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Cultivate, A New Leadership Development Program

Cultivate is a new leadership development program for third-and fourth-year students. In this semester-long program, students meet weekly to discuss readings based on the SMU Leadership Framework. During these discussions, students gain a deeper understanding of themselves and their role as leaders in an individual, organizational, and community context. They bring their current experiences as campus leaders into the discussion as well as consider future leadership opportunities beyond graduation.

The idea for Cultivate came about during a discussion with Nick Fontela, graduate assistant for the Office of the Student Experience, where we were discussing the need for more leadership development programs on campus and a desire to be more immersed in leadership literature. After reflecting on the existing leadership program offerings, a gap in programs that serve third and fourth-year students was identified. Through a few more brainstorming conversations with students and staff, the idea of creating a leadership reading group for students was solidified.

Cultivate meets each Monday for an hour to discuss the weekly pre-assigned readings. The readings range from leadership textbooks to business journals and even some bestselling books. The selected readings are centered on leaders and leadership and connected to the SMU Leadership Framework. Through these readings and subsequent discussions, I hope students grow in their leadership identity. I also hope Cultivate fosters a community of collaboration amongst student leaders and that the ripples of this community are felt throughout the Hilltop as a force for positive change.

Meet the Cultivate Students

Written By: Meghan Perez, Assistant Director, Leadership Programs for Office of the Student Experience

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Fall 2021 Emerging Leaders Cohort Graduates

The Emerging Leaders Program successfully graduated 26 students in Fall 2021. Throughout the semester, these first-year students learned about the SMU Leadership Framework and how to apply it to on-campus leadership roles. Through hearing from guest speakers, hands-on activities, and discussions, they learned about how their campus leadership experiences can prepare them to be world changers. A few students from each cohort return the following year as student facilitators, guiding that year’s emerging leaders throughout their activities. 

Hear what a student, a facilitator, and the director of the program have to say about their experience:

Hayley Hudgens
Emerging Leader

How do you think the Emerging Leaders program will contribute to your experience at SMU going forward?

Emerging Leaders has given me the resources to network across many different fields of people and has introduced thought-provoking knowledge that allows me to grow as a person and a leader at SMU. I can use all that I learned in future leadership positions on campus with the end goal of creating better organizations that contribute to SMU.

How has the program helped you develop as a person and as a leader?

This program has opened my eyes to what it means to be a good leader and how to practice that in my daily life outside of a typical leadership position. The skills that come with being a leader like being inherently ethical, relational, and courageously inclusive are not limited to being labeled as a “leader;” these skills are accessible to everyone. Now, I actively think of how to be a better leader and person in social settings and make sure to hold myself to a high standard so others may be inspired to do the same. The leadership framework has changed my way of thinking about how to actively improve my personal character because we were also taught that propelling a vision into action is part of developing ourselves and the people around us into better leaders. 

What is the most impactful lesson you have taken away from the program?

The lesson I learned the most from was when we talked about “what is power” and “what do different types of power look like.” The activity was to have volunteers go up and take a physical stance that they believed to hold the most power within a scene of others taking similar positions with the same mindset. Afterward, each volunteer had a chance to explain their reasoning for taking their position and explanations ranged from that they felt being the man behind the desk was the most powerful to putting a hand on another person to support them was the most powerful. It was extremely thought-provoking to understand that the definition of power is circumstantial and can vary according to each individual. We then applied this to leadership by realizing that anyone can be a leader even by using different types of power.

What was your favorite part of the program?

Out of all of the wonderful opportunities and lessons learned from Emerging Leaders, my favorite part of the program was learning more about the psychology behind being a good leader and how to implement this on SMU’s campus. Going into depth about what really makes a good leader and the growth that is involved with that was very beneficial to my personal development and to others as well. Having a support group of other like-minded individuals was also a major factor in contributing to each other’s growth and those connections will remain strong far into the future. 

What would you want to tell incoming students about the program?

I would tell every incoming student to take advantage of every opportunity they are given and especially try out emerging leaders. Whatever they put into Emerging Leaders is what they will get from it and with a good attitude and open mind, this short program will give them knowledge that will last them throughout college and into their future careers. The leadership framework curriculum will change you in ways you did not realize you could change. 

Willy MacCluskey
Student Facilitator

Why did you apply to become a facilitator for this year’s cohort?

I applied to become a student facilitator because I wanted to make the same impact on the freshman that Emerging Leaders had on me last year. It is difficult to come into college not knowing anybody and having to figure out your place; especially during the times we live in. EL always gave me something I could depend on last year. It gave me a reason to look forward to Mondays because I could count on doing something fun. I wanted to give this year’s freshman the same experience I had in EL, and I really feel like we succeeded in doing that.

