Learning to lead on campus


CW File

Justin McCleskey, Opinions Editor

As freshmen enter new environments and begin taking different courses, college can be daunting on many fronts. Many struggle to find their footing while juggling social and aspirational goals. These changes often leave new students feeling as if they cannot immediately make an impact on campus.

There are, however, several ways to get involved in campus leadership opportunities as a freshman. Whether participating in direct freshman leadership programs or other student organizations, freshmen have options that allow their knowledge and skill sets to be useful. Even while finding footing in a new environment, the external experiences that freshmen bring can be invaluable.

There are two major freshman leadership programs that emphasize civic engagement and development. For those looking to get an early start in student government, First Year Council is composed of 65 freshmen and meets weekly to pass legislation that targets other freshmen.

Applications are due Aug.t 31 and require several short essays, but those selected represent their dorm’s portion of First Year Councilors. Two Councilors will also be elected President and Secretary, leading each session of the 28-week program.

Similarly, Freshman Forum offers new students the opportunity to immediately participate in civic engagement on campus. With a lesser focus on legislation, Freshman Forum members participate in service projects and group lunches while attending weekly meetings. This setting allows members to foster their own leadership skills as they situate themselves on campus.

Applications are due Sept. 5 and also require short essay responses. Freshman Forum is led by 20 interns who previously participated in the program. They help facilitate the program and mentor students to discover personal aspirations and connect with other freshman leaders. 

Freshman leadership programs were traditionally dominated by legacy students and others with the prior knowledge and plans to apply. Administration in both, however, take steps in the application process to make them more accessible by publicizing applications and removing resume and recommendation requirements. Those efforts can only come to fruition as new students apply to these programs.

New students who are unsure about applying should take the time to apply to both. As efforts continue to be made to improve these programs and freshman accessibility through the First Year Experience and Retention Initiative, more students should consider campus leadership opportunities. 

Beyond designated freshman leadership programs, there are other chances to get involved with student organizations. Many student organization executive councils are already established for the fall, but that doesn’t mean new students can’t make a direct impact. Especially when prior knowledge and experience can be applicable, new students have the opportunity to establish their roots in new groups.

The Black Faculty and Staff Association Ambassadors form relationships between Black students and Black Faculty and Staff while hosting other events. They are among over 70 diversity based organizations where prior experience brings many freshmen. 

Other department based programs attract freshmen with prior knowledge and interests. The Blackburn Institute attracts several freshmen each year with specific interests in leadership and civic service. For those looking for areas to get involved beyond student organizations, the Center for Service and Leadership helps students find meaningful experiences. 

New leadership positions open up at various times throughout the year, so it is always worthwhile to remain as engaged as possible. Even if opportunities do not immediately open, choosing to engage with student organizations and taking individual initiative sets students up for those leadership opportunities in the future.

It’s easy for new students to feel overwhelmed with The University of Alabama’s size, but that doesn’t mean prior experiences aren’t useful. Freshmen have the opportunity to make an immediate impact on campus through various student organizations. Even when these immediate opportunities are not available, recognizing individual agency is the first step to making The University of Alabama the home you want it to be.