Building a Sense of Community
There is a common misconception that online education can be an isolating experience. In fact, students and alumni at Walden University experience the opposite: They connect with colleagues around the world and forge lifelong friendships and professional contacts, creating a unique network of impassioned social change agents. Some of these relationships are formed in the online classroom and others are generated within student organizations.
“There’s an overwhelming desire for a sense of community throughout online education, and here at Walden we’ve been working diligently to develop and strengthen our Office of Student Affairs to meet that demand,” says Dr. Walter McCollum, executive director and dean of Student Affairs. “We now have more than 12,000 students involved in our more than 21 student organizations, special interest groups, and honor societies that offer networking and professional development opportunities as well as motivation and encouragement from like-minded professionals.”
Ten honor societies are aligned with specific Walden colleges or programs, such as Chi Sigma Iota for counseling and Sigma Theta Tau for nursing. Walden also has a chapter of the Golden Key International Honour Society, the world’s largest collegiate honor society. In addition, Walden has chapters of professional organizations, including the Society for Human Resource Management. The most recent growth has come from special interest groups. “Over the years, we have heard from students who want to connect on LGBTQ issues, women in technology, student veterans, and indigenous communities, and these groups have since formed and are now recruiting members. We recently launched Divine Nine Alliance (DNA), bringing the African American Greek letter fraternities and sororities together to support Walden’s mission of positive social change,” says Dr. McCollum.
Dr. Jodine Burchell, a Master of Information Systems Management (MISM) faculty member and Doctor of Information Technology (DIT) mentor, is faculty advisor for the new Walden Women in IT special interest group. “Despite the gender gap and historical underrepresentation in IT, we are seeing more women demonstrating interest and joining the field,” she says. “This group is the perfect opportunity for those at Walden who are interested or work in IT. While some are in IT programs, members don’t have to be in order to develop technological and leadership skills while networking with other women. IT is in every part of our lives. It’s a very lucrative field, and it stretches your mind; this group aims to stretch it further.”
Though participation in each group varies according to its bylaws, there are many benefits of joining a student group. “Groups offer asynchronous and synchronous activities as well as host special outside speakers. Many participating students also connect with each other at residencies and dissertation intensives as well as outside of Walden,” says Julie Ogren, associate director of Student Affairs. “These student organizations can positively impact student progress, as they provide options for personal and professional growth, skills and competency development, and opportunities to serve communities in alignment with Walden’s mission of effecting positive social change.”
How to Join a Student Organization
Becoming a member is voluntary. All organizations are promoted bimonthly in the Student Affairs newsletter and are also listed on the Student Affairs website. In addition, many of the student organizations hold membership drives and recruit via word-of-mouth and announcements in the online classrooms.
How to Start a Student Organization
The Student Affairs website outlines step-by-step instructions for forming a student organization. Students will need to complete a form and a proposal that outlines the expectation and idea of the group. Faculty advisors are part of the application process and then help create a student leadership team that helps build the organization by drafting bylaws and creating a strategy and plan to recruit members or conduct a membership drive. “The process can take 2 to 3 months to establish a new student organization,” says Ogren, who alongside Dr. McCollum reviews all submissions. “It’s incredibly rewarding to create a sense of community, bringing colleagues together who have similar interests.”