College Presidents Are Taking a Unique Approach to Connecting with Students
In an unexpected twist, college presidents across the United States are opting for a novel mode of transportation to engage with their students: golf carts. This unconventional method allows them to interact with students on a more personal level, making them more approachable and relatable. Whether it’s shuttling students between classes, participating in campus events, or simply cruising around to greet visitors, these presidents have found that these golf cart moments greatly benefit student life on campus.
One such president is Ronald Berry of the University of Louisiana at Monroe. On the first day of every semester, Berry drives a six-seat golf cart around campus, shuttling students between academic buildings and offering words of encouragement. His efforts aim to create a welcoming atmosphere and provide support to students during their transitional phase into college life.
Berry is not alone in his endeavor. Many college presidents, like former president Friar Kevin Mullen and professor Friar Dennis Tamburello of Siena College in New York, have also embraced the use of golf carts to connect with students. These presidents have discovered various reasons for choosing this mode of transportation and how it positively impacts student engagement on campus.
The trend of presidents giving students a lift is not new. In 2004, Albert Simone, the former president of the Rochester Institute of Technology, started providing campus rides on Labor Day as an official welcome and an opportunity for students to have one-on-one conversations with the university president. Similarly, former University of Florida president Kent Fuchs offered free rides to students on their first day back to campus, jokingly referring to himself as a “presidential Uber.”
The potential for impactful interactions has not gone unnoticed by students. They appreciate the efforts made by their college presidents to enhance their college experience. Golf carts address common student complaints about parking and long walks between buildings, as they can easily be flagged down by students going in the same direction. Presidents like Berry and Seifert have taken advantage of this mode of transportation to address these concerns and make campus life more convenient for students.
Besides being a practical means of transportation, golf carts also offer an open-air experience that allows the presidents to be easily identifiable as they traverse the campus. Students can quickly recognize them and approach them with any concerns or feedback they may have. Jim Gash, the president of Pepperdine University, explains that the open-air nature of golf carts facilitates meaningful connections with students and fosters a sense of belonging within the institution.
Connecting with college students and increasing their feelings of belonging is crucial for college presidents and other higher education stakeholders. Loneliness is a prevalent issue among young adults, with a significant percentage reporting feeling lonely or like they do not matter to others. Therefore, college presidents have an essential role in addressing these challenges and ensuring the mental well-being of their students. A 2023 Student Voice survey conducted by Inside Higher Ed and College Pulse found that around one in three students believe their administrators have a responsibility to help them with mental health issues.
Riding in golf carts not only provides an opportunity for presidents to interact with students but also gives them insight into the challenges students may face. During these rides, presidents often ask students about their classes, gather feedback about their college experience, and address any concerns they may have. For example, Chuck Seifert, the president of Siena College, has started asking students about the registration process, a common pain point for students, to better assess and improve their experience. These conversations allow presidents to foster relationships with students and demonstrate their commitment to their success.
The impact of these interactions is significant. By driving around campus in a golf cart, presidents like Ronald Berry can make themselves more approachable and show their support for students. Berry, as an alumnus of the University of Louisiana at Monroe, understands the anxieties that students may face when starting college, particularly those from rural communities. His goal is to create a comfortable and supportive environment where students feel like they have an ally.
At Pepperdine University, Jim Gash aims to be accessible and unguarded as a president. He sees the use of golf carts as a practical tool that facilitates meaningful connections and fosters a sense of community at the institution. Similarly, other campus leaders are looking to emulate the success of presidents like Berry and Gash by taking on the role of campus chauffeur.
As the trend of presidents using golf carts to engage with students continues to gain traction, it is essential to acknowledge the positive impact it has on student life. By embracing this unique approach, college presidents demonstrate their commitment to student success and well-being. The use of golf carts not only enhances campus accessibility but also promotes a sense of community and belonging. These interactions between presidents and students create a more inclusive and supportive environment that ultimately benefits the entire campus community.
In conclusion, the use of golf carts by college presidents to engage with students is proving to be a successful and innovative approach. By making themselves more accessible, presidents can connect with students on a personal level and address their concerns directly. The open-air nature of golf carts allows for easy recognition and interaction, creating a positive atmosphere on campus. As college presidents continue to embark on these golf cart adventures, the impact on student life and the sense of community is likely to grow, fostering a more welcoming and inclusive environment for all.