How important is a student union to a student's overall college experience?

It's commonly understood that college is more than classrooms and textbooks. It's a time for discovery – personally, socially and globally. Within that context, a strong student union must be more than brick and mortar. It must be the heart of campus life. Its pulse must be the pulse of the campus.  

CSU as the House of Serendipity

To create a living, evolving culture for student growth and success, the Centennial Student Union at Minnesota State Mankato has adopted the trademark, “House of Serendipity.” As the name implies, this is the students’ house offering unexpected discoveries – pleasant surprises. Our nickname was taken directly from the late C. Shaw Smith.

Along with being a student union director and former president of the Association of College Unions International, Smith was an accomplished magician. That may have accounted for his philosophy that a quality student union should be a surprising, life-changing experience.

“I like to call the Union the House of Serendipity,” Smith said. “You go for one thing and you get more than you bargained for. It­’s inescapable. It gets into your head and into your heart, and you’re never quite the same again. The right Union will change you.”

His words provide momentum to the mission and vision of the CSU succinctly stated as “pleasant surprises that INVITE, INVOLVE and INSPIRE.”

The Meaning Behind INVITE, INVOLVE and INSPIRE

At the CSU, those three words – INVITE, INVOLVE, INSPIRE – are not just haphazard occurrences, but rather represent a progression of personal growth for our students.

We seek to create an inviting environment where students can find such creature comforts as food, essential services, corners for studying or sleep and - most importantly - social interaction.

Once achieved, that level of comfortability encourages student to get involved. Coming into the CSU could lead to joining a fraternity or sorority, getting involved in student government, writing for the student newspaper or helping to plan homecoming, concerts or campus activities benefitting all students.

Such personal engagement inspires students to spread their wings as they explore and achieve personal confidence and leadership skills that will shape their careers and adult lives.

Along this journey of personal growth, students are supported by the CSU’s core values that seek to engage students along six prime objectives – Leadership, Integrity, Community, Personal Development, Innovation and Celebration.

So how does this all get back to the original question: How important is a student union to a students’ overall college experience?

Student Union's Role When Value Matters

Recently, the Washington Post offered a perspective from Jim Troha, a private college president who was also the parent of a prospective college student. In the article –Value Matters in Choosing a College. But Not Just the Price Kind – Troha views higher education from a different angle. Too often, the value of a college education is seen in terms of scholarships, job-placement rates, graduate school enrollments and students’ marketable skills.

“What I don’t see, however, are people talking about value…in terms of ideas, aspirations, the kind of person you want to become, the kind of experiences and environments that will bring out the best in you,” Troha said. “The kind of place where you will be surprised by uncovering your potential.”

Minnesota State Mankato calls each of us to visualize “Big ideas. Real-world thinking” in every one our students.

The Centennial Student Union accepts that calling by helping all student uncover Serendipity of Self where global thinking is shaped through personal experiences that apply leadership, integrity, community, personal development, innovation and celebration.

Providing the setting and services for advancing those virtues assures the student union’s important role in a valued and enduring college education.