The Center for Student Engagement (CSE) hosted the annual Student Engagement Awards, which highlights and celebrates the work done by student leaders and student organizations over the 2020–21 academic year. While student organizations had the challenge of working with COVID-19 protocol and guidelines, they were still able to host valuable and creative programming for their fellow students.
“Our student organizations over the past academic year have had an outstanding impact on our students,” said Jordan Smith-Porter, assistant director of CSE. “We are proud to have over 400 student organizations ranging from academic organizations to performance organizations, to advocacy organizations, and more.”
Each year, CSE honors student organizations in several categories. Awards presented during this year’s virtual ceremony included:
- Outstanding Academic Student Organization award presented to the Society of Physics Students
- Outstanding Commitment to Inclusion honors awarded to Students for Migrant Justice.
- Overall Student Organization of the Year presented to United Residence Halls Council
Several new awards were created this year to account for virtual programming done by student organizations. Virtual programming became a necessity during the COVID-19 pandemic and the student organizations were able to quickly adapt to fulfill student needs. Awards in this category included the Commitment to Virtual Programming award presented to the Coalition of Black Social Workers and the Women of Haslam.
“Student organizations have had to adapt to a changing environment multiple times over the past year,” says Smith-Porter. “We have seen student organizations overcome those challenges by creating unique opportunities for students to stay connected to each other and to get other students involved.”
In addition to group awards, individual student awards were also given, included the Rising Student Organization Leader award presented to Amanda Inman who founded Helping Hands, and Benjamin Kilgore from VOLS 2 VOSL.
The Unsung Hero award recognizes a student who has positively influenced a student organization from behind the scenes and with a positive attitude, a willingness to help, and a commitment to excellence. This year’s winner was Syed Aqib for the Pakistani Students Association, whose contributions were vital to the growth and diversity of the organization.
Lucy Buck from the Management Society at UT was awarded the Spirit of Tennessee award which recognizes a student organization leader for their service, commitment, and contributions to their student organization and the University of Tennessee community. Lucy’s responsibilities included signing up and scheduling of members who wish to deliver meals to the elderly of Knoxville to group meal packing events that required her to ensure that everything was done in a COVID compliant.
This year, 11 students were recognized for participating in a six-week cohort-based program designed to develop intentional, value-based leaders who are committed to growth, innovation, and inclusion in student organizations at the university. Throughout the institute, these students learned about identity in relation to their role and how to create a sustainable organization that is set up for success. At the end of the program, each member presented an organization action plan, analyzing their next steps for organizational success.
“I’m extremely honored to have facilitated weekly sessions with this group of leaders,” says Nneka Walson, coordinator for student organization support. “RTPI fosters an environment of openness and vulnerability for presidents to discuss the trials and triumphs in their organizations. Through this, I was able to learn about the life experiences that shaped the students into the leaders they are. I’m excited to see how the cohort will apply all they’ve learned to their organizations and grow in the year to come.”
Whether in-person or virtually, student organizations have a unique impact on student’s experience, providing leadership opportunities and the chance to figure out how to engage their fellow students.