Student Life spending toward Pierce College students: the costs, the participation, the future

Grace Amsden, Editor-in-Chief

There’s a variety of colorful flyers posted around campus and stacks of them on the counter inside the Office of Student Life. Perhaps it’s for the Theo’s Chocolate Factory tour Feb. 13, Students Fight Back self-defense class Jan. 28 or Feb. 20-21 student ski trip to Mt. Hood in Oregon. These are all advertisements for OSL events. The main purpose of these events are for student engagement.

“Research shows that this is the type of stuff that makes students successful,” Director of Student Life Sean Cooke said. “Providing opportunities for students to get engaged is one of the best things you can do to help students achieve their educational goals.”

Engagement activities of the past include family movie nights, discussions on ongoing issues and hypnotism performances with Pierce students as the subjects.

There was even a trip to Seaside, Ore. From May 8-10, 2015, up to 50 students could travel to Seaside for $18, the cost including transportation and hotel for both nights. The Seaside trip cost about $13,237.60 for 50 students. Transportation cost about $2,650. Hotel fees including students, advisers and driver cost about $9,417.60.

The majority of events cost money, Cooke said. Even if the event doesn’t require much to purchase, supplies and promotional items may be required.

The fund balance, also called the reserve fund, contains unspent money from programs that can be used for one-time projects or unexpected costs. Currently, there’s $1,368,844 in the Puyallup campus fund balance. As for events, they are funded through the services and activities budget fee committee. Items funded through S&A include the tutoring center, Student Literary Arts Magazine, The Puyallup Post, clubs, student ambassadors, the writing center and district athletics.

The money also goes toward the activities board and salaries/training for OSL student leaders who bring events to life. These leaders may look beyond the price tag to consider the potential of an event in terms of the engagement it may offer, Cooke said.

“The question is always ‘what is the end result’…what is the benefit they (the students) are getting out of the activity and benefit the campus gets versus how much it costs,” Cooke said.

From attending overnight trips, one of the main things students can get out of the activity is bonding with others, Cooke said. May 25-26, 2013 was the overnight whitewater rafting trip, which cost about $10,000. Students had to pay $75, the cost included lodging, transportation, river rafting fees and food.

“These are students who didn’t know each other when they got on the bus or on the vans but they’re hugging each other and exchanging phone numbers and Facebook and Instagram in the parking lot (when returning from the trip) so they don’t lose track of each other,” Cooke said.

A day trip for whale watching to Anacortes, Wash. took place Oct. 24, 2015. Coordinated by Wellness and Outdoors Coordinator Kylie Ada, about 15 students attended, and the trip was free to students who were provided with whale watching tickets, transportation and a meal. The overall trip cost $2,222.80 and was worth the money, Ada said.

“I was thinking of fun ways to connect students with nature as well as having them connect with other students, and also do something that people aren’t able to do very often or might not even think of doing,” Ada said. “Something that’s unique to the Northwest is that we have the whale watching trips.”

Trips are popular among students and successful for student participation, Cooke said. But besides trips are campus lectures, documentaries and presentations, also considered to be engagement activities. The amount of participation at these events compared to trips isn’t as popular; there have been occasions where two or three people show up, according to Cooke, though this doesn’t happen all the time.

“There’s no strict formula for what students like and will attend,” Cooke said. “There’s no way for us to send out an email to the study body to say, ‘would you come to this type of event?’ ‘Will you commit to this type of event before we spend money on bringing it?’”

Documentary events in particular have a pattern of lower attendance, Cooke said. He can’t remember a documentary that was well attended unless a faculty member was part of the event and/or offering extra credit to students.

“They just don’t come,” Cooke said. “It doesn’t matterwhat it is. Animals being tortured. Dolphins slaughtered. Trash in the Pacific.”

The student leaders have to find ways to make events interesting or plan something different, Cooke said.

“I wonder sometimes,” Cooke said. “We spend money and resources on trying to do something that’s purposeful with not much success at the end of it and not much engagement.”

Though it doesn’t happen all the time, Cooke said that students may not attend these events if there isn’t extra credit opportunity from class. He said it can also be the time of the event and because Pierce is a commuter campus, as some students may leave immediately after class instead of remaining on campus. Another reason might be because of the promotion, one of the most important things for an event, Diversity and Equity Coordinator Timothy Estes said.

“You can have the president come and if nobody says anything about it, you’re never going to hear about it,” Estes said.

