Student organizations offer untapped leadership opportunities
Illini Foresters
December 13, 2017

URBANA, Ill. – College students know participation in a student organization looks good on a resume. But, according to a University of Illinois leadership researcher, student organizations also offer a wealth of leadership development opportunities if structured properly.   

“The idea is for universities to start thinking about advising and working with student organizations less from a risk-management perspective, and instead recognizing all the development opportunities that we might leave up to chance if we don’t address them in a structured way,” says Dave Rosch, associate professor in the Agricultural Leadership and Science Education Program at U of I.  

In a recent issue of New Directions for Student Leadership, Rosch curated eight articles from experts in leadership education, specifically relating to opportunities for leadership development in college student organizations.

Rosch says the issue is designed for advisors in colleges and high schools, coaches, people who teach leadership classes, or lead co-curricular leadership retreats. “If they only have an hour and a half in the next month to think about this, this issue summarizes everything they need to know,” he says.

Articles in the issue examine how student organizations can be optimized for student leadership development.

“You hear college students say all the time, ‘Once I get out in the real world, it’s going be different.’ But really, the struggles, the successes, and the dynamics of student organizations are the same as those in any professional workplace,” Rosch says. “It’s important for students to understand that if they learn how to create success while they’re students, they’ll be better suited to create success when they’re a professional.”

The level of leadership experience and training offered by student organizations depends on the way they are set up and managed by student participants and university administrators. The bulk of the issue addresses these practical matters, and includes chapters on designing and advising student organizations; structuring identity-based and professions-based organizations; and bridging divides between high school and college student organizations.

“It turns out there’s no formal pipeline that helps students who are involved in student organizations in high school stay involved when they get to college,” Rosch says. “There are a ton of organizations in high schools that are analogous to those in college. But even if they’re in the same town, there’s no relationship between them, much less at a national level. None of these relationships exist; we need to start doing this.”  

The issue, “The role of student organizations in developing leadership,” is published in the New Directions for Student Leadership series. Rosch curated and edited the issue; the eight articles are authored by researchers across multiple institutions.