For so many activities and organizations to be alive and functioning throughout any college campus, strong and impassioned student leaders are crucial. OU is anything but lacking in student leaders, and many students are involved in multiple activities around campus.
Mya Smith, a senior studying political science pre-law, is a highly involved member of OU’s student body. As vice president of professional development for the Student Alumni Board (SAB), along with holding the position of associate director of Students Defending Students, a member coordinator for the Ohio Innocence Project University, an ambassador for the College of Arts and Sciences and a residential adviser, Smith frequently finds herself with a packed Google Calendar filled with events, meetings and to-do lists.
With over 12 hours a week spent on her numerous involvements and leadership positions around campus, Smith is regularly involved in planning events for OU’s campus and student life. Managing all of her organizational obligations along with a full course load is no easy task and often requires sacrificing other aspects of her life. Although grateful to be able to have such a large influence on campus life and activities, Smith said she frequently finds herself having to prioritize her studies and leadership obligations ahead of her social life due to the demanding nature of her multiple leadership involvements.
“It’s kind of hard to find time to see my friends, who I really care about, outside of my responsibilities,” Smith said. “I take those roles so seriously. I never want to neglect them, so instead I neglect (my) social life.”
Smith, along with other busy student leaders, balances her obligations through rigorous planning and organization techniques.
“It took me a while to figure out a plan that worked best for me,” Smith said. “I realized I have to have (my schedule) on my computer. I have to have to-do lists on my computer or else I won't remember that I have things due.”
Smith also uses her computer calendar to maintain her well-being, which allows her to balance all of her needs and activities better.
Alongside the external pressures of busy schedules and frequent deadlines, being an active leader of multiple organizations on campus comes with often-overlooked internal pressures as well.
Because student leaders tend to be very passionate about the topics their organizations cover, increased campus obligations often result in fear of failure and feelings of guilt.
Honesty Thomas, the assistant director of Student Leadership at OU, emphasized the passion students in executive positions hold for their organizations can often lead to feelings of internal anxiety or stress, especially when students find themselves having to navigate new learning experiences in order to run these organizations.
Having to spend time learning about the legal or financial protocols of an organization is a less frequently discussed aspect of stepping into a leadership role and can often be a source of unexpected tension for student leaders.
“Students navigating learning how to handle the finances of their student organizations or officer transitions, you can tell that they are feeling a little bit stressed about those things when they’re new in their roles,” said Thomas. “I think that just comes from students wanting to succeed.”
Students feeling pressure to succeed in a leadership role is very common and can sometimes be amplified if the organization is newly-founded.
““There's a lot of pressure because we started (the organization)... if it fails, that would come with a lot of disappointment, especially because it's something we care about a lot.”-Maeve Fellorhoff
Maeve Fellorhoff, a sophomore studying studio art, and Celia Hawk, a sophomore studying environmental studies, recently came together to start a chapter of the Sunrise Movement at OU. The chapter has been wildly successful in hosting campus initiatives to encourage student involvement in climate activism.
Going through rigorous training through Sunrise Movement’s national organization and learning about managing finances and legalities for their chapter was a major learning curve for the two students and also the root of some stress.
“Honestly, the biggest weight on me is understanding all of the different obligations and policies we have,” said Fellorhoff. “I do a lot of our financial stuff, and it's not a responsibility I really saw for myself. There's just a lot of added responsibility.”
After experiencing the process of starting a new organization on campus, the co-presidents have insight into the anxieties that could potentially arise when accomplishing this feat.
“There's a lot of pressure because we started (the organization),” Fellerhoff said. “If it fails, that would come with a lot of disappointment, especially because it's something we care about a lot.”
These internal pressures, which may seem trivial to an outsider's perspective, often lead to neglecting personal needs as well.
Sydney Hansen, a second-year graduate student studying geological sciences, finds herself struggling with feelings of guilt when needing to take a break from her many obligations.
“I oftentimes feel like I have to show up to things (because) if I don't, then I don't deserve my position, which I know is not the case,” Hansen said. “But in my head, that's how I feel. I just feel very pressured to be present, even if I'm very busy or overwhelmed.”
Hansen emphasizes that relying on the other executives in her organization is an important part of managing stress and guilt.
“I have to remind myself that it's okay to miss things,” she said. “I don't have to be there all the time. That's why there are other officers in the club and that's why there's other positions, so you don't have to burden the entire workload on yourself.”
Just as Hansen demonstrates, leadership is often better as a group activity. Delegating work between officers in student organizations not only allows the club to work more efficiently, but also helps prevent burnout, a common consequence of being overworked, among leaders.
