Every year, the Office of Student Life (OSL) hosts the LEAD Retreat, a three-day/two-night off-campus retreat that brings together CSUDH student club and organization leaders to develop a support network, explore leadership tenets, and build partnerships. Knowing this year’s event would be in a virtual format, OSL decided to do things a little differently – not only adapting the experience to Zoom, but creating an all-new finale activity that allowed students to connect with others across California.
Assistant Dean of Students Anna Liza Garcia says that her goal with the LEAD Retreat is always to help students feel connected and create new opportunities. For her and the OSL team, the main questions this year were, “How do we build community and support for students in a virtual space? How can we translate the power of co-curricular experiences? Can we create something amazing that we wouldn’t be able to otherwise?”
Garcia and the OSL team realized that the virtual format would make it much easier to expand the reach of the retreat and welcome other students from across California’s three higher education systems – CSU, University of California, and California Community Colleges – to participate. The result was the California Summer Student Leader Mixer as the culminating event.
Over 200 students from institutions throughout the state attended the mixer, including students from UC Berkeley, UC San Diego, UC Davis, Humboldt State, Cal State San Marcos, Long Beach State, San Diego State, and Cal Poly Pomona. They shared thoughts about everything from virtual club activities to coping with the unique pressures of the pandemic. “Students from these universities have never met like this before,” says Garcia.
The large statewide mixer ended with small breakout Zoom sessions, where small groups of 12 to 15 students could share their thoughts and ideas in a more intimate setting. Meeting students from across the state helped reinforce the fact that everyone is experiencing similar issues and worries due to the pandemic.
For Bethany Scott, president of the Korean Culture Club and secretary of the Peace Club, meeting students from other campuses was inspiring. “We got to share our own ideas, but we also got to listen to others,” she says. “It was a warm, welcoming environment, so we could talk about anything that we were nervous or worried about. It’s nice to know that you’re not the only one!”
Rony Moraga, president of the Accounting Society, enjoyed trading ideas with other student leaders. “I was able to take a lot away from it. I got a lot of ideas on how to handle a virtual semester. That’s a big issue for me – how can I lead a club during a virtual semester? Now I have a bunch of new ideas I’m planning to implement.”
President of the Clinical Science Club Ginelle Calleja says, “It was really inspiring that the Office of Student Life thought about not just making it feel normal, but making it even better. We wouldn’t have been able to accomplish this at an in-person setting. That’s something that I’m definitely taking away for my club: how can we make things feel normal but also how can we make them better.”
The virtual retreat and mixer were initially planned as a one-time event, but students responded so positively that the UC and CSU teams are already planning related events. “It went so well that we’re now looking into creating long-term connections and pushing the dialogue forward. The students were exchanging their contact information, so this has become a catalyst for building a digital network of student leaders across California,” says Garcia.
For his part, Moraga agrees on the need for more such events in the future. “We got to interact with so many different people from so many different schools that we normally wouldn’t be able to interact with. It was an amazing experience and hopefully we can keep doing something like this in the future. I think it will benefit everyone.”