An Observation About Student Motivation

Many student organizations may face issues with getting students excited and motivated to participate in events and projects. I've been there - the IEEE Student Branch at UH Manoa has been grappling with this issue for as long as our alumni can remember. As bad as things seem though, there always seem to be a few people who are there holding things up.

This is an issue that I've taken to heart as long as I've been in the leadership for the IEEE Student Branch here. The sum of our parts is greater than each individual; students have so much potential if they can work together. A strong community can accomplish so much more than a few talented individuals. Somewhere deep in my brain I've always realized this and I think most people are in the same position.

Creating a strong community is much harder said than done, but as I've gone through my experiences I've noticed a few things about student communities:

  1. Students can and will step up when given the chance
  2. Motivation for students has to come internally
  3. Students, especially engineering students are freaking busy
  4. Everyone has different priorities

Students can and will step up when given the chance to do so. I've seen this time and time again with my own officers. But they need to be given the chance to do so. They need information, assistance and the satisfaction that they've accomplished something. Unlike a job, student motivation has to primarily come internally. With a job, a lot of motivation comes externally: a boss, a family, some money or a career.

Students don't have that luxury - students pay tuition to be in school. They pay to take classes, pass them and then go on later to get a job. As unfortunate as that may be many times this is the reality of the situation, especially in a University where the student culture may not be very strong (a commuter campus for example). But this doesn't mean those students aren't motivated by anything.

Those students are very busy, they have their classes to take care of. For engineering students, this struggle is all too real - classes can often feel suffocating. Maybe the priority for those students is really to get through college, graduate and find a nice job. They could be from an underprivileged family and are just squeaking by to break the cycle they're stuck in. It can be hard for those individuals to participate.

Many students have different priorities, but this is what a University is supposed to be. People from different backgrounds will have different priorities; we don't want a University to be a monocultural landscape. For those students, the incentive to participate can be different than someone else.

The most important thing when trying to build a student community is to realize these constraints and work with them. I went against the tide and fought this for a long time: students SHOULD be active, they HAVE TO come to this event if they know what is good for their careers.

The best way to get more students to participate is to give them the chance to do so. This is the most powerful thing that any student organization can do to get students to participate and contribute. Students will step up to the plate and take responsibility - just give it a little bit of love and time. And for those who have different priorities? Well they want to participate too, just in a different way. If you can find ways to include those people as well, you'll soon have a strong, self-sustaining community.

You'll be surprised what your fellow classmates can accomplish together when you work to give them the right tools to contribute and participate.


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