As the pandemic continues to wreak havoc on everyday life, WSU students are bearing witness to the important role leaders play in helping people manage the crisis locally, nationally, and across the world.

Brian Shuffield, executive director of Washington State University’s Office of Student Involvement, says this is a perfect time for students to reflect on their own leadership skills and build upon them. He knows of just the program to make it happen.

Over 135 students have signed up for Student Involvement’s Emerging Leaders Program which features a curriculum tailored for first-year students who are just discovering what leadership is and what it means to them.

Flourishing in a virtual world

Emerging Leaders looks at leadership through a campus-wide lens and is designed to give participants a glimpse of the different ways they can practice leadership. Shuffield said it is meant to be a springboard as many participants go on to become leaders in the Associated Students of Washington State University (ASWSU), as resident advisors (RA’s), orientation counselors, registered student organization leaders, and college ambassadors.

Even though most of the activities have been moved online due to the pandemic, Shuffield says the program is positioned to flourish.

“Of course, we would love for everyone to be in the same room, but the virtual format allows us to expand the program in certain ways,” Shuffield said. “We are already in discussions with the Global campus about ways their students can participate, and we’re considering ways we can involve students from other WSU campuses as well.”

Once students complete Emerging Leaders, many continue to the second and third tier programs called Crimson VIP and Leadership WSU. Crimson VIP teaches students how to lead in groups, while Leadership WSU connect them with city, county, and political leaders in the Spokane community. Shuffield’s team is making plans to expand the reach of those visits to include leaders in Pullman, Tri-Cities, and Vancouver.

ASWSU and Leadership Advisor Ashley Morehouse, who is managing the leadership programs, said Microsoft Teams is a platform that in some ways makes it easier for students participating in the program to seek information and ask questions.

“One of the big pieces of Emerging Leaders is connecting students, not only with one another, but also with other resources on campus that will help them be successful academically and socially,” Morehouse said. “In the virtual environment, not only can they consult with our cohort leaders who are older students, but they can also tap into the power of all the other students in the program who may have had similar issues and can offer guidance.”

Leadership conference moves online

Shuffield’s team is also gearing up to host the annual Pacific Northwest Student Leadership Conference online, Saturday, Sept. 26. Registration for the conference is open on the Student Involvement website. Up to 500 students from across the WSU system and universities around the region typically converge on Pullman to hear national experts on leadership, participate in breakout sessions, and network. Students can expect the same activities to take place this year via a virtual conferencing platform called Hop-in.

Shuffield and Morehouse are especially excited about the platform’s networking feature that can automatically pair students together for one-on-one discussions. After the pre-determined time period is finished, at the push of a button students can select to continue to talk with the same student or opt to be paired with another one.

“There isn’t the pressure or awkwardness they sometimes experience when meeting face-to-face and wonder how to end the conversation,” Morehouse said. “Along the same line, they are also able to hop in-and-out of conference sessions without being noticed.”

Encouraged to think boldly

Many students have been wondering if WSU’s 400+ registered student organizations (RSO’s) are operating this semester. Largely due to a transition in online student engagement platforms, many RSO’s have been unable to officially register their club for the new academic year and promote themselves to the student body.

The Office of Student Involvement has organized a team of student employees who are reaching out to each RSO to confirm their intentions, make note of their leadership, and encourage them to be active. They are also making follow-up calls to RSO advisors if needed. Shuffield said some clubs are unsure how to operate successfully in an online environment.

Skyeler Sperber, director of the Student Entertainment Board, was very discouraged when things moved online. The senior had organized numerous successful in-person concerts the past three years, but planning a virtual event seemed daunting to him.

“I wasn’t sure if people would tune-in, and if they did, I feared they might not enjoy what we put together,” said Sperber.

Not willing to give-up on SEB’s mission to provide students with entertainment, Sperber forged ahead with planning CougFest several weeks ago, which featured a very successful online concert by hip-hop artist Rico Nasty.

Utilizing Zoom technology, Sperber said students were able to interact with the artist in ways they were never able to before. This concert featured a virtual pre-concert meet-and-greet where students could ask Rico Nasty questions and receive responses directly from her. It turned out to be a hit with students.

“I had to be open to the idea of trying something different, roll with the punches, and give it a try even though I wasn’t 100 percent sure it will be successful,” Sperber said. “My advice to students is do not be down on yourself, make the best of the situation, and don’t worry about comparing what you do this year with previous years.”

Shuffield added his team has gained valuable experience using online platforms and plans to share “tips and tricks” with RSO’s through targeted training sessions and possibly a new video blog.