How has your experience this year differed from last year?

This year’s experience is entirely different from last year. We completed the entire program over zoom when I was a freshman. This year, however, EL was fully in person, and I am so glad that I had the chance to experience it again because we did a lot of fun activities that we couldn’t do over zoom. I always joked with the Emerging Leaders that Colby and I were experiencing EL at the same time they were, but it was true because EL in person gave me an entirely new appreciation for the program.

What did you most enjoy about your role?

I enjoyed getting to know the Emerging Leaders most. They are the life of this program, and it is incredibly rewarding when they recognize and appreciate what EL offers them. Within the last few weeks of the program, they began applying for leadership positions they never thought of applying for at the beginning of the semester. They also got to know one another over the course of the program, and it was great watching them become great friends. Not only getting to know the Emerging Leaders but watching them grow over the semester was incredibly rewarding.

Meghan Perez
Assistant Director, Office of the Student Experience

What do you enjoy most about working with (both future and current) student leaders? 

I love working with Emerging Leaders because I get to know students as first-years and then watch them lead throughout their four years. It is really special to meet students in their first few weeks of college and then see how they learn, grow, and develop throughout their time on the Hilltop. 

How was the transition back to in-person programming, after being fully online last year? Were there any challenges and/or advantages?

It has been nice to go back to in-person programming. With the program being online last year, a lot of the curriculum had to be adapted to a virtual format which allowed us to get creative. We kept some of the activities from the virtual year and integrated them into an in-person experience. 

What is one thing you hope students in the program walk away with? 

I hope students know leadership is not a position or title, but rather a choice to care about the world around you. Leadership is not a point of arrival, but a process that, and if they choose, leadership can be a part of the rest of their life.

Written by Saifiyah Zaki. Saifiyah is a sophomore from Plano, TX majoring in Marketing and Psychology with minors in Neuroscience and Cognitive Science.

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Top Nine of 2021

In 2021, SMU’s Student Affairs Instagram account had 27,000 total likes in 2021! Here are our top nine posts from 2021. 

Ninth most liked photo of 2021: Hilltop Excellence Awards
Total likes: 278
Eighth most liked photo of 2021: World Smile Day
Total likes: 295
Seventh most liked photo: Orientation
Total likes: 301
Sixth Most Liked Photo: Finals week
Total likes: 304
Fifth most liked photo of 2021: SCIE Graduation
Total likes: 309
Fourth most liked picture of 2021: SMU being recognized as an LGBT friendly campus
Total likes: 315
Third most liked photo of 2021: Grand opening of Hughes-Trigg
Total likes: 339
Second most liked picture of 2021: Hughes-Trigg reopening
Total likes: 378
Most liked picture of 2021: Orientation leader announcement
Total likes: 465


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Students Relax and Refresh at Indian Student Association’s “Kulture in Kerala” Event

SMU’s Indian Student Association hosted their “Kulture in Kerala” event on Wednesday, Oct. 20, giving students a chance to relax and de-stress halfway through the semester. Over 250 students attended, enjoying cultural food, guided yoga, and take-home bath salts. 

The state of Kerala runs along the southwest coastline of India and is an especially popular tourist location, boasting a plethora of scenic beauty. Particularly popular foods in the area include dosas, crepes made from rice and lentil batter, and appam, a type of pancake made with fermented rice batter and coconut milk. To represent these foods, ISA brought a live dosa station to the event, allowing students to watch as their food was prepared fresh. Students also enjoyed a selection of chicken and vegetarian curries. 

Across the Mary Hay, Peyton, Shuttles Commons (MHPS) lawn, students could engage in a guided yoga session. ISA President Surya Ramakrishnan emphasizes the importance of recognizing the origins of Western yoga practices, which can be traced to northern India over 5,000 years ago. The word yoga was first mentioned in ancient sacred texts called the Rig Veda, one of a set of four ancient sacred texts written in Sanskrit.

“Kulture in Kerala” is among one of the first events ISA put together with a new, more inclusive programming process. The organization’s executive board members pick a location, build a Pinterest board based on the location, and select food representative of that area. This is meant to represent diverse locations from both North and South India as well as South Asia as a whole, an attempt to “not make being South Asian a monolith,” as Ramakrishnan puts it.

“I know there’s a lot of students who feel underrepresented because when it comes to Indian culture, a lot of the time Bollywood caters to North Indian people, so it seems like South Indian people are just left in the dust,” Ramakrishnan said. “They were really excited their culture was being celebrated too.”