According to a National College Health Assessment, over 80% of college students report feeling overwhelmed and exhausted throughout the school year. With the increased obligations that arise from being a heavily involved student, student leaders experiencing symptoms of burnout is not revolutionary. Group delegation and prioritizing well-being are vital in managing a leadership position and avoiding over-exhaustion.
After experiencing burnout herself, Fellerhoff has learned methods to keep a healthier balance among her obligations.
“Part of taking care of yourself is not giving 100% to everything that you have to do, which I've had to do a lot this semester to balance things – especially running an organization and being a student,” Fellerhoff said. “That's honestly just part of being an adult and a human. Learning how to prioritize things and know that you can't give 100% of yourself to every task.”
Despite the pressure and stress that frequently accompany leadership roles around campus, OU students still feel drawn to these positions and responsibilities because of the rewarding nature and encouraging atmosphere that leadership roles offer. Supporting a cause that holds personal importance sprouts intrinsic motivation for students and drives their success in campus involvement.
For Sarah Braun, a sophomore studying art history, spending time with their fellow executives and making plans for organization meetings is often a surprising stress reliever amid their busy schedule.
“I spend so much time on the computer writing papers (and) reading long texts on my screen,” Braun said. “Saying ‘For an hour, I'm putting away my computer and I'm just going to figure some things out with a group of people’ definitely helps me (cope with stress).”
Braun is Cutler Council’s treasurer and is secretary of Capital A, an organization on campus that plans events to encourage cross-disciplinary collaboration within the College of Fine Arts. Because the leadership positions Braun is involved in are topics they are passionate about, the workload that comes along with being a leader in the groups feels worth the hassle.
“Whether it be one person saying (that they) had a good time at (an) event, or one person saying ‘100% I want to be in the GroupMe,’ it seems like it's such a small achievement, but having people actively be interested (and) be involved is pretty rewarding,” Braun said. “Me and three other people in the study room one day dreamed that (event) up and that actually made other people have fun and want to be involved and find a community too.”
Although these internal and external pressures oftentimes become overwhelming, lightening up activities and allowing room for fun in leadership positions helps student leaders balance their crowded calendars and tough to-do lists.
“I try to find creative ways to make professional development fun while also maintaining professionalism,” Smith said. “I try to make my position fun while also being informative.”
Smith often goes above and beyond in her leadership positions to engage herself and members through organizing workshops, holding office hours and even bringing in copies of the Enneagram test for her peers to complete during a meeting.
Being involved in leadership positions during college also has life and career skill-building benefits as well.
“You develop a lot of skills in (a) student involvement and leadership that are transferable into the workplace,” Thomas said. “Learning how to work in teams, time management, conflict management. Once you graduate you have to do those same things, and when people start to have families and jobs (they) will always be doing that juggling. I think student involvement helps prepare students for that once they graduate.”
The pressures that come with being involved in leadership roles around campus are indisputable, but the feeling of accomplishment associated with making an impact on campus is worth all of the stress for many student leaders.
Braun emphasized that being in leadership positions is not about being in a position of power, but rather about showing up for a cause and inspiring others.
“(The executive) board of some clubs might be super strenuous, but for many, it's really just people who are appreciative for whatever community help they can get,” Braun said. “If having that little title next to your name means that you're saying, ‘Yeah, I’ll show up and just do what I can every week,’ people are really appreciative of that.”
Hansen reflected on past experiences as president of OU’s Trail Running Club when discussing the most rewarding aspects of her hard work, and emphasized that spreading passion for her interests is the best part of her leadership roles.
“Even with the pressure, I think having leadership positions is honestly the best thing I've ever done for myself”-Mya Smith
“When someone gets to the top of one of those massive hills that we have in Athens and celebrate(s), it just makes me happy to see people excited about what it is that we're doing,” Hansen said.
Although students involved in leadership positions at OU hold a wide variety of different interests and hobbies, they are all connected through their passion and drive to make an impact on campus. The understanding between leaders helps contribute to the supportive environment that so many OU Bobcats feel a sense of belonging in and helps build the culture and spirit of the university. The opportunity to have a lasting impression on OU makes all of the pressure that potentially comes from taking on extra stress worth it for these student leaders.
“Even with the pressure, I think having leadership positions is honestly the best thing I've ever done for myself,” Smith said. “It makes me feel more connected to my (organizations). It makes me have a better understanding of what we really do. If I didn't have a leadership position, I wouldn't be as happy here because of the connection that those positions have given me. The pressure can add up and it can suck, but at the same time it's amazing and I wouldn't trade my experience.”