Jackson seeks student engagement
By Reggie Ponder
Friday, January 26, 2018
A bus trip to Chesapeake to see the new “Black Panther” movie. Free weekly bowling sessions at Albemarle Lanes. A rollerskating party on campus.
All are among upcoming activities planned for students at Elizabeth City State University.
The university’s leadership in recent months has identified student activities as a critical need for recruiting new students and retaining current ones.
Arthur Jackson, ECSU’s interim chief student affairs officer, said in an interview Wednesday that activities such as skating and bowling are active, fun and help build community among students. More importantly, they’re also things students have said they want to do.
Jackson said one of the major things he’s emphasized since arriving at ECSU last month is student engagement. Students want more involvement with ECSU administration and the Student Affairs Office, and Jackson sees his role as facilitating that engagement.
To help students feel more engaged, it’s important that ECSU officials know what they want, Jackson said. To get that input, the Student Affairs Office is conducting surveys and holding both one-on-one and group meetings with students, he said.
Jackson said while he wants to put funds and resources toward student activities, he wants to make sure the activities are things students will attend.
Another new offering is a campus ministry office that will provide spiritual assistance to students, Jackson said. A group of community pastors has agreed to provide non-denominational church services on campus on Sundays. The pastors also plan to offer Bible study sessions for students.
The plan to offer a campus ministry program came out of a needs assessment performed during ECSU Homecoming last fall, Jackson said. An on-campus ministry in fact was identified as the top need by both ECSU alumni and students.
"It came as a surpirse to us but when you hear those kinds of requests loud and clear it's important for the university to fulfill those needs," Jackson said.
Believing university facilities and student activities are both important to retention, Jackson has taken direct responsibility for student concerns about both. He said the university just signed a contract to renovate the campus bowling alley and commuter lounge, and he hopes to have the building open for students by the end of spring break.
A food pantry has been started on campus and students who are “food insecure” can come in and get food items, Jackson said. He noted that food insecurity is something he was familiar with from his time at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte. An upcoming faculty and staff canned goods drive will generate some additional food for the food pantry, he said.
Jackson said he is working to stabilize the Student Government Association and Student Center. Some student organizations have been in limbo for a while and he is working to re-establish them, he said.
Student Affairs is partnering with ECSU’s Office of Academic Affairs on planning Black History Month events for February.
Listening to students to find out what they want and need is one of the areas where Student Affairs needs to do a better job, Jackson said, adding he also meets with faculty and staff regularly to learn about their concerns.
The university is working to rebuild the concept of "Viking Pride" on campus, Jackson said. One way it’s done so is through an emphasis on volunteering, which builds community, he said.
“It will be an evolutionary kind of change,” Jackson said, adding ECSU may not be able to do everything it needs to do in one year. "I think it's going to improve over the years."
Jackson said he will do everything he can in his six-month stint as interim chief student affairs officer. He explained he already has retired once and is driving back to his home in Charlotte many weekends, so the job at ECSU isn’t something he plans to do long-term.
Jackson said he agreed to take the job at ECSU because of his commitment to historically black colleges and universities and his respect for Chancellor Thomas Conway.
“I wouldn't do this for just any institution,” Jackson said.