Applied Learning: Don’t just write to your classmates, talk to them

by Vinesh Kannan, Class of 2015

The diversity and potential that student-led organizations have at IMSA is tremendous. This time of year, many students are applying for positions in groups because they enjoy their activities and because they provide a great opportunity for personal development. If you value those clubs and their contributions, you’ll take it as your responsibility to ensure that they improve with every year. While writing your responses, reach out to those students who made the applications in the first place – this article will give you a peek into what you can learn from them.

’Tis the season for applications, interviews, and group processes. Within 24 hours of the Application Library’s debut on the Student Council website, it jumped onto our top ten pages list, with more than 244 different users having downloaded a document to this date.

This is with good reason. With such a variety of vibrant student-run organizations at IMSA, it’s easy to imagine yourself joining the ranks of a club or team that interests you. These “extracurricular” activities are opportunities that so many of us at IMSA engage in not just because they are fun, but despite the connotation of the term used to describe them, they can be a powerful educational experience. Students at IMSA should be encouraged to pursue leadership roles in groups on campus because they are fantastic outlets for our skills and teach crucial lessons about cooperation and creativity. And if you value those clubs and their contributions, you’ll take it as your responsibility to ensure that they improve with every year. The challenge comes in pitching yourself to your classmates as a valuable asset in a club. No matter how excited you are about applying to join a new organization, if you don’t have much experience with the work and tasks that the group needs to complete, writing a strong application can be tough. On both sides of the application process, I have observed my classmates frustrated with vague responses, unimaginative ideas, and confusion over the basic functions of an organization on our campus.

There is a simple solution to this: just reach out to the people who brought you that diabolically difficult application in the first place. Applying can be a powerful learning experience too if you treat it as such. The best source of information and inspiration for diving into a club lies in the students who work to make them thriving organizations. Many of us become interested in and learn about groups at IMSA in the first place because upperclassmen we look up to or live with are so involved in them. Even though your application reflects your perspectives, skills, and ideas, there is no shame in reaching out to current members of the group for help and constructive feedback along the way. If you’ll be filling out an application in the next few weeks, do the quality of your responses a favor and take the following bits of advice… there’s a good chance you’ll surprise yourself with how much you learn.

Pick someone’s brain.

Calling for new members provides a special moment of exposure for a club at IMSA. With a new year ahead, candidates for leadership positions begin to put more thought than usual into devising new projects and events for the future. To make sure that those ideas are valuable and not a waste of time to the people reading them when they pop up in application responses, a good applicant needs a little something called “organizational memory.” It’s a technical term that refers to the history of a team’s efforts, especially with respect to their successes and failures. If you run an idea by an upperclassman on the board of the club you are applying to, there’s a good chance they’ll be able to point out some holes in your plan that, while perhaps not apparent to you, they must have dealt with many times over. New students discussing past endeavors with more experienced members is necessary to prevent an organization from repeating the same mistakes each year. Experienced leaders are always willing to talk about the causes and projects they care about, take advantage of that wealth of knowledge to bolster any content in your applications.

Find another pair of eyes.

Organizational memory has to do with successes as much as failures. While not all veteran club members will be able to fully open up and analyze reasons for failure within their organization, usually because they’re tackling those problems at the present time, you can find people to share their team’s successes anywhere. Talking to any classmate who is close to you and involved with a cause or organization on campus can reveal the tips to creating a great event, reaching out to more students, or dealing with money or time constraints. Groups on campus could learn a lot from each other with just a few conversations and when applying to one, you have a chance to connect their knowledge and create growth. I won’t spoil these pieces of advice with any specific examples – you can find plenty of those just by striking up a chat with a classmate. Thinking of applications specifically, it couldn’t hurt to have that person read over one of your responses to see if you are communicating your thoughts effectively or give you a new perspective on the topic.

Applications and the thoughts that student put into them make for easy prompts to jumpstart a conversation with a more experienced classmate about the organizations that do so much for this campus. But the most important thing to remember is that there’s no good reason to make those discussions exclusive to the application period. Truly passionate veteran leaders will always have an open door and some knowledge waiting for you. Take them up on that, because passing on helpful lessons to the next generation of leaders at IMSA is the only way that our promising clubs and teams can grow. No matter what time of year it is, you can always apply yourself.

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