Tag Archive for: Student Life

SOU Office of Student Belonging and Engagement

SOU’s new Office of Student Belonging and Engagement (BE)

Southern Oregon University students searching for Student Activities, SJEC, ASSOU, New Student Programs, EPIC, the Food Pantry, Stevenson Union and information on general campus involvement can now turn to a single source: the new Office of Student Belonging and Engagement, located in the former Student Activities suite (Stevenson Union 312).

Belonging and Engagement, affectionately acronymized “BE,” has united these previously separate offices, bringing a new focus on intersectionality to the pursuit of their shared goals.

This unification was paralleled by the office’s staffing model for coordinators, who have shifted from separate roles defined by different subjects of focus, to a single, shared role. The new Belonging and Engagement Coordinator position is debuting with three team members: Familiar faces Marvin Woodard and Jess Haywood are continuing the great work they’ve done in the past as coordinators for, respectively, Racial Justice and Student Organizations and Events; recent addition Sweets Underwood hit the ground running in early October and is already making wonderful waves in the SOU community.

“I am delighted to join this team and be in a position where I can build a bridge for students to feel more connected, engaged and, most importantly, like they belong,” Underwood said. “I look forward to supporting programs around community-building and creating educational opportunities outside the classroom for our students.”

Other additions to the BE team include Rachel Harris, who assists with a variety of BE projects and works closely with SOU’s student organizations, and Nathanael Worcester, who joined Kay Swader in Stevenson Union building management earlier this year. The SU is the home of student engagement on the SOU campus, so its management and operations were an obvious inclusion when Belonging and Engagement was formed.

Belonging and Engagement operates under the umbrella of SOU’s Student Life department, and comprises a variety of programs, services and spaces that support the campus community, including: student organizations and events, the Social Justice and Equity Center (SJEC), the Student Food Pantry and other basic needs resources, New Student programs, the Club Board of Advisors (CBA), Associated Students of Southern Oregon University (ASSOU), the Multicultural Commons, the Event Planning Involvement Committee (EP!C), and SU building management and custodial. BE leadership emphasizes that, while some rearranging has occurred – Sustainability operations and the Student Food Pantry, for example, have moved out of SU 310 (the new Career Connections location) and into the Belonging and Engagement Suite in SU 312 – none of the aforementioned programs and services have been lost.

The Student Food Pantry, in fact, is flourishing. Its new venue in the BE Suite is significantly larger, and a recent push to expand its network of local partners has increased the amount and variety of donations it receives. The Pantry is available to all SOU students, and this much-needed growth in supply will allow it to match the continually growing demand for its services. It is always accepting donations, and new stock arrives throughout the week, so students are encouraged to visit regularly to see what has been added to the shelves.

SOU’s Queer Student Union is being similarly reinvigorated, after an extended period of inactivity. The student body’s response to this initiative has been overwhelmingly enthusiastic: With Underwood at the helm as its staff advisor, the new QSU quickly built a significant member base, and interest in QSU programming is high.

“The growth of the Food Pantry and the return of the QSU are just two examples of the many opportunities now available to us,” said John Johnstin, Director of Belonging and Engagement, and the Stevenson Union. “Existing as separate offices limited both our reach and our efficacy. By pooling our resources and our goals, we’ll be able to support our students in new and greater ways going forward.”

The launch of HawkNEST, SOU’s new platform for “News, Engagement, Support, and Teamwork,” was an important step toward BE’s goals. Its user-friendly interface and myriad engagement features – including a point system to track involvement and the ability to communicate via a built-in chat – are making it easier than ever for students to find and build community on campus. Any student who has not yet visited the platform is encouraged to join using the Single Sign-On option on the HawkNEST homepage. After completing a short onboarding process, they can start exploring the many opportunities for engagement and connection on campus.

“Our purpose is, and has always been, to help every student find their place in our community,” Johnstin said. “We want SOU to be a home to them, and we want them to feel like they belong here. We hope that they can see their identities and interests represented on campus—but we also need to reflect the fact that they are each more than the sum of their parts. As a single, united team, we in the Office of Student Belonging and Engagement can approach our work holistically, treating those identities and interests not as discrete concerns, but as facets of our larger purpose—just as they are facets of our students’ lives.”

To learn more about the Office of Student Belonging and Engagement, visit the Student Activities website, follow SOU Student Life on Instagram, or email the team at belong@sou.edu.

SOU Career Connections expands office and staff

SOU’s expanded Career Connections office opens new space and opportunities

(Ashland, Ore.) – Southern Oregon University’s Career Connections office has opened its doors in a new space – Stevenson Union 310 – in a move that will increase visibility and allow more students to be served.

The office, upstairs next to the Social Justice and Equity Center (SJEC), is ready for an increase in students for individual and small group sessions around career planning, leadership development and career-connected learning opportunities. SOU faculty and staff are invited to an open house to see the new space on Wednesday, Oct. 11, from 3 to 5 p.m. Students and alumni are encouraged to attend an upcoming Job and Internship Fair from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Thursday, Oct. 26, in the Stevenson Union’s Rogue River Room.

Career Connections has expanded its team to include two full-time professional staff and a graduate assistant. Stacey Westrum, SOU’s new director of Career Connections, brings a decade of experience with the university in student advising, adult education and corporate relations. She will be strengthening SOU’s bonds with employers across southern Oregon as part of the institution’s mission to promote economic vitality as a regionally-engaged institution.

