Getting Involved Key to Getting Through College

You might even call it a no-brainer: go to college, get involved on campus, and you're more likely to graduate.

Studies have shown that being involved in extracurricular activities in college has a positive effect on a student's likelihood of graduating, especially when the activity involves not only peers but faculty and administrators.

In addition, such activities also have some impact on a student's career, especially if a student takes a leadership role in the activity. Researchers conclude that such involvement increases self-confidence and interpersonal and leadership skills, all of which are important to job success.

Tennessee Technological University sports a concrete example of how involvement affects a student's future. Tennessee Tech's Student Orientation Leaders (SOLs) graduate at a rate of over 90 percent, and the average quality point average (QPA) among them surpasses 3.0 on a 4.0 scale.

Tennessee Tech's SOLs are students who volunteer to help new students get to know the campus and the school just before classes begin in the fall. In a five-day extravaganza of events, freshman students can meet President Volpe and attend a reception in his home, where they also meet administrators from throughout the university and the deans of each college. (A smaller orientation occurs for first-time students who begin in the spring semester.)

The SOLs are responsible not only for helping new students find their way around, but also for making sure they meet their college dean face-to-face or recognize the administrator they need to talk to about financial aid. SOLs plan and coordinate numerous ice-breaker events, including a cookout, carnival, scavenger hunt and freshman mixer, as well as orientation and information meetings.

Betty Salters, director of Student Activities and Campus Life at Tennessee Tech, organizes the SOLs and the Student Orientation Assistants (SOAs), a smaller group of past SOLs who serve as team leaders to each new group of SOLs. To confirm what she had always suspected, Salters reviewed the graduation rates and grade averages of SOLs and SOAs who served between 1986 and 1990.

There were 345 SOLs in that period, and 317 -- or 91.9 percent -- graduated from Tennessee Tech. Their average QPA was 3.05. Among the 40 SOAs who served in the same period, 37 graduated from Tennessee Tech (92.5 percent), two completed degrees at other schools, and one is still attending Tennessee Tech. Their average QPA was 3.16.

Tennessee Tech has the highest graduation rate of all the constituent universities of the Tennessee Board of Regents and the second highest rate among public universities in the state with 51 percent of its first-time freshmen graduating. The average graduation rate for public universities in Tennessee is 46 percent.

Salters says she wasn't surprised at the high numbers. "People who want to give their time to help other students -- well, that's a certain type. They don't get payment or credit, so they serve just because they want to," she says.

"They gain confidence, develop leadership skills and learn to deal with others," says Salters. "In fact, when employers see 'Student Orientation Leader' on a resume, they're likely to ask about it."

About 125 students apply to be SOLs each year. Applicants must have a 2.25 QPA to qualify. Applicants are judged on the basis of a group task in which six applicants work together. About 80 students are selected each year in January by a panel that includes an SOA, an administrator and a graduate assistant. Their orientation continues throughout spring semester with meetings, committee divisions and a mandatory training retreat.

The student orientation program has benefits beyond those for the students involved. Experts say that the key to effective orientation programs is to help new students make the transition to college life by introducing them in an informal setting to other students, faculty and staff who can help provide the information they need.

So, Tennessee Tech's SOLs are not only helping themselves but also helping others achieve their goals.