Student participation at events is discussed each week at the activities board meeting and reflected on by the student leaders.

Risk and experimentation is a piece in event planning, Cooke said. When he was a student at Pierce, a memorable event was the performance of pigs doing tricks. Cooke’s adviser at the time didn’t believe this event would do well at first.

“There were literally hundreds of students packed in the Connection Café to watch pigs play basketball, and they were laughing and talking, having a good time,” Cooke said.

An ‘unsuccessful’ event may be due to the time, promotion or idea itself, Cooke said, though it may be hard to tell what exactly went wrong. But if an event is cancelled and money has already been spent, supplies can be repurposed. Sometimes money is lost after buying items specifically for an event, but the OSL leaders try to catch potential mistakes to prevent the waste of money and use it to the best of their ability, Cooke said.

Having free food at events is something Cooke encourages the student leaders to keep simple. One of the reasons is that it may not provide engagement, Cooke said; also, if free food is advertised on promotion flyers, it may acquire students for only this reason.

“I would just sit up on the balcony and watch the food line and watch massive lines of students come to the event and get in line for food and then look at all the empty chairs once the event started,” Cooke said.

This doesn’t mean that food isn’t included at events. At the Halo 5 Game Night Nov. 5 planned by Interactive Media and Gaming Coordinator Colton Droubli, food cost $600 through Lancer Catering, the school food system. For the first day of Clubs Fest Oct. 13 arranged by Clubs Coordinator Andrew Punchak, food cost $855.73. For the second day, Oct. 14, food cost $951.45.

There isn’t a maximum budget for purchasing food for events, Cooke said, yet it’s expensive, as it is for particular events. At student council meetings held each week with the student government, events aren’t discussed unless additional funding is requested for the event.

At the Dec. 4 student council meeting, $548.95 was funded to the Young Americans for Freedom Club for the Forrest Gump movie night, requested by club president Madison Lucas. An amount of $1,198 was funded to the Student Technology Assistance Team after a request made by District Computer Labs Manager Kandee Nelson. With the funding, vests for the STAT members were purchased so they can wear them to be identified by students. Tablecloths have been purchased and are in use now, Nelson said, and STAT vertical banners are in the process of being created by MarCom.

The OSL-sponsored ski trip Feb. 20-21, was funded $16,000 at this meeting as well. The trip is planned by Ada and Recreation and Entertainment Coordinator Jesse Hamlin.

Ada estimates the trip will be below the budget and cost $12,000 because originally she was planning for a two-night trip. Student tickets cost $60 which includes lodging, lift tickets and transportation. Students will pay for food and ski equipment. Many people were asking about this trip as it’s popular among students, Ada said, and expects all 40 spots to be filled. The event will offer engagement because students will each have a roommate, Ada said.

“They’ll probably become pretty close with that person,” Ada said, “Or if they want to request a roommate, then they can become closer with a friend that they know from Pierce College. And then we’ll have some bonding activities happening, and I’m really excited to see people make new friends, and make new friends myself.”

Besides events, clubs are another significant aspect of engagement and bonding, and opportunity for making friends. Clubs are something of which Cooke would like to see an increase in for student participation.

“We’ve been pouring more effort into that, and probably see more money being poured into that, too,” Cooke said. “Clubs are awesome.”

The future awaits many more engagement opportunities for Pierce students. But finding ways to raise student participation is a constant learning exercise, Cooke said. He’s considered the idea of primarily having “fun” events, such as the day activities and trips, cutting out other events such as lectures. He doesn’t think this can be a reality, though.

“If everything we did was a whale watching trip or a ski trip or going to the movies or something like that, we’d have good participation at all of our events, but also a lot of that other experience would be gone, too,” Cooke said. “It’s one of the things I worry about all the time.”

Because of his participation in campus activities and events when Cooke was a student at Pierce, he said it changed his entire life.

“All it really takes is that one moment where you’re sitting in that seat and somebody sparks an idea in your mind that just continues to snowball and roll until you find out, ‘this is really intriguing,’ or ‘I’m very passionate about this,’” Cooke said.

The Puyallup Post is the award-winning student news of Pierce College Puyallup in Puyallup, Washington. Copyright The Puyallup Post 2017. Twitter/Instagram @puyalluppost

Grace Amsden
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Grace Amsden

Former Editor-in-Chief at The Puyallup Post
Grace Amsden
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Student Life spending toward Pierce College students: the costs, the participation, the future

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