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SOS and ELI return to in-person events with changes

Both programs under the Center for Leadership and Civic Engagement are making returns after a difficult year of being fully online, with some structural and fundamental changes defining a new start for each program. ORACLE PHOTO/LEDA ALVIM

Two signature programs under the Center for Leadership and Civic Engagement (CLCE) — Stampede of Service (SOS) and the Emerging Leaders Institute (ELI) — have undergone recent changes to get back to normal after most USF students returned in person for the fall.

In response to the limited or fully virtual events held in 2020, each program is rethinking its approach for the 2021 school year. ELI, a program focused on helping first-year students polish their leadership skills, is restructuring its program to weekly on-campus meetings. SOS, a monthly volunteer event for students, is implementing new safety guidelines for its reinstituted in-person events.

ELI will be transforming its delivery method from its previous off-campus retreat style of the program to on-campus meetings, according to Anna Vest, associate director of leadership development. The program, in previous years, would engage students in a two-day retreat for an immersive experience focused on developing leadership skills.

This year, ELI is hoping to recruit 30-40 participants per cohort and 16-20 student mentors for weekly Friday sessions from Oct. 1 through Dec. 3 for the fall portion. Applications for both positions are currently open in BullsConnect and will close Sept. 19.

Eligible participants should be a first-time-in-college (FTIC) student who entered USF in fall 2020 or 2021. They should also be available to attend nine consecutive weekly sessions either from 1:30-3:30 p.m. or 3:30-5 p.m.

The weekly sessions, according to Vest, will cover topics such as personal identity to relational leadership and social change models to prepare new students for global citizenship opportunities.

During the spring semester, after the fall sessions are completed, ELI graduates will participate in “ongoing follow-up components” with mentors. The spring content will differ by including mentors hosting biweekly conversations and check-ins with their mentees. It will also include professional staff from the CLCE who will check in with participants three times during the spring semester.

Vest said changing its delivery method was necessary to provide a more personalized experience for new students and mentors. It also makes the program more accessible for students due to the increase of available positions and meetings now taking place on campus. 

“The whole goal is to introduce new students to leadership concepts, and to get them comfortable and prepared for pursuing and getting involved in opportunities at USF and beyond,” she said.

Upperclassmen will mentor freshmen and FTIC students on the importance of leadership on campus.

Beyond the technical goals of accessibility and expanding the program, she hopes students can feel more like they belong to a community with the recent changes.

“The goal really is a holistic approach to helping engage students … through that first academic year to really help them feel like they belong on campus, to help them feel like they have a place that reflects their personal values and their interests,” Vest said. “And to also help them feel like they could be a part of a bigger thread in the fabric of the USF community.”

The weekly ELI sessions will be held in the newly refurbished CLCE and Student Organization Collaboration Space in the Marshall Student Center.

While Vest said an exact office location would be revealed in the near future on BullsConnect, she said the office is very spacious and will allow students to safely practice social distancing of at least 3 feet. Students are expected to wear masks, and all chairs and tables will be disinfected regularly to ensure the program can provide a safe environment for an in-person return. 

SOS, a monthly volunteer event that gives students the opportunity to understand more about their communities in line with the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, is also returning to in-person activities. 

Meetings for SOS were held virtually on Microsoft Teams last year, with a set start and end time and no drop-ins allowed, according to Associate Director for Civic Engagement Kimberly Fabbri-Greener. Events were also significantly scaled back so participants could complete them alone or with social distancing.

“We also weren’t promoting service as part of the experience last year, so we really focused on the educational components of student creative service and the reflection components,” Fabbri-Greener said. 

“For service, we really focused on those independent projects that one could do either virtually or just oneself, such as going to a local park or a local beach and doing that cleanup by yourself as an independent project.”

There will be two events taking place on the first and last Thursday of the month — a kickoff session and a reflection session. The first kickoff was Sept. 9. 

Each month brings a new topic to learn and discuss. Fabbri-Greener said she encourages students to drop in and see what SOS is all about for themselves.

“This year our projects are really focusing on lots of opportunities to get out into the community gardens, still with safety measures in place where we’re encouraging everyone to bring masks with them and to stay 3-6 feet away from other individuals and to bring hand sanitizer and disinfect the things that they’re using,” she said. 

Vest hopes these changes will provide new students with plenty of resources as they begin their journeys at USF.

“Being a new student at a very large institution can feel very daunting, and you may not be sure about whether or not you’re going to be participating in a specific student organization or even how to be involved,” she said. 

“[These programs] are a really good way to get your feet wet to learn about what’s available, to learn about yourself and to learn how you can be a puzzle piece in the greater puzzle that is USF, and how you can help contribute to the success of yourself and other students here in our community.”