Written by Saifiyah Zaki. Saifiyah is a sophomore from Plano, TX majoring in Marketing and Psychology with minors in Neuroscience and Cognitive Science.

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Published!: Residence Life and Student Housing publishes study on Sense of Belonging to a Residential Community

How and why do students feel a sense of belonging to their residential community? What factors play a role in contributing to sense of belonging? These are some of the questions that guided members of the Residence Life and Student Housing Research Team to embark on a five-study research project that is ultimately yielding great insights for how the SMU Residential Commons Model can help shape this key student-level outcome. Utilizing both quantitative and qualitative methods, these studies collectively sought to define belonging to a residential community, track changes in sense of belonging over the two-year live-on requirement, and understand sense of belonging across each of the 11 Commons and the Upper Division Housing system. One component study entitled, “A Content Analysis of College Student-Proposed Definitions of Sense of Belonging to a Residential Community” was published in the Journal of College of and University Student Housing in October 2021.

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The Sophomore Project

Once SMU determined students would return to campus in fall 2021 for in-person instruction and activity, leaders in student and academic affairs recognized a one-time acute concern for sophomores. To address this concern, SMU student and academic affairs partnered in a large-scale retention and engagement effort called The Sophomore Project.

Many sophomores would come to campus for the first time after attending virtually, living internationally, or living at home when they normally would have lived on campus. Some experienced COVID-19 personally or within their families, some lost loved ones or experienced significant financial hardship, and all were affected. Originally conceived and proposed as a Student Affairs Innovation Grant, Dr. K.C. Mmeje, Vice President for Student Affairs, elected to elevate the project to an institutional priority.

Led by a Steering Committee (SPSC) chaired by Dr. Dawn F. Norris, 80+ conversationalists participated in outreach to 1,500+ sophomores during the first seven weeks of the fall semester. Traditional Student Affairs strategies often rely on in-person gatherings and organic opportunities to connect which are challenging to re-create on-line. Each sophomore’s experience with COVID-19 was different, making a customized engagement and retention strategy optimal. The SPSC worked with available data to sort sophomores into three categories defined as high-, medium-, and low-risk, each with their own approach. Factors contributing to a designation as high-risk included previous retention concerns, PELL eligibility, international or virtual students coming to campus for the first-time, first-generation status, etc. While both medium- and low-risk students demonstrated no obvious areas of concern, low-risk sophomores were connected to a robust leadership or scholarship cohort with significant support from a professional student or academic affairs staff member.

High-risk sophomores, our students of particular concern, were individually invited by a conversationalist (a student or academic affairs faculty or staff member) for a one-on-one conversation over a beverage or a snack at a campus dining outlet. Conversations created an opportunity for casual dialogue where the student could feel cared for, seen, and heard. Trained conversationalists elicited responses to two qualitative inquires:

  • Tell me about your first year at SMU (opportunity to listen and identify challenges).
  • Tell me what you’re looking forward to at SMU (encourage a vision of themselves at SMU now and through to graduation and identify areas to offer resources).

Medium-risk sophomores received an email invitation to request a conversation.

Low-risk sophomores received targeted support through their high engagement scholar programs with no additional outreach from the Sophomore Project.

Data visualization allowed for interpretation of both quantitative (e.g. date and location of conversation, cost, etc.) and qualitative data (case notes.) Initial findings include the following:

  • 107 completed conversations; 55 from highest risk group
  • 3 Caring Community Concerns (2 identified by the Project)
  • 6 student retention concerns (3 identified by the Project)
  • 90 underrepresented racial minority students
  • 46 men; 61 women
  • 90 underrepresented racial minority students
  • 46 men; 61 women
  • 34 remote entire year; 8 fall only; 8 spring only (50 total students)
  • 30 Hilltop Scholars
  • 13 Greek students
  • 12 First Generation students
  • 7 international students
  • #1 concern for sophomores = social/getting involved

A preliminary review of the case notes from conversationalists reveals the following themes:

  • Sophomores were overwhelmingly appreciative of and thankful for the conversations
  • Many felt like a freshman and a sophomore at the same time
  • Most described a feeling of disconnectedness last year and hope for a greater connection this year
  • Sophomores described the adjustment to virtual followed by the new adjustment to being back on campus as challenging; particularly the differences in learning in those two very different environments.

One of our conversationalists described the experience this way: “The meetings were incredibly meaningful for the students who availed themselves of this opportunity. As a conversationalist, I too benefited from the interactions as they refilled my cup.”

