Students hungry for connection at UMSL Fall Involvement Expo

 Minority Student Nurses Association

Organizations such as the Minority Student Nurses Association set up in the Millennium Student Center third floor rotunda last Wednesday to recruit new members. (Photos by August Jennewein)

A deluge of early morning rain drove student organizations and the Office of Student Involvement team indoors last Wednesday – scrambling to set up tables and relocate recruiting materials – to the Millennium Student Center third floor rotunda for the Fall Involvement Expo at the University of Missouri–St. Louis.

It marked a triumphant return to in-person events, as the previous year’s expos had been held virtually in deference to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

The result was an expo marked by students’ hunger to get involved, make connections and find new friends through the organizations tabling for new members.

Siblings Abby Brinton, a second year, and Ian Brinton, a first year, came to the event to make connections and get involved on campus since both were living at home and commuting to school.

Abby, a psychology and social work student, wanted to check out the options. Ian, a College of Business Administration student, specifically hoped to talk to the Accounting Club and the Finance Club.

“There are a few organizations that I’ve thought about joining, but I didn’t know how to do that. So, when I heard about today I was like, ‘Oh, I better go.”

Like many at the event, criminology and criminal justice doctoral student Sarah Kirk started her program virtually. She joined the Criminology and Criminal Justice Graduate Student Association and then took on a leadership role as Student Government Association representative.

“Especially with last year, with COVID, it’s good to get involved with an organization,” she said.

CCJ GSA President Alessandra Early initially was drawn in by the prospect of making connections, the students running the organization and as a way to find funding as a graduate student.

“We’re just a very open, friendly organization,” Early said. “We’re really interested in the spread of criminal justice and rehabilitative justice. If you’re interested in how the system works, analysis, I think we’re a good organization for that. A lot of our faculty are leading faculty in the field of criminal and civil justice, which provides us a unique opportunity to learn what’s going on.”

The organization has events, such as speakers, trivia nights and drives for local shelters.

Lia Spears, a senior BSBA student, found her voice through the Associated Black Collegians.

“It has helped me come out of my shell more,” she said. “I’m a very reserved person. I’ve been able to network more with other people, and actually found out that I like talking to people, and it’s not as bad as I thought it was at first. But it helped me get on my shell and find those networking opportunities within the campus.”

Spears decided to go for the leadership role because she saw some changes within the organization that she wanted to make.

She encourages other students to join ABC to develop similar qualities within themselves.

“We have those tough conversations with minority students and their allies that need to be had but we make sure that they’re in a comfortable setting,” she said.

Furthering academic and career opportunities was a common answer for why students should join certain organizations.

Biology students Nora Stith (pictured at right) and Elizabeth Santiago (at left) represented the Pre-dental Society.

“I wanted to be with like-minded individuals who care about volunteering and giving back to the community, as well as the oral health of the individuals in that community,” Stith said.

Santiago had similar reasons for joining, but she emphasized the connections and friends made through the organization.

“It also gives me the opportunity to volunteer and meet people from different backgrounds like me because I’m not from St. Louis,” she said, explaining that she’d moved to St. Louis from Puerto Rico four years ago and hopes to help Spanish speakers receive dental care.

The organization helps students interested in becoming dentists do just that through resume workshops, study groups, exam preparation, shadowing and tours to dental schools.

William Smith, the treasurer of Iota Phi Theta Fraternity, explained that service comprised a big part of the fraternity’s events as well. That means everything from food drives to park clean-ups to going to schools to talk about mental health.

Smith, who’d always thought he’d be part of Greek life, was drawn to IOTA because of the feeling of belong. That’s also his pitch for why students should join.

“Just be yourself,” he said. “If you want to join something that’s great or if you want to make your own tradition, not rest upon one, we’re going to make you feel welcome.”

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