By Eric Buehler
With the mantra #NewYearNewMe in mind, hundreds of first year students sought out last Thursday’s involvement fair. They were greeted by an overwhelming host of organizations: comedy and a cappella troupes, green initiatives and services groups, fraternities and sororities, media outlets and radio stations, and one of my personal favorites, Jam Band Club. With CLIC legitimizing and funding so many organizations (171 to be exact) these days, it’s hard to keep up. However, at the end of the day, students are all looking for the same thing: satisfaction with their extracurricular experience at Denison. That leads to the primary questions of this article: what does involvement look like at Denison, and which students are satisfied with their involvement? Fortunately, this is a 127 article, and as the Bullsheet so eloquently pointed out last spring, we have the data to answer these questions.
The data used in this particular article were drawn from a survey of roughly 600 students conducted by 127 last March. Figure 1 shows the distribution of how many activity types students are involved in. The activities included: Varsity Sports, Club Sports, Campus Governance, Employment, Performing/Art groups, Greek Life, Community Service, Social Justice/Advocacy, Religious/Spiritual life, Cross Cultural Engagement, Other Extracurriculars. The figure reveals that most students tend to be involved in 2-3 extracurriculars (21.2% of students participate in two activities, 26.6% participate in three). While not the most groundbreaking figure ever produced, it serves as a friendly reminder not to overextend oneself when faced with an overwhelming number of clubs and organization; it simply isn’t typical of Denison students.
It shouldn’t come as a surprise that those satisfied with extracurriculars participate in more activities on average (see Figure 2 below). However, it is also possible that those unsatisfied with extracurriculars never fully explored the options Denison had to offer, or alternatively never switched up the extracurriculars they were involved in. That being said, if a particular club or organization you signed up for at the involvement fair isn’t working, try something different. Freshmen year is short, and it’s not a bad time to figure out what activity or club works for you. It just might result in a better extracurricular experience. Note that first years are involved just as much as upperclassmen, and seniors actually participate in the least number of activities, potentially because they are getting ready to graduate, seeking out jobs, etc.
A perennial worry with involvement is the potential for burnout and imbalance that undermines curricular work. There is definitely a balance to be struck, which I explore below in Figure 3. Think of this as a more or less balanced system — GPA reflects how much you care about academics, involvement levels reflect how much you pour into extracurriculars. The graph clearly shows that more involvement is linked to more satisfaction with extracurriculars to a point. When it conflicts — it has to be almost impossible to be involved in 8 things and maintain a 4.0 — then satisfaction stops growing. Or, put differently, students are quite happy with their balance of life when involvement is above the floor and not quite at the ceiling. Moderately involved students are happy with their extracurriculars and can maintain high academic output without (regular) conflict.
While extracurriculars are often fulfilling and helpful escapes from academics, satisfaction with extracurriculars is somewhat contingent on how well you perform in the classroom. While not perhaps the most lighthearted of observations, it does serve as a reminder that a lot of other things matter at Denison besides involvement. One way to think about it is that there’s no real reason to be concerned if you fail your DJ exam or get rejected from the Hilltoppers – you might just end up better off. But a better way to think about this is that involvement is an important component of your Denison experience that you should learn to keep in balance.
Eric Buehler is one of those Data Analytics students who hopes to be employed one day. In the meantime, you can find him writing about student behavior at Denison.