In addition to furthering specific goals and objectives of both the SMU and Student Affairs strategic plans, The Sophomore Project offers one method for ensuring students, whether a whole class, or a sub-population such as students impacted by a residence hall flood, know they are cared for and valued by their institution alongside provision of resources to support their specific needs. The highly flexible, low-cost strategy leverages the unique strengths student and academic affairs professionals bring to bear in support of student engagement and retention.

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First 5 Transitions Mustangs Back to Campus

The First 5 program officially launched in 2019 and has taken place in a variety of formats over the last three years. The program exists to help continue to orient students as they transition to campus, providing opportunities for engagement with campus resources through the first five weeks of the semester. As the third step of the orientation process, First 5 takes a scaffolding approach to student transitions by building on the ideas introduced to new students through Mustang Startup sessions over the summer and Stampede when students first arrive on-campus.

The First 5 program consists of individual experiences students can complete on their own time as well as in-person, group events designed to introduce students to campus. The goal of the program is to provide benchmarks for incoming students to meet in pursuit of a smooth transition by offering opportunities for students to meet important people on campus, get involved in institutional spirit and traditions, engage with academic and social resources available, and learn about SMU’s connections to the Dallas community. First 5 is built on 5 core principles: People, Academy, Campus, Spirit, and Community. Each week of the program focuses on one of these five principles and has individual activities and events related to that particular principle.

This year, new strategies were implemented to bolster First 5 program offerings, create new partnerships, and increase awareness of the program throughout campus. One new opportunity for this year’s program included partnering with the Housing Unification Board to offer Commons Cup points students could earn for their commons by participating in First 5 activities. Additionally, the program introduced a new app called Scavify to introduce First 5 in a scavenger hunt format. The Scavify app introduced new ways to gamify First 5 and introduce the program’s benchmarks as a fun way to engage with campus resources, explore Dallas, and meet other people. Through the app, students could check-in at various locations around campus to show they had found particular campus resource locations, upload photos of themselves at key campus or community traditions, and upload photos of themselves meeting key individuals on campus. In addition to the Housing Unification Board, The Office of Student Experience also partnered with Engaged Learning, Engage Dallas, Social Change and Intercultural Engagement, and Campus Rectreation for this year’s program.  

This year, Student Experience also sought to include sophomore students who wanted to learn more about campus and engage with in-person opportunities they may not have had during the COVID-19 pandemic. Sophomore student Sameet Banerjee participated actively in First 5 this fall and said of the program, “First 5 allowed a sophomore like me to engage in the resources SMU offers and meet Mustangs of all classes who are now some of my best friends today!”

First 5 will take place again this upcoming spring to help transition incoming spring students to SMU in January and February. The Office of the Student Experience plans to continue refining the program to better serve new students, transfers, and any student who wants to learn more about the resources and community SMU has to offer. To learn more about the First 5 program, please visit the Student Experience website.

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SMU Lights Up for 45th Annual Diwali Celebration

Indian Student Association hosted its 45th annual Diwali celebration on Nov. 5, bringing bright lights, delicious foods, and an air of festivity to Dallas Hall Lawn. With 668 students and nearly 300 community members in attendance, this year’s celebration marks the largest in SMU history. 

Diwali, sometimes known as the “festival of lights,” is generally celebrated with the practice of lighting oil lamps, called dias, and decorating homes and cities with strings of twinkling lights to symbolize the victory of light over darkness. While many Hindus celebrate Diwali, people of various faiths mark the five-day festival in India and other countries. 

Despite being rooted in religious tradition, the festival has also become a secular holiday in India, similar to how Christmas has come to be celebrated by many Christians and non-Christians alike in the U.S. While ISA’s celebration remained secular, Hindu students were invited to engage in religious practices of prasad and puja led by Dr. Dinesh Rajan, Department Chair and Professor for Electrical and Computer Engineering, and organized through the Office of the Chaplain and Religious Life on Thursday. 

At Friday night’s celebration, those in attendance were greeted with opportunities to get henna tattoos, light sparklers, create paper lanterns, and taste a broad selection of South Asian cuisine. They were also invited to take home gift packages consisting of a dia, tea light, and paint pens to decorate, along with t-shirts and stickers handed out at the event. 

Throughout the event, attendees enjoyed four 10-minute creative performances from both SMU and University of Texas at Dallas students. Kicking off the celebration, ISA’s freshman and sophomore members performed a classical Bharatanatyam dance and then shifted into more contemporary Bollywood dances. They were followed by UTD’s acapella group, “Dhunki,” and dance team, “Raftaar,” both of whom compete on a national stage for their respective arts. The final performance featured a South Asian fashion show organized by SMU graduate students. 

