The Value of Getting Involved with Student Groups

By: LOUIS SPANIAS, Sustainability Program Manager

Are you involved with a student group at Mudd? If not, I hope I can convince you to change that with my story.

It took me a long time to join a student group when I was an undergraduate student. At U.C. Berkeley, there were no shortage of student groups. I still vividly remember when, during my first week on campus, there was an event where every student group on campus tabled along the main plaza. I strolled down to Sproul Plaza with my newly acquainted roommates, marveling at the seemingly endless line of tables.

And yet, amidst the flyers, signs, free food (in which admittedly I hastily indulged), and loud voices that emanated from the hundreds of student groups, I didn’t join a single one of them during my entire first year of college. It wasn’t until my second year that I spontaneously decided that I’d had enough of only worrying about classes that I would find a group. At this point, I had committed to majoring in environmental policy, so it only seemed right to get involved with a group that shared those values – but also wouldn’t break the time bank.

In a moment that feels fateful now, I found the Residential Sustainability Program – a student-led program that worked specifically on promoting environmental sustainability in Berkeley’s residence halls. I was already serving as a Resident Assistant (or in Mudd terms, “Proctor”), and felt this aligned perfectly with both my academic interests and my work in residence life. I still remember those first few meetings fondly, seeing other students describe how the program was responsible for a lot of really great changes in the halls: improved recycling, CFL lightbulb exchanges, reducing food waste in the dining halls, and sustainability-related events to name a few.

What I loved about that group was that its leadership knew that members were volunteering their time, so they wanted to work on the group’s shared passions. We chose our projects democratically, and we understood that we all had academic and professional obligations to attend to as well. We spent as much time getting to know one another as we did working on our initiatives. This built a sincere investment on behalf of the members that stuck around. Our group, while small, felt like a real team – and our work never felt strenuous or obtrusive. During my first year with the group, we successfully implemented one or two projects in each residence hall on campus, and we hosted several events like movie screenings and professor panels that drew big audiences.

I stuck with the group through my undergraduate career, becoming a coordinator and eventually co-supervising the program with a close friend of mine (who I had met through the program). Although the program went through several ups and downs, by the end of my time at Cal, we could proudly point out the change we created in our residence halls.

The experience of getting involved in that student group stuck with me. It filled me with fervor. It seamlessly connected my academic aspirations, my professional skill development, and my social inclinations. The string that links my experience with the group with my decision to become a sustainability professional in higher education is not a long one. To recall the hours I spent making poster boards for Earth Week, watching environmental film documentaries, and encouraging students to eat everything off of their plates before returning their dishes is reinvigorating in and of itself. It reminds me why I do what I do. I still see and appreciate the value in our efforts and the positive change they created, and I saw how it added value to my life, and continues to do so.

I share this story because I believe getting involved on campus is an integral part of the collegiate experience and can be fundamental to our personal and professional growth. Volunteering your time to a group, brainstorming ideas for service events or passion projects, and finding ways to engage the campus community on your group’s issues of choice are all practices that can build your skill set, social network, and help you discover the issues about which you have great enthusiasm. These can not only aid you in finding a career and thriving in a professional environment, but more importantly, they can stir your soul and help you grow. Getting involved in a student group on campus helps you meet new people, and gives you a venue outside of the classroom through which to explore your creativity and develop your ideas.

If you are looking for a great group to get involved with, I feel compelled to recommend ESW/MOSS and our ASHMC Sustainability Directors and Representatives. Chances are you have seen already some of the work they have done on campus – from helping reduce single-use and disposable items in our dining hall to hosting events for engaging with faculty on environmental topics. When I see these students working on these projects, and the excitement and intention with which they do so, it reminds me of what I loved so much about my time in college. I am not only thrilled that they are creating lasting environmental change on campus, but I also am hopeful that they will look back on their effort and feel the same gratitude and joy for getting involved as I do.

And while there certainly aren’t as the same variety of student groups at Harvey Mudd or the Claremont Colleges as there are at a large public school like U.C. Berkeley, there are still plenty. I can certainly advocate for our environmental groups, but the main purpose is to find one that suits your interests and passions. And chances are you will not only create positive change on campus or elsewhere in the community, you will change for the better yourself. To learn more about the groups active on our campus, you can visit the Student Life page on the Harvey Mudd College website.

I hope my story not only convinces you to join a student group, but that it also demonstrates how it really is never too late to do so. So, what are you waiting for?