a producer of Dogtube, director of new member programming for Delta Gamma, a student ambassador and an intern at KCCI News Channel 8.
One challenge with high involvement is time management.
“I think that happens a lot that students get involved and then school takes a back burner,” Wenzel said. “I know it’s been like that for me, so I don’t know if that’s the healthiest thing.”
Director of Campus Programming Latasha Stiger agrees that students tend to get overcommitted.
“People need to make sure and understand what it means to truly be committed to organizations,” Stiger said. You don’t have to be in five to be a great leader. You can be in one organization and give it your all, and that’s all you need to do.”
So what are the benefits of being so involved?
“I think sometimes, for some students, they learn a little bit more about themselves,” said Dean of Students Sentwali Bakari. “They learn the ability to take on challenges and deal with stress and anxiety.”
Bakari said getting involved helps Drake’s retention rates.
“If they are doing something in addition to their academic class work they develop a sense of connection and belonging to the institution, and selfishly we feel it enhances retention,” Bakari said.
Bakari said that first-year students involved in a social fraternity or sorority have a retention rate of approximately 90 percent. The average retention rate for Drake is 71 percent.
In a 2007-2008 survey of student leadership, Drake ranked high as well.
“From the respondents we did find out that 92 percent of the students that took the survey was involved in at least one activity on campus,” Stiger said.
Drake’s active culture is what drew Student Body President Amanda Laurent, 22 of Minnetonka, Minn., to Drake, but she too has watched the competition in action.
“There’s good peer pressure and bad peer pressure,” Laurent said. “It’s almost a competition of who’s busier and that’s not how it should be. I think students need to look at quality over quantity.”