“I was just really, really excited that we were able to get the full Dallas community here on SMU’s campus,” ISA President Surya Ramakrishnan said. “It really touched people that we had an event as big as this.”

To learn more about ISA, visit their Connect.SMU page or check out their Instagram, @smuisa.

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SCIE hosts RISE Institute for Incoming First-Year Students

The Office of Social Change and Intercultural Engagement (SCIE) hosted its RISE Institute, which is a part of the CONNECT Mentorship Program. The Institute allows incoming first year students of color to come to SMU 6 days prior to the first day of class for an intense introduction to the university. Different offices and resources across the university come and provide the students with information they need to know as they transition into the university.

This year was a very successful year. There were 407 attendees at the Family Reception, 107 attendees at The Connect Institute, and an Ice Cream Social with 75 participants. Over 100 students attended an Organization Meet and Greet which introduced the students to multicultural organizations.

“I love Connect because I got to meet so many people and make so many new friends before school started!”– Robin Kinagomba, SMU ’25. Robin Kinagomba is a Biology major, from Wylie, Texas and is affiliated with Mary-Hay, Peyton, Shuttles Commons.

“I love Connect because I met my mini me’s.” – Dinobi Onyeagocha, SMU ’23. Dinobi Onyeagocha is from Germantown, Tennessee, double majoring in Health and Society and Psychology with a minor in Health Sciences and is affiliated with Loyd Commons.

The Connect Institute makes sure that students are not only prepared to make the transition to college life, but to thrive and lead during their time in school. The program offers leadership development and goal setting workshops, dinners and receptions with SMU faculty, staff, and alumni, and connections to other invaluable resources on campus. A popular segment in the programming is the Real Talk panel, which gives first years the chance to ask mentors questions about student life without administrators in the room.

The CONNECT Mentorship Program acts as a valuable resource for students during their time at SMU. Mentors assist their mentees with adjusting to college life, major selection, and general support and encouragement. After the Connect Institute programming ends, mentor small groups meet throughout the school year and even attend other Connect and SCIE programs together.

“I love Connect because I got to make friends, learn about new resources, and have fun.”

– Feaven Fasil, SMU ’25

Additionally, because the dates of the Connect Institute do not overlap with Stampede, participants in Connect are still able to fully engage in the Stampede activities with the rest of their class before the start of the academic year.

Connect with SCIE to get more involved in programs such as the Connect Institute. You can visit the SCIE website to learn more and can subscribe to the monthly newsletter to stay updated on all things SCIE and WLGBT.

Written by Palmer Beldy ’22. Palmer Beldy is a senior at SMU studying Creative Advertising and Public Relations and Strategic Communication. She is originally from Lexington, Kentucky, but she calls Cockrell-McIntosh home when she is on campus.

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2020 Rotunda Yearbook Wins Coveted Pacemaker Award

Rotunda Yearbook Team Photo

The 2020 Rotunda yearbook won the coveted Pacemaker Award for the very first time in SMU history. The awards are considered to be the highest national honors in their field and are unofficially known as the “Pulitzer Prizes” of student journalism.

The Rotunda was the only 2020 collegiate yearbook to win both the Columbia Scholastic Press Association (CSPA) Gold Crown and the Associated Collegiate Press (ACP) Pacemaker Award; therefore, unofficially holding the title of best college yearbook in the country.

Co-Editor-in-Chief, Simone Melvin said, “The 2020 Rotunda marked the beginning of the most rewarding experience of my college career. I am beyond proud of every late night and tears shed during the making of that beautiful book. It’s a privilege to help create something of the magnitude of a yearbook, and even more of an honor to have that privilege recognized.” Melvin is a Junior from the Colony, Texas, majoring in Philosophy and English with a Creative Writing Specialization.

Photo of Ash Thye

A junior from Euless, Texas, majoring in Human Rights and Anthropolgy, Co-Editor-in-Chief Ash Thye said, “It is incredibly rewarding to be recognized for all of the time and energy we’ve put into making this book happen! We really do try to expand what’s possible for a college yearbook, and this recognition is inspiring me to do the same again this year.”

For over 100 years, the Rotunda has chronicled the history of Southern Methodist University and serves as the school’s primary source of recorded history. Named in December 1915 after the architecture of Dallas Hall, the Executive Council of the Student Association voted for the annual’s name after seven different students suggested it.

The Division of Student Affairs took over production of the Rotunda in June 2018, working alongside students and alumni to keep the Rotunda alive and ensure the quality of future publications. To learn more about the Rotunda, apply to be on staff, or to order a copy, please visit their website.