Driving student experience outside the classroom
Through his own experience of working at Ashoka University, Abhishek Singh writes on how the Office of Student Affairs creates a holistic University experience for students
Abhishek Singh6 February, 2023 | 4m read
“What do you do at Ashoka University?”, a friend recently asked.
I repeated my usual answer, “I work at the Office of Student Affairs which has three verticals under it —the Residence Life Office, the Sports and Exercise Office and the Student Life Office.” At this point, I could sense a questioning look on their face, wondering what this Office of Student Affairs is. But I avoided their curious look and changed the conversation.
Explaining what the Office of Student Affairs (OSA) does is not a simple task. It includes questions such as what is the goal of the Office, why it is important and what issues it addresses. So, to respond to all these questions, I venture to write this piece, as I unpack these answers for myself.
Before I joined the OSA a year ago, I worked with an NGO, the Rural Changemakers, which worked on the idea of open education. Open education refers to the practice of education which is not limited to the four walls of a classroom but happens through our daily activities. For instance, we focused on collaboration and teamwork through daily sporting activities. The OSA at Ashoka University, on similar lines, aims to drive student learning outside the classroom. While my role at my previous job was exciting and meaningful, what attracted me towards my current role at the OSA was that at Ashoka I would be able to impact a much larger and diverse student population.
At a broad level, the OSA takes care of the residential experience of the students, creates and enforces policies for student conduct on campus, organizes the orientation for incoming students, and organizes events and workshops throughout the year while also facilitating student events.
For me, one of the highlights of last year was organizing the Orientation for the freshers. It can be overwhelming for a student to leave their home for the first time to join a fully residential campus. Therefore, in a five-day programme, we organize multiple workshops to give them a glimpse of what life at University means, prepare them for their first year on campus and ease the transition process for them. They get to know the rules and the structure of the University, the people they can reach out to for any support and the ways they can add value to their University life by participating in sports, cultural events, clubs and societies, and so on.
Starting from orientation, throughout the year, the Office drives, defines, and expands the experience of students outside the classroom. And now, as I complete my first year in the Office, I can see the two major ways through which the Office achieves this.
The first is maintaining the overall well-being of students. In addition to physical and mental well-being, it also means providing the students with a safe space to express their dilemmas and seek resolutions to them. For instance, this year, a group of students could not eat the mess food due to time and dietary constraints. Even though this issue does not come under the Office’s purview but directly impacts students’ well-being, the Dean of Student Affairs met them. Through dialogue with the students, we tried to come up with a solution that was acceptable to students and is in sync with university policies. Through this kind of individual care and attention, the Office contributes to maintaining the overall well-being of the students on campus.
The second is promoting learning opportunities outside the classroom. When a student(s) wants to organize any event on campus, they approach the Student Life Office or the Sports and Exercise Office. The Office thoroughly goes through their request, gives constructive feedback, and guides the students throughout. For students, this is an opportunity to learn and grow, as they dabble with a variety of tasks during each stage of the event.
Ashoka University is a place full of opportunities to grow. Sometimes, it becomes a challenge for students to choose between the various offerings. Therefore, when I had to organize an informal interaction between students and the Dean of Student Affairs, I chose the theme of balancing academics and life on campus. The idea was for the students to hear the experiences of the Dean and understand that she has also fared through similar challenges in her college life, to inspire the students and facilitate their well-being through learning outside the classroom.
In my one year at the OSA, I have enjoyed promoting learning opportunities for students, the discussions on improving the well-being of students, and the constant effort to be more inclusive. In the next few years, the Office will grow and become more structured. And maybe the student affairs professionals will become student affairs educators.
(Abhishek Singh is an Assistant Manager with the Office of Student Affairs.)