As the Homewood campus's new director of student involvement, Jeffrey Groden-Thomas oversees the office that is responsible for supervising the functions and finances of approximately 175 Student Council-affiliated organizations, as well as the registration and recognition of an additional 125 student groups that aren't under the umbrella of the Student Council.
His mission is to encourage students to lead active lives outside the classroom to complement their academic experience at Johns Hopkins.
"Hopkins students are exceptional academically, but they are here to develop life skills as well," says Groden-Thomas, sitting in his Mattin Center office. "A university can be a sheltering environment, so students might be waiting for an adviser to say, 'I'll do it for you.' But they won't hear that from us."
Groden-Thomas is pushing the boundaries of his job description by encouraging faculty and staff to become more involved in student life as well. He says a great way to strengthen the Johns Hopkins community is to encourage employees to become advisers to undergraduate groups looking for guidance.
The idea, Groden-Thomas says, is for young adults on campus to benefit from the experience of mentors who can offer both field-related advice and the universal life skills that everyone needs to know, such as event planning.
"For many students, the biggest event they've ever planned is a dinner at home," Groden-Thomas says. "Planning an event on campus is more than just inviting people to show up. It's reserving the room, notifying Security, arranging transportation and lodging for out-of-town speakers, ordering food. Students might not know the scope of what is involved, and that's where an adviser can help."
But the relationship between students and their advisers isn't one-sided, Groden-Thomas says. For professors, advising offers the opportunity to form a bond with students that goes beyond classroom conversation.
"Being an adviser allows the faculty member to invest in the extracurricular development of the student and for the student to gain outside-the-classroom experience and knowledge from someone with life experience," Groden-Thomas says. "On a larger scale, the experiences that students have with faculty, staff and administrators outside the daily academic routines create an atmosphere of trust that both are invested in a positive relationship. Lastly, many advisers find that they like being involved in the development of individuals, groups and their programs, especially if the focus of the group is an interest of theirs."
Along with sharing their interests with students, advisers can provide a sense of continuity for undergraduate groups in a world that runs on a four-year cycle, Groden-Thomas says.
"Part of what we also want to work on is finding students who have the potential to bloom into leadership roles," he says. "An adviser can help train people so the hard work the current leaders have put into a group or a cause will continue after they graduate."
To strengthen the connection between the university and its students and to market the diversity of the available groups on campus, Groden-Thomas has developed a Web site that gathers information for all the student groups http://sts.jhu.edu/studentinvolvement.
He wants to encourage the leaders of student groups to link their organizations to the site by completing an online form located at sts.jhu.edu/studentinvolvement/student.xsp. Students must include the group's statement of purpose and group leader contact information.
To contact Groden-Thomas about becoming an adviser or registering a student group, call him at 410-516-2224 or write to firstname.lastname@example.org.