Westrum will be the staff advisor for the National Society of Leadership Success, which is entering its second year at SOU as a vehicle for student leadership development and peer networking. She will be working closely with this year’s inaugural cohort of LAD scholars – participants in the $5 million Lithia & GreenCars Scholarship Program, a component of SOU’s landmark, $12 million philanthropic gift last year from Lithia (NYSE: LAD).

The LAD Scholars program, which has attracted an exceptional group of incoming students, combines financial aid awards with leadership development opportunities, focusing on first-generation and/or minoritized populations that are traditionally underrepresented in higher education.

“I am excited to be in this new role at SOU to build the Career Connections office to deepen relationships with employers, collaborate across campus and help our students with their career paths and leadership skills,” Westrum said.

The new coordinator of Career Connections, Ariel Bloomer, will be focused on student advising for career exploration and job search preparation, meeting needs expressed by SOU student responses in the National Survey of Student Engagement (NSSE).

“I am thrilled to continue working with SOU students in a role so closely tied to the university’s vision of guiding all learners to create lives of purpose,” she said.

As part of a strengths-based advising approach, Bloomer will become certified in CliftonStrengths, and will help groups of students analyze and articulate the unique traits they bring to the table.

Career Connections offers students a range of services, including resume and cover letter reviews, introductions to networking, job search assistance for on- and off-campus jobs, and interview preparation. Students can also come in to talk through changes in their academic and career goals as plans and dreams shift throughout their university experience.

The Career Connections website hosts a number of tools for researching occupational outlooks, exploring  interests and skills through self-assessments, and creating application materials. Students can make individual advising appointments through Handshake, Navigate, or by emailing careerconnections@sou.edu. By engaging in a strategic series of classroom visits throughout the year, Career Connections will help students learn about these services and start pursuing intentional professional development earlier in their college careers.

The 2023-24 academic year marks the 10-year anniversary of the PEAK Program, coordinated out of Career Connections. PEAK – which stands for professional experience, achievement and knowledge – funds student jobs across campus designed to meet significant student learning outcomes and facilitate work-based learning and career growth for participating students. This year sees a re-envisioning of the program to provide additional development opportunities for PEAK students.

By partnering with programs, offices and academic departments across campus, Career Connections aims to promote equitable student outcomes. As a First-gen Forward university, SOU is committed to ensuring that students receive a tightly woven web of support to achieve the return on investment in their education that they are seeking.

“We are excited to share the wealth of resources housed in Career Connections with students, faculty and alumni,” said Dean of Students Carrie Vath, Ph.D. – affectionately known by students as “Dr. V.”

To learn more about Career Connections’ offerings, please visit the website at careers.sou.edu and follow its Instagram account @SOUcareerconnections.


John Johnstin hired as student activities and Stevenson Union director

John Johnstin named director of student activities and Stevenson Union

SOU has a new director of student activities and the Stevenson Union. Dean of Students Carrie Vath, Ph.D., is happy to introduce John Johnstin (he/him) to the campus community. John was selected following an in-depth search that included several strong candidates.

“The search committee was impressed with John’s experience, ideas and collaborative style,” Vath said. “I am very excited to have John as a member of the Student Life team.”

John joins SOU from Notre Dame University, where he served as the assistant director of student engagement and community engagement in addition to interim director of the Gender Relations Center. His official start date with SOU was October 17; his role oversees Student Activities, the Stevenson Union, Clubs and Organizations, and New Student Programs.

SOU stood out to John in several ways. He said that “many things excite me about SOU but the people (students, staff, and faculty) and the institutional potential stand out the most.”

John has a long history of dedication to institutions of higher education and the students they serve. He is a two-time graduate of Central Michigan University, with a bachelor’s degree in anthropology and a master’s degree in higher education administration. While pursuing his studies at CMU, John served as a residence hall director for seven years. During that time, he was involved with campus organizations that support survivors of sexual aggression and mentoring college-aged men.

John moved next to Dallas, Texas, and the University of Texas at Dallas. He served as an assistant director of student organizations during his three years there. He also served as co-chair of Welcome Week(s) and Homecoming. The University of Notre Dame brought John back to the Midwest for the past seven years. His work in the Gender Relations Center focused on student leadership, mentoring peer educators and violence prevention programming.

“I hope to help our students and staff to develop a robust, engaging and exciting student experience from admission through graduation,” John said.

SOU students and employees are encouraged to stop by and connect with John in Stevenson Union 312A or reach out via email at johnstinj@sou.edu.

SOU Linking Leadership participants

Linking Leadership: Join SOU’s newest leadership program

SOU students can learn how to be leaders and gain an edge on their educational goals through the university’s newest leadership program, which is inviting students to sign up for required orientation sessions.

Linking Leadership is a competency based program, which allows students to learn at their own pace and through methods that work best for their personal learning styles. The intentional leadership development program is hosted by the Office of Student Life in collaboration with various departments and programs across campus. 

Participants will develop leadership skills through their existing activities and classes, and by engaging in new and diverse leadership opportunities. Students will learn leadership skills that will last a lifetime, make new friends and have fun with various program activities.

Students must attend an orientation session, which will be offered on three dates this fall, to participate in the program. Orientation details and signups are available at Tinyurl.com/LLSOU.

Questions should be addressed to Larry Locke, assistant director of Student Life, at lockel@sou.edu.