Housed in the MSU Union are well-known spaces — a Sparty’s convenience store, a quiet study lounge, a Spartan Spirit Shop, the MSU Dairy Store and a Biggby Coffee for a midday coffee break. All of these spaces serve a purpose, but none as personal as the community created in Room 50. Every Monday, students from different class-standings, backgrounds and majors parade into Room 50 for the University Activities Board (UAB) weekly meeting.
General members of UAB gather around the tables, talking, laughing and genuinely enjoying each other’s company.
“When I joined UAB my freshman year, I first started volunteering at events and then started coming to the meetings,” says Adrian Skazalski. “Now I’m the first ever director of equity and inclusion for UAB.”
The room is brought to order, and a meeting filled with congratulations, housekeeping details, and a joke here and there commences.
One by one, each of the 11 student directors stands up and introduces themselves to the crowd, although most in the room already know their names. It’s a sort of respectful dialogue for those new to the group, which has a flexible, no-commitment membership policy. Directors share what events they have coming up, recap events that recently took place and invite general members to attend their committee meetings in an effort to make everyone feel involved.
“I think UAB has created a culture where it’s not just the student directors, it’s also the volunteers,” says Brian Hercliff-Proffer, UAB assistant manager. “There are a lot of volunteers. Sometimes they become directors, and sometimes they volunteer in UAB until they graduate, but either way we see how much they grow.”
Events Director Mara Shawver announces a new event, Hypnotist chrisjones is coming to campus: a student body favorite. “I joined UAB because I wanted a place where I belonged and could make a difference,” says Shawver. From the beginning, UAB has worked hard to raise funds to help support a continuously growing student body. Even the very foundation of the MSU Union was dug by students, faculty and volunteers during what was dubbed “Excavation Week” in November of 1923. The event received national attention leading to numerous financial contributions rolling in.
Fast forward to today, UAB receives one-third of its operating budget from the MSU Licensing Office through licensing and royalty fees. The remainder of the budget must come from corporate sponsorships, fundraising events and vendor sales.
With 162 events planned during the 2017-18 academic year, UAB wisely utilizes partnerships with numerous registered student organizations and residence hall groups to help solidify events.
In between the directors’ announcements, questions — spread out around the room on whiteboards — are answered by members. One question asks, “Where is your hometown?” A general member reads off all the answers and smiles when she comes across her own. “Detroit is my city!” she proudly yells to the group who applauds back. These quick and quirky questions help members get to know each other better.
As a student-driven department of Residential and Hospitality Services, UAB combines event planning with professional development. At each meeting, a professional aspect is addressed. Today, members are invited to bring their resumes next week for proofing and editing.
Toward the end of the meeting, Cathy Fitzpatrick, the manager of UAB, stands and congratulates students on their hard work throughout the semester.
Fitzpatrick is one of five advisors who supports the student directors and committees. But at the end of the day, all events are planned solely by the students.
“It’s a very much tiered system, and we work through that,” Fitzpatrick says. “As advisors, we are constantly advising and coaching. We have the staff and the 11 directors, and then they have their committees, which make up the Board. It’s constant meetings and checking in on all these different levels.”
Throughout the year, a meaningful relationship blossoms between an advisor and a student. Advisors proudly watch as members accomplish their goals.
“It’s why we come to work every day,” says Stephanie Calloway, UAB assistant manager. “As an advisor, those student moments of growth are what really drive me. To watch that individual student accomplish something they didn’t think they could is what makes this job so rewarding.”
At the end of the meeting, several rounds of “speed friending” encourage further bonding among members. Conversations about favorite MSU Dairy Store flavors, hidden talents and wished-for superpowers commence.
Behind the weekly Tuesday open mics nights, Wednesday craft nights and many of the homecoming week activities is UAB. And it’s all made possible by a largely unseen meeting in Room 50, where students eagerly plan an array of events for their peers while building both their professional skills and their own community.