Starting a Student Community (Part 1)

Ever had an interest in something but can’t find the right group to join at school? This happened to me during the fall of 2013 and pushed me to create a brand new student group and build a community of students with the same interest. These are my thoughts and the processes I went through to create student groups, specifically .devClub (formally pronounced dot dev club, informally called dev club, don’t ask, its free advertisement), a small group at the University of Manitoba.

.devClub 2016

Pre-Prerequisites:

Being an introvert, starting a new student group can be intimidating and mustering up the courage to talk to new people can be even more so. Luckily by that point, I had two years of experience forcing myself to talk to people through various student groups and governments as well as classes and labs. I give credit to the amazing people I’ve met during my first two years at the University of Manitoba for helping me develop the social skills I have today.

In order to start a solid community, one needs to, at the very least, be able to start conversations with other students. If it feels difficult, don’t be discouraged, take your time to practice approaching others. Start talking to your friends to get some support, and then branch out. Only when you feel comfortable approaching and talking to people should you continue on with the next parts, otherwise, you’ll be in for a tough time.

Prerequisites — The start of something new:

The mandate of .devClub? To create a community of students interested in learning new technologies in areas such as web development, game development, and many more. You can have a more unofficial group that meets after classes at someone’s house, but there is value in taking the time to become an official student group of your school.

Here’s where the first problem lies: generating interest. In order to start a community and become official, you need to have interest. In my case, there were a good amount of people interested in the idea of this student group, so I had a relatively easy time getting the support of friends and classmates to obtain the information and signatures required to form an official student group.

Appealing to the masses

This is where having the pre-prerequisite is useful. You need to sell your idea. Having a mandate helps with your cause. What is your group? Why should people join? What makes your group different from others? A well thought out description of your group and the reason you want to start it will help you in the long run. To touch on this, a well thought out description does not necessarily mean a long description. It can be a smart, yet, general and broad description that encompasses the idea of your group. The description combined with the ability to approach others will help sell the idea of your group and gather the interest required to become an official group.

Teammates?!

Once there is enough interest for your group, it’s nice to have at least one other person to help you maintain and develop the group. If there is someone that shares as much passion as you (or more), there is no harm in asking them to help you. Having more bodies and minds to help doesn’t hurt, especially when it comes time to recruit and hype up the group. Having core members will also show that you are a functioning student group, which helps with becoming official with the school.

Official Paperwork

The process of becoming an official student group is different at every institution. Take the time to go to your Student Union/Association/Council (whatever fancy word they use at your school) and research on how you can register your group. My school required a constitution (a set of rules to govern the group), your list of executive members (based on the roles outlined in the constitution), and a decent amount of signatures to show interest in the group. Start this as early as possible, the earlier you start, the earlier you’ll have access many of the resources available to you via your student government (if applicable). This includes access to potential funding, room bookings, spaces, and many other useful things that you can only get as an official student group. On your applications, be truthful, don’t try to oversell your group. Hyping your group up to more than it is can hurt the application in the end. Have low expectations on the application, and exceed them at the end of the school year.

The real work finally begins

It wasn’t until the cold winter of 2014 until I was able to begin the meetings for the group, prior to that, I had to wait for the group approval from our student union. I took that time to think of what we should attempt to do, what we should learn. Looking back, creating .devClub and developing software is similar. Both require passion and the drive to do, and both require minimal skill sets to start but require more experience as the product grows. With this thought in mind, for my next posts on .devClub and the experiences of starting a student community, I will give my thoughts and experiences in iterations.

Stay tuned, the next post will be ‘.devClub Iteration 1’, where I talk about the initial failures and how those failures help refine what the group is today.