Students Enjoy Camaraderie of Online Clubs
By Hattie Bernstein
Tracy Jordan wanted a bachelor’s degree and a college experience, but didn’t know until she enrolled that as an online student she could have both.
“I received an initial message, ‘Join us on SNHUconnect,’ two weeks into my program,” says the California resident, who works full time as a human resources manager in the wine industry. “There were people all over the nation going to school, and I got very active, posting, introducing myself, sharing tips and motivational quotes. I used it like Facebook, but it was more rewarding because everything was targeted to education.”
It wasn’t long before Jordan was serving as a peer leader and a member of the Student Advisory Board, complementary roles that enabled her to welcome new students, attend monthly virtual SAB meetings and share student thoughts and concerns with SNHU administrators.
“This was my only online college experience, so I didn’t know if this was normal,” Jordan says, recalling how she wondered, “Does everyone have this?”
Two years ago, when Jordan started in the online industrial organizational psychology program, online clubs and honor societies were in their infancy: In the fall of 2014, says Tiff Fifer, director of online engagement, there were only four groups and 49 followers on SNHUconnect.
A year later, those numbers had grown to 12 groups and 3,423 followers. By fall of 2016, there were 19 online clubs and almost 8,000 followers.
“We know that students who are more connected to their university are more likely to persist and succeed,” says Laura Corddry, assistant vice president for Student Success. “Finding a home, a connection to the university makes it more meaningful.”
Fifer says the clubs offer something for everyone.
“They all want different levels of engagement,” she says. “Some are more comfortable in the online space but would tune in if we had a live stream event.”
The mix is diverse: Book club members have met online to discuss “Wither” by Lauren DeStefano; Outdoor Club enthusiasts share photographs and tales of summer adventures; and members of the COCE Sport Management Club, the Communication Club, the Creative Writing Review Club, the Psychology Club, LGBT+ League and other organizations connect virtually.
Students say online groups have boosted their self-esteem, supported them over hurdles and helped them make new friends.
Brianna Watson, for example, an online business student from Las Vegas, says joining clubs has helped her step outside her comfort zone. Right now she’s involved in the book club.
“Joining the clubs has helped me branch out of my comfort zone and be more of a people person,” she posted on SNHUconnect. “I am reaching out to new students … and welcoming them with confidence instead of feeling like I’m bothering them.”
Some have bridged the gap between the virtual and physical worlds.
When 2016 graduates and Outdoor Club leaders Luis Cabrera and David Numme took their families on a road trip to the Great Smoky Mountains, they met up with instructor Natalie Sweet to explore the Cumberland Gap National Historical Park.
“They are as fantastic in person as they are online!” Sweet said.