The work of student affairs professionals is, at its core, about student development. From academic success to leadership development to health promotion and beyond—our goal is to make sure that we support, empower, and educate our students. Robust student affairs experiences are led by vision, driven by objectives, supported by programs and interventions, and evaluated for efficacy. However, we also need to ask a crucial question when designing and providing student experiences:
How are they memorable?
If our work is truly about student development, then we need to care about how our work and its effects are remembered by students. Many people think of a memory as something ephemeral. It’s made instantly and brought back involuntarily. In that sense, an experience can make for an (instant) memory. Things like a fireworks show or a surprise visit by the campus mascot make for good memories. But there are ways that we can set out to provide intentional,“memorable” experiences for students. That is experiences whose developmental effects they will remember.
1.Have students commit to memory the goals for the experience
Be forthcoming with your students about what they will get out of the experience. Whether it’s in your marketing, (social media, posters, etc.), or pre-experience communication, (emails, training, etc.), these goals will help students commit to the learning experience. Any true student affairs program, event, or experience should have a robust learning outcomes-driven design. If you aren’t working from that framework, that might explain why your event isn’t memorable. Your event should be designed to be committed to memory from the start.
2.Follow up with students to extend the experience—and memory
We often recall certain memories because of something we see, hear, or even smell. The recollection helps strengthen and lengthen the memory, making it more robust and meaningful. If you want to provide a memorable experience for students, then you should look to deliberately have students recall the memories they make. Consider following up with students post-experience. Either through emails or other direct messaging, give them resources that could help them commit their experiences to memory. This could include video recordings of notable moments from the experience, related readings, relevant websites, or resources and opportunities for critical reflection. Don’t forget to integrate this messaging into your communications strategy and plan.
3.Connect students to other experiences that expand the memory
Many of the memories we have are connected to other memories. These connections are what separate fleeting memories from the ones we hold dear. If you want to provide a memorable experience for students, then let them know about other positive experiences they can connect with that memory. Student affairs can often be a very siloed and disconnected field. For students, it can be even more complicated if they don’t know your campus. If there are other programs, events, or activities that you believe relate to your goals, let students know about them. Our students should not have discrete, unrelated memories about their postsecondary experience. Ideally, their time on our campuses—the curricular and co-curricular—should be a memorable experience overall.
Learn more about improving the student experience by reading our ebook on helping students set goals: