RSO Takes Fill-in-the-Blank Approach When Recruiting Student Members

EWB Officers, from left, Jordan ZumBerge, Michael Seffren, Sam Stoffels and Yoseph Ukbazghi.

EWB Officers, from left, Jordan ZumBerge, Michael Seffren, Sam Stoffels and Yoseph Ukbazghi. See more photos at end of story.

Leaders with the Engineers Without Borders chapter at Minnesota State University, Mankato seek to expand their membership to all students on campus. Trouble is, the group’s name tends to scare away students.

Named the March 2015 Recognized Student Organization of the Month at Minnesota State Mankato, the club is finding that lifting typecasts is the first phase of recruitment and growth.

“We talked with the marketing club and they specifically said ‘the Engineers Without Borders name scares me off’ because it’s engineers,” said Michael Seffren, vice president of programs for the Minnesota State Mankato chapter of EWB.

The group now takes a fill-in-the-blank approach to recruitment that offers students opportunities to contribute and benefit from the group’s community focus.

“What we came up with was Underscore Without Borders,” Seffren said. “So if you’re a nursing major – if you’re a business major, marketing, finance, anthropology, history – whatever, put you’re major right in front of Without Borders. That’s the type of club we want to have.

“This club is open to every single student,” he added. “We will find a spot for you that you will enjoy doing.”
Seffren, along with EWB Chapter President Sam Stoffels and Jordan Zumberge, chapter secretary, shared the past and future of their student organization that traditionally focuses on international projects while transitioning toward more local community involvement.

Granted a campus chapter in 2009, EWB is part of an international Engineers Without Borders organization offering 140 professional and student chapters. EWB chapters partner with communities throughout the world to develop sustainable, reliable infrastructure that improves quality of life.

Since its inception, EWB at Minnesota State Mankato has been working with the community of Santa Rosa Senca, El Salvador, to improve the community’s water distribution system. The group is currently preparing for a week-long visit to Santa Rosa Senca in May.

“It is a student-led, student motivated, student-driven organization,” Stoffels said. “All aspects of the trip have to be student organized.”

To assist all areas of project development and delivery, Stoffels said the organization is working to expand its membership by recruiting students from across the curriculum who want to make a difference.

“Not only do our projects benefit the communities we work with,” Stoffels said, “they also benefit students by giving valuable skills that aren’t picked up in the curriculum. Especially the soft skills – planning, teamwork, leadership, presentation, fundraising and networking.”

Zumberge added that engineering students are needed for the technical work, but the group primarily seeks students ready to help others.

“Any student that really wants to do humanitarian work, make a difference and do more than just go get free pizza, those are the students we want – who are motivated to help people,” he said. “When I see the perfect vision for EWB, it’s walking through the CSU (Centennial Student Union) and saying ‘Hi’ to five or six non-engineering students that I know because they are in EWB with me.”

For the three club leaders, this spring’s trip to El Salvador will be their first international assistance venture. No members who made the trip two years ago will be joining them.

“We know the effects of having an upperclassmen-heavy organization,” Stoffels added.
As a result, the chapter concentrates on attracting younger students.

“A lot of our recruits are sophomores” Zumberge said. “At that age they know what they want to do with their life. They’re not new to campus anymore. That’s what we find is the ‘sweet spot’ in our recruiting.”

Along with student members, the EWB chapter also partners with a professional engineering mentor from SEH Engineering in Mankato. Dr. Stephen Druschel, P.E., from the university’s engineering department serves as the group’s advisor.

The three also gave “assistant advisor” honors to Ashley Strom, assistant director of RSOs at Minnesota State Mankato, for her help in networking with different RSOs and community groups.

“Ashley is a great connector,” Seffren said. “She’s linked me up with at least five different student leaders that all want to do things with us.”

While the international project is EWB’s primary focus, the group slates guest speakers and presentation to introduce students to useful information for sculpting their lives and futures. Another recent focus seeks opportunities for local volunteer work.

“We are looking at short-term, local volunteering events because the international travel only occurs at most twice a year for our student chapter,” Stoffels said.

Seffrens added some students have simpler goals for involvement.

“We want to do local stuff so that people who don’t want to travel can still participate,” he said. “Or they just want to put in an hour a week doing local volunteering with us.”

While proud to advance their international Engineers Without Borders affiliation, the three chapter officers remain committed to crafting – and exemplifying — a club that grows by helping others.

“It’s really what you want out of it. If you want something that will occupy a lot your time, it can occupy a lot of your time. If you don’t you don’t have to,” Stoffels said. “A lot of use are putting a lot of time and effort into this club because we truly believe in helping people. I can’t stop, basically.”

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