Posted February 13, 2013 by Missy Burgess 

Defining Success

How do you define success when it comes to student programming? As the advisor to our campus programming board, this is a much debated topic from week to week. In housing, we used to say that if the event made a difference to one person, it was a success, but with the increasing scrutiny of how student fees are spent and the rising costs of college, can we rely on this definition?

This last week, the programming board at our university, which I advise, brought a speaker of some historical prominence to campus. In the process of planning the event, multiple campus partners were brought to the table, and after many of these discussions, I realized that some of the challenges that were arising were based on different definitions of success.

For some, success was defined by the number of community members who attended the event. The total attendance was 808, so that definition was met. For another campus partner, success was defined by the event being safe and secure for all involved. (There were initial rumors of individuals choosing to protest the event.) With the help of the University Police Department, this definition was fulfilled. For a faculty member assisting with the event, success involved outreach to minority communities throughout our region. A number of individuals drove an hour or more to attend and represented multiple local institutions, so once again, the event was “successful.” For the committee who will determine next year’s programming board budget, success is defined by cost/person. Was the event a good use of student fees? At a cost of less than $20/person, some would define this as successful when compared with other lecture-based events. For the programming board chair who led the planning efforts, success was defined by putting on a meaningful event for students. He was very clear that he did not want to lose the focus on students as the event got bigger than anyone initially anticipated. An intimate gathering with 46 students and the speaker doing Q&A before the event helped to realize this goal. Finally, my definition of success is that the students lead the programming efforts, learn from their efforts, feel prepared and confident, and the event goes smoothly because of their efforts. This definitely occurred.

This event, by all definitions, was a success. However, is it reasonable to meet all of these expectations with every event? Are some definitions more important than others? Sometimes, I feel called to justify “success” when one definition does not get met. Or there are other times when all of these definitions are met seemingly by luck or happenstance, and I have to help students see that there are ways they could have been “more successful.”

Ultimately, there is likely not a perfect answer to this question, which gives the advisors of the world some job security as we work with students to plan events! How do you define success?

Missy Burgess

Missy Burgess is the Associate Director for Student Involvement at University of Wisconsin–Oshkosh.

Missy supervises student leadership and involvement staff in the Reeve Memorial Union, including volunteer service, student organizations and emerging programs, Reeve Union Board, leadership, diversity and inclusion, and greek life. She holds a bachelor’s from Southern Illinois University–Edwardsville, a master’s from Kansas State University, and a Ph.D. in educational leadership from the University of North Dakota.


great post!
Sarah-Ann Harnick
Comment posted 02/14/2013 9:52 AM
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