Alexi Maas, former Chapter President of the University of Dubuque (UD), has every reason to be proud of the work her chapter has done to earn Organization of the Year at the school.
In a convocation ceremony held this past spring, the university recognized the chapter with this honor, while also honoring their Chapter Advisor, Michelle Grace, associate professor of communications, as Advisor of the Year.
Josette Robertson, the current Chapter President, is equally proud of the critical role the NSLS plays for her fellow students at UD.
“Since the establishment of our chapter in 2020, we have become the most prominent organization on our campus, with over 450 active members. We are one of the few organizations that is open to everyone on campus regardless of major. We assist with professional development, resume building, and mock interview techniques with the vocation and career service department.”
Maas shares a similar sentiment regarding the inclusive aspect of the NSLS experience.
"With 400 plus members, everyone has different needs, abilities and interest. As president, it’s important to try to meet all those differences to have a successful organization. It can be challenging to get everyone through the essential Steps to Induction, but with positivity and enthusiasm as a leader, it is possible."
Inclusivity and CoMMUNITY Are Key to Chapter’s Success
Being honored as the outstanding organization on a campus of over 2,000 students, Robertson believes, is a direct function of the chapter’s inclusivity and diversity commitment to its membership. However, it’s also a reflection of the chapter’s mission to alleviate suffering and provide necessary relief to those experiencing housing insecurity and homelessness in the greater Dubuque community.
“We offer leadership opportunities and fellowship to all members. We have volunteered during our school’s inaugural Spartans Make a Difference Day by making bags out of shirts and then filling them with supplies that go to our local homeless shelter. Our goal for the next academic year is to collaborate with other campus organizations and continue increasing awareness on campus.”
Over 350 people participated in the inaugural Spartans Make a Difference Day last fall, along with Robertson and her fellow NSLS members. They joined participating faculty, staff, students, alumni, family members, and community members in a nationwide initiative to foster local volunteering for area nonprofits. Taking part in these larger service initiatives is a great way for chapters to make a big impact in their communities.
Building a Strong Team to Build a Better World
Robertson says her chapter also excelled at serving its own members and pursuing the larger NSLS mission of building leaders who will create a better world for all. That commitment required a renewed focus on peer support and accountability.
“Our members continuously enjoy our Success Networking Team meetings to bring attention to their personal and professional goals and have a group they can depend on to help hold themselves accountable. Having our members set a goal allows them to set SMART goals outside their comfort zone and try to push themselves to greater achievements.”
Of course, that’s not the full extent of what NSLS members get out of their experience at UD. Robertson notes that the built-in support members offer each other extends to social settings as well. That’s especially important these days, after the world experienced so much prolonged isolation during the global COVID-19 pandemic.
“As we all come out of hiding after the pandemic, students enjoy getting together during our social events and sharing ideas with each other.”
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CREATING MEANINGFUL CONNECTIONS
Maas saw first-hand just how important socializing was on her chapter's members following the pandemic's isolation. Like Robertson, she sees socializing and networking as the most important aspect of an NSLS member's experience, more so than any benefit such as the popular Speaker Broadcasts.
“From our chapter, I saw social and networking events succeed the most. Students want and need the opportunity to meet others on a college campus. It’s an essential part of the college experience, to expand relations and meet new people. We are proud that our organization can provide a space and opportunity for students to do so.”
By creating fun, inviting events, they saw meaningful relationships take shape. Another key to success for Maas, like so many other leaders, was never backing down from challenges, and instead using them as fuel to move forward.
"Our campus has been trying to rebuild social events since the pandemic, which has been a huge challenge. We ran into barriers such as funding and getting students interested. The NSLS made a huge comeback this year by providing social and enjoyable events for students to make connections. I’ve seen friendships form and grow stronger because of the NSLS. We have given students a chance to be together as a whole again.”
Changing Times Require Soft Skills and Adaptive Thinking
Today’s students face a rapidly evolving world full of challenges. From the personal and societal ravages of a global pandemic to explosive new developments in technology such as AI, those challenges can seem existential at times.
To meet those challenges, recent graduates need new tools, soft skills, and the ability to handle the unexpected through adaptive thinking. Robertson readily acknowledges that her status as a returning adult student gives her a unique perspective on the challenges facing new graduates in today’s changing climate.
“As a non-traditional student who is obtaining a degree in music education and having life experiences that generally exceed the average student body of my chapter, it has been a great privilege and honor to be able to share my stories, career path, and wisdom to my members and being able to share with them that you never stop learning even as you get older.”
Future Goals: Helping More Students Grow into Leaders
Like all high-achieving NSLS chapters, the UD chapter won’t be resting on its laurels anytime soon. In fact, Robertson says the chapter has already set its sights on its next major goal: fundraising. True to the NSLS tradition, it’s all in service of a bigger need.
“I want the chapter to be able to offer scholarships to those who might not be able to afford the membership fee at the beginning. Social events are another big goal to introduce to the chapter. I want to be able to host galas for members who have achieved the status of being a member of the NSLS. Plus, this gives the chapter a chance to recognize students who have shown even bigger leadership and academic prowess.”
Leading a group of dedicated, high-performing individuals such as NSLS members can be a transformative experience in its own right. Robertson says her time as Chapter President has already helped expand her understanding of leadership and what it means to be a strong, capable leader for her team.
“[Leadership means] being there for those who need someone there for them. Leading by example for those to emulate what a leader should look like. Showing integrity when sometimes finding the easy way out might not be the best way.”
For other chapter leaders who want to develop their leadership skills, Robertson has a simple yet powerful suggestion: get out there and talk to people.
“Never stop trying to reach out and connect with students. You never know who might need a simple, ‘Hello, how are you doing?’ And follow up with your members, because failing to do so can make them think you do not care.”
The NSLS isn’t only about building tomorrow’s leaders. It’s also about building stronger communities. Here’s why community leadership is so important.