When I started this blog, I was beginning my two year graduate degree, a beginning that now feels ages ago. Now, another fall cycle has begun and I’m in my third year living in Toronto having jumped into an entirely new role as a student affairs professional. With this transition has come increased anxiety as well as excitement, all mixed together and changing with each moment. I have, however, had the chance to celebrate some first successes in my new role, a space where I feel supported to experiment as well as to fail, and it’s been these successes that have propelled me forward even in my moments of doubt. Today I had the pleasure of sharing a students’ personal reflection to the wide audience and when he told me it meant a good deal to him, it was as meaningful a success as I could hope for.
I had another early success that I reflected on in a piece for our staff blog, which I’m sharing here, too.
As we enter mid-September, I keep reminding myself we are no longer preparing for the upcoming school year – it’s here, we’re here, and it’s happening. At the beginning of August, I jumped into my new role at Ryerson University just as the nine-day Orientation Week that launches the new school year was finalized. Just as I was beginning to orient myself in a new role, in a newly formed unit, the most attended Orientation week that Ryerson has had to date ended and with it September rolled in. I find myself navigating an ever-changing environment and am thrilled to say my first lessons in my role were also the first successes that my team celebrated, a momentum from which we are still riding.
My role as Digital Community Facilitator requires a good deal of trust and a whole lot of experimenting with our student-facing brand and community, RU Student Life. RU Student Life shares the story of Ryerson students through a variety of social and creative media and the crux of that voice is that it comes from students themselves, as told in our mantra, “by students, for students.” My predecessors have built RU Student Life into an award-winning and recognizable brand on campus, a leader in student engagement and digital community building. However, what’s important here is that my predecessors include not only Kareem Rahaman and Hamza Khan, the innovative staff leaders behind RU Student Life up to now. We must recognize and celebrate the students involved in building and promoting the RU Student Life brand and community, the very students whose voices, ideas, and leadership have propelled RU Student Life through the waters.
Looking to these leaders and the community they’ve built, the major task that would define this year at RU Student Life was in interviewing, hiring, and training my own team of student staff who would project and develop the RU Student Life voice and community. I knew this would be a lesson in my own leadership skills, however, the greatest learning so far has come from giving my students the keys and letting them press on at full speed.
I assembled the current RU Student Life team in August and nearly just as classes began I had thrown them into their roles as Social Media Community Managers, Brand Ambassadors, Storytellers/Bloggers, Multimedia Specialists, and Marketing Assistants. As part of the team, my student staff are each storytellers, leaders, and voices for the Ryerson community, and their respective roles, from managing social media accounts and engagement to producing quality and engaging video projects, demand a high level of independence and initiative. I see each of these qualities and more in the students I hired, as well as opportunities to develop their leadership and communication skills further.
The first example of my students’ initiative that I had the pleasure of observing came in the form of the team’s first self-started campaign, #RUFamous. September at Ryerson is unique for it marks not only the beginning of a new school year but also brings an international eye to Toronto as the city explodes with the Toronto International Film Festival buzz and presence. The weekend that TIFF 2014 launched, I received an email from two of my Social Media Community Managers, two young women whose roles include managing, coordinating, and engaging our online platforms including Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook (roles that anyone who has ever coordinated a social media presence understands is more than just a job, it’s a to-the-minute demanding and necessarily passionate endeavor), and one of my Multimedia Specialists, a fine arts film student who communicates visually to the community. These three students, who had only been introduced days before at our first team meeting, got together to brainstorm ideas for campaigns and how to get students engaged and had landed on TIFF14 as an exceptional opportunity. #RUFamous was born: the campaign launched as RU Student Life asked students to send in their sightings of or photos with celebrities across Toronto and at the Ryerson Theatre. Using Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram, students across Ryerson have been sharing their photos and stories of their TIFF experiences. Each goal at RU Student Life was met in a short time with one creative idea: communicate to students and, more importantly, engage with the community by highlighting and spreading students’ own voices and experiences.
I do not believe #RUFamous would have been brought from an idea into action unless my student staff felt empowered to do so, and this empowerment came from their feeling equipped and supported to roll out the campaign without my direct say-so. In fact, as a supervisor I felt a mixture of regret and pride when the campaign launched. I felt a twang of regret that I hadn’t been able to be involved in the initial launch because, when they met and brainstormed the idea it was the weekend and although they emailed me to seek my insights, they launched anyway because the excitement over TIFF was high and they knew they needed to be a part of that momentum. However, overwhelming my sense of guilt is a pride that my team felt confident enough in their idea and in my support of their voice that they took the initiative to roll-out the campaign, rather than waiting until Monday for when I undoubtedly would have said “Absolutely!” anyway.
“Approve the student, not the tweet”, my leader and mentor Hamza told me when I described these feelings – and I couldn’t agree more. We’re in the business of empowering students, and this campaign put a smile on my face for its example of student leadership, creativity, and initiative. From fourth years with experience to first years with fresh perspectives, my team impressed me with their ability to take my confidence in them, which I communicated by impressing on them my goals of having their voices be the brand and face of RU Student Life, and turn that into navigating unchartered waters and coming out not only in the lead but smiling and eager for their next chance to start something.