By Alex Schireman

For those of you who haven’t heard of U-Engage, it’s an academic program designed to help incoming students learn more about Oregon State and how to succeed here.  OSU’s New Student and Family Outreach program offers a wide variety of classes.  Last fall, offerings included: Science Myth Busters, Why Can’t My Family Be Normal?, Why We Wear Clothes: The Psychology of Clothing, The Origins of Originality, Sports Media in the 21st Century, Everybody Loves the Movies but it Was a Play FIRST!, When is Green Really Green?, and The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy: Life, the University, and Everything! With so many interesting topics to choose from, students are spoiled for choice.  And while the topics are diverse, all courses are designed with a common goal: to help new students flourish at OSU. These classes give incoming students an opportunity to study in a small classroom environment with other like-minded students.  While learning about their chosen topic, new students are also taught about campus resources, effective study techniques, and time management.  In brief, U-Engage provides an opportunity for first-year students to hit the ground running, as they forge friendships and establish successful academic habits.

I wish I could tell you what a great experience I had in my U-Engage class when I first came to OSU, but I can’t.  The U-Engage course I wanted to take ultimately didn’t fit in with my class schedule.  In hindsight, I wish I had managed to juggle my schedule, because I know now I missed out on a great opportunity. Fortunately, I did wind up becoming knowledgeable and passionate about the U-Engage program in a way I hadn’t anticipated…as a U-Engage Peer Leader.

During the 2011 winter term, I was looking for new volunteer opportunities to add to my resume and I discovered the online application for U-Engage Peer Leaders. I applied and was pleased to be one of the fifteen volunteers selected.  Along with the other new recruits, I was required to take a training course spring term.  There, we were taught how to be effective student mentors.  Activities and writing assignments were designed to help us learn more about ourselves and develop our leadership skills.  For example, we took an inventory that helped us identify personal strengths and weakness.  And we learned that while it’s important to work to improve areas of weakness, it’s perhaps even more useful to understand and fully utilize natural areas of strength.

It was an interesting (and sometimes humbling) experience to put leadership lessons into actual practice as a U-Engage peer-leader.  Thankfully, I was assigned to a class I found interesting (Cross Cultural Communications) and an instructor who turned out to be a supportive mentor.  And it helped that the class consisted of a wonderful group of first-year students who were intelligent, friendly, and very passionate about the course’s topic.

Overall, I had a great experience as a student leader.  But admittedly, some of the projects I undertook were more challenging than others.  For instance, my supervising instructor asked me to organize a discussion panel.  I’m shy when it comes to asking others for help and the prospect of asking people to volunteer their time seemed hugely daunting.  But I ultimately managed to provide a panel of upperclassmen to come speak with the class and succeeding at something I found intimidating felt great.

Being a student leader is one of those activities where you receive as much as you give.  Through the U-Engage program, my fellow peer-leaders and I learned not only how to be leaders and mentors, but how to make the most of our personal strengths in our day-to-day lives.  Because we needed to venture outside of our comfort zones, we became more confident.  We met a lot of great students and instructors we might have not met otherwise.  We gained a greater understanding and appreciation for the work our professors undertake.  And on top of all that, we received academic credit and an impressive addition to our resumes!

So if you’re looking for a way to invest your time and energy, I suggest looking up U-Engage’s online peer-leader application.  Applications are due January 31st.  Even if you didn’t take a U-Engage class as an incoming student, you can still gain a lot from this program.  Maybe even more than you expect.



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