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OSA finds home in Center for Student Life

New centralized location allows for greater connections

May  03, 2013

Ken Brill and Katey Bignall are bustling with enthusiasm as OSA settles into its new space.

Well before the August 2013 opening of the Center for Student Life (CSL), the building’s fourth floor began to come to life. Lined up between the updated Brew by the Slough on the south side and a new library instruction room with striking views to the north, a number of resources support student learning and daily life on this residential campus.

These include relocated offices for the Reading/Writing Center and Multicultural Services, a new International Student Services office (formerly part of International and Off-Campus Programs) and a new setting for the Office of Student Activities.

OSA may have taken the greatest leap forward — its previous headquarters were an old two-story house in a neighborhood on the edge of campus. But now OSA is prominently located along the CSL concourse that will connect the current library building with the new fourth-floor addition.

Directed by Ken Brill ’82 with assistance from Katey Bignall, the award-winning OSA is home to Augustana’s Greek Life; Multicultural Programming Board and Student Life Programming Board (with 14 committees between them); nearly 200 student clubs and interest groups; a new independent and international film series — and much more.

Austin Zarbuck ’14 is co-chair of the Live on Campus committee, and next year will be the executive director for the Student Life Programming Board. He has talked with friends at large universities and sees a big difference in student involvement.

“Because of our small size, more students attend events,” he said — and not just percentages, but actual numbers.

Spirituality Co-chair Matt Mordini ’13 agreed. “Also, we have a well-funded, busy and active student activities office. We might have six or seven events in just one weekend.”

From left, Michelle Egan, Shannon Slick and Tempris Daniels work in the new OSA office.

OSA’s new space reflects the variety and extent of the students’ work: an expansive front desk and waiting area; a “collaboration room” with TV and white board; a kitchen (used for Summer and Fall Connection orientation events, outdoor concerts, Fields of Faith field trips, Late Nights, and other events that need ice cream or barbecue); a computer lab; a marketing room; several meeting rooms and offices; and storage for a range of items, from bingo supplies to OSA Snuggies.

Assistant Director Katey Bignall appreciates the new centralized location. “It’s nice to partner with the other offices here, and also be more accessible to them,” she said. “And if someone comes looking for the Reading/Writing Center, they can find out about us, too.

“The student population uses the library,” she said. “This is where they are — and it’s good to meet them where they are.”

Building leaders

The larger space gives OSA students more freedom, and with that comes more responsibility. In part, this connection can explain the award-winning program’s ability to develop strong leadership skills in students.

Augustana’s Greek Life system is one example. Bignall oversees our 14 Greek chapters, and she described how Augustana’s Greek Life is different from the systems at other schools.

Did you know?

According to the Wabash National Study of Liberal Arts Education, Augustana students’ socially responsible leadership gains were 80% larger than the average gains among students from similar institutions.

Our students also reported a statistically significant higher level of co-curricular involvement than students at similar institutions during both the freshman and senior years.

“Being a local community, we don’t have the national pressures about dues, housing — all the kinds of things that can pull students and administrators back and forth,” she explained.

“They have more freedom here — for example, they can switch their main service from United Way to the blood drive, or anything else,” she said. “It gives it more meaning for them, and more responsibility. It works well for our community, and that’s important.”

Director of Student Activities Ken Brill sums up what makes Augustana’s program stand out: “We have high expectations, coupled with autonomy,” he said. “Holding people accountable is important.”

One particularly strong leadership program has been in place at Augustana for more than 20 years: EMERGE for first-year students. Experiential in nature and constantly energized by students’ new ideas, Brill said, “It just works. Students love it.”

Comprising about 120 students, or 20 percent of the first-year class, EMERGE is divided into 12 groups, with peer leaders connected to areas on campus such as the arts, sciences, athletics, underrepresented students, etc. The program is constantly evolving.

As a follow-up to EMERGE, OSA is developing a new program to continue a student’s leadership development through the senior year. The newly named OSA Leadership Academy has four tiers: bronze (EMERGE), silver, gold and platinum. Led by Brill but created almost entirely by students, the Leadership Academy is customized to Augustana’s particular brand of leadership development throughout four years on campus.

“We’re excited,” Brill admits. “It’s going to be the next big thing.”

On to the next big thing

Doug Peters ’13 is an outgoing co-executive director of the OSA Executive Board, vice president of fraternities on Greek Council Executive Board, and a program assistant — one of “the go-to people” who help Brill and Bignall with anything that needs to be done.

A biology and neuroscience major, Peters claims that working in OSA has been a peak experience during his four years at Augustana. He will be entering a doctorate program in microbiology this fall, and feels the confidence and leadership skills he’s gained will help him in the future.

“Organizing events for the student body, overseeing fraternities and keeping the office running smoothly and efficiently are all skills that can't be taught in the classroom,” he said. “It's hard to quantify…but I feel I have become a better leader, a better speaker and a much more confident individual.

“I believe that those professionals who can take charge and get things done to the best of their abilities are often the most successful,” Peters said. “Working for OSA has given me an opportunity to practice doing just that, in a way that classwork simply cannot.”

Beth Roberts