BY ANNA LANDSVERK
Freshmen likely remember little of their first few overwhelming days on campus, but one program hammered home time and time again is a website called DragonCentral.
“I remember when we came in as freshmen and how much they talked about getting involved,” Cru treasurer Ali Hoffman said. “Even this past fall being a SOC, I swear they pushed DragonCentral like every moment on us.”
The site is supposed to be a one-stop-shop for students and community members looking for something to do, as it holds events from different student organizations, departments and offices. However, only about 50 percent of MSUM’s 117 recognized student organizations used DragonCentral to post their events during the Fall 2017 semester.
For officers like Hoffman, whose organization uses DragonCentral heavily, the percentage was surprising.
“I honestly thought it was higher,” Hoffman said. “I guess I thought a lot of organizations had to use it to be classified as a club, so I thought it’d be closer to like 75-80 percent.”
According to Assistant Director of Leadership and Organizations Steve Fox, Hoffman’s estimation is his goal percentage. Despite introducing DragonCentral content into the annual mandatory officer training for all student organizations, the actual usage numbers remain low.
“We really want all events and meetings and stuff to be put on there,” Fox said. “Probably half of our student organizations … have submitted an event to it.”
One of the reasons officers may not use the site is other more effective methods of recruiting and reaching their members.
“When I was first encountering the different clubs, to me it was you go to the Sidewalk Café, you see the clubs you like, and then you put your name down on their mailing list or find them on Facebook,” Anime Club president Mikaila Norman said. “To me, the primary way you interacted with clubs on campus was either being on a mailing list or being on their Facebook page, so it just seemed like DragonCentral was an extraneous outside thing that doesn’t really matter.”
For Norman and other Anime Club members, since DragonCentral couldn’t replace the day-to-day online banter and meme-sharing, there was really no point. Plus, it allowed for the club to reach its members even if they were not actively looking for information.
“Most people are on Facebook (and) engage with it every day,” Norman said. “DragonCentral you have to go to a specific website and log in just to see that about the club, whereas maybe you went on Facebook to wish your neighbor’s cat a happy birthday and then you saw that Anime Club is going to have an extra meeting next week, and now you know.”
Another issue is that clubs that work continuously on an activity throughout the semester have less need to advertise their events after the first few weeks, so there is little incentive to add their events to DragonCentral.
“It seems like after the middle
of the year, you will already have all of the people you expect to come and join you,” Norman said. “So, I guess another function of DragonCentral is any individual student can go and search all the student organizations at once. But some, like a dance team or a club in which we watch a TV show, if you come in halfway through the semester, you’re going to be watching half of a TV show or you’re going to be getting into a program where all the people already know a dance.”
Fox said that all methods of advertising are valid, but thinks DragonCentral has unique advantages for users. He also noted that the more experienced an officer is with DragonCentral, the more likely they are to use it in their organization.
“Some of our clubs just haven’t gotten into the habit of putting them all in there,” Fox said. “I see that with different groups sometimes where an officer that really uses DragonCentral is going to tell their organization, ‘We need to put our events in here, we need to do this,’ whereas someone who’s not as familiar with it won’t necessarily see that value in it.”
Norman concurred, saying most of the club officers she knows were never formally trained in DragonCentral. Hoffman has also seen this in her own organization, as their current president is very active on DragonCentral because she uses it herself.
“Because our president has worked with DragonCentral quite frequently, even previous to this year, she feels really comfortable using it,” Hoffman said. “Also, we’ve tried doing flyers, and it’s less expensive just putting it online.”
For organizations like Cru that frequently hold events open to anyone on campus, it makes more sense to continue advertising efforts well into the semester.
“Our weekly meetings have the same format, but we talk about something new every week,” Hoffman said. “We’re always open to having new members, and we do some fun stuff afterward.”
The university is especially invested in getting clubs to use DragonCentral because staff members like Fox use it to collect data on student engagement. That information can then be presented at meetings with administrators to demonstrate how much students are involved on campus.
Fox has presented to larger campus committees these statistics, including the average GPA of officers, the average number of club memberships per student, the percentage of the student body involved on campus and the number of service hours completed.
“I want to be able to get to the point where I can say one in two students are involved in a student org because I think that speaks to the level of student engagement,” Fox said. “In student life, we want to see that; we want to keep engaging that.”
The website also streamlines paperwork for the Office of Student Activities.
DragonCentral functions as a single portal through which Student Academic Budget Committee members and OSA staff can review, approve, dismiss or update student organization funding applications. Fox can also look at events posted on the site and check whether the organization has submitted the relevant paperwork.
“I think from a planning perspective, my goal is to try to—between me and an organization adviser—make sure we’re being proactive in terms of what needs to get done instead of reactive, especially in terms of money or from a liability perspective,” Fox said.
Ultimately, the aim of the OSA is to make posting on DragonCentral a mandatory piece of event planning, but there are still some technical kinks to work out.
For students, there is less motivation to be active on the site, but as each new incoming class learns how to use DragonCentral, Fox and the OSA may get closer to their data dream.