Support Learn by Doing
By Danica Liang
Fifth-year student, Liberal Arts and Engineering Studies
Not everyone can say they worked for Disney, training cast members to represent a renowned brand that is recognizable across multiple generations and continents. Chip Neuenschwander can. As the assistant director of student clubs and organizations, Neuenschwander utilizes his training and Disney know-how to help Cal Poly students find their own slice of community on campus through the 400+clubs and organizations he currently oversees. He recently provided a glimpse of his daily role, his approach to working with students and the organizations they represent, and what aspects of his role he enjoys most.
Can you tell me about your role? What do you believe is the most important aspect of your job?
I basically serve all of the student organizations on campus. I guess you could say the most important role of my job is being an advocate for the students -- that’s really the culture of Dean of Students’ Office. We serve the students, we’re a voice for those who need to speak out, we encourage them to make their own decisions, we provide boundaries and guidelines, and help them make good choices.
Can you tell me about your approach working with students?
You have to start with listening. Each time I come into a situation thinking I’m going to impart knowledge, but the students are teaching me more than I’m teaching them. I have to remind myself to be quick to listen, because Cal Poly students are extremely intelligent. They’re not waiting around for something -- especially if they’re club leaders; they’re doers. So, I have to remind myself that these are leaders of today and tomorrow, and they have just as much to teach me.
What do you enjoy most about your job?
The students. For one thing, it’s hard to get into Cal Poly, so you have to be pretty special to get here. In addition to that, they’re students who have designated themselves to run a club or they’ve been chosen by their peers to perform a particular aspect of a club. It means that their peers have said, “you have invested enough of yourself successfully into this that we want you to lead us now.” Their peers are saying: “We want you to lead us.” These are the people I get to interact with. It’s really cool to be able to connect with so many students who are very, very bright.
What impact can clubs and organizations have on a student’s experience at Cal Poly?
When a student comes to Cal Poly, it’s scary and exciting at the same time. You’re surrounded by 21,000 students, and you desperately need a community. You need a close-knit group that cares about you, that is interested in you, that -- if you’re not there and you blow it off -- they’re like: “Hey, where were you?” That’s what student clubs and organizations can provide.
In addition to that, so many students I talk to get career connections and internship opportunities through their participation in clubs. For instance, I know there are some clubs that attend conferences, where they get to interact with some great minds from all across the country.
Students may remember a particular lecture or a particular textbook. It is every bit as likely that they’ll remember an experience where they directed their own learning. I also think that people are happiest when they’re in a group, doing something that’s bigger than themselves. They’re going somewhere. They’re making something better. They’re a part of a team, and they’re going to do this together — even if there’s a chance of failure. That’s what makes it exciting.
What advice do you have to students who are looking to get involved in an existing club or who want to start their own club?
I would say give it a try. Students can get overwhelmed with all of the options. We had club showcase, and I told students: “You’re not chiseling your name in stone. You’re just putting your name down and they send you an email and if you want to go, go! Give it a try! And if you don’t like it, don’t do it anymore. Find something that you do like. Keep trying until you find it.”
If you want to start a club, it’s the same thing — just give it a try. See if there is a group of people who are interested in the same thing. If you’re going to start a club, whatever your vision is, stay true to it and focus on students who share those same values. If you’re looking to just fill up your roster with a whole slew of names, you’re probably not going to find as much success as when you connect with people who say: “I’m coming because I believe in what you’re doing.”
It’s not just about pizza parties and inflatables – it’s about people who say: “This resonates with my identity, and the reason this add values to me is because it speaks to me; it speaks to something that I’m interested in.”
Interested in supporting Student Clubs and Organizations? Visit https://studentaffairs.calpoly.edu/givetoday/areas. For more information about Cal Poly Student Clubs and Organizations, visit https://clubs.calpoly.edu/.
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