By Elizabeth Susan Joseph, SMU School of Social Sciences
With the tunes of Taylor Swift, Bruno Mars and One Direction playing, blue and gold glitter party hats lining the stage and a live band set up, the usually staid atmosphere of the Mochtar Riady Auditorium brimmed with energy and laughter on the evening of March 13, 2015.
The occasion was the annual University Student Life Awards (USLA) ceremony, where students and co-curricular activity (CCA) clubs are acknowledged for their outstanding contributions to SMU’s vibrant student life. There are bronze, silver and gold awards categories in three areas — Arts, Sports & Adventure, Student Leadership & Community Integration — along with outstanding achievement awards that recognise individuals who’ve achieved impressive accomplishments independent of any CCA club.
This event recognises the fact that contributing in a CCA is a significant investment of time, energy and passion. University president Professor Arnoud De Meyer acknowledges that CCA participation is a big responsibility on top of a student’s academic and other commitments. Commenting on the evening’s awardees, he said: “They have set very high standards, and I am very proud of our students who have contributed so much of their time and effort to creating a vibrant student life.”
Many of the awardees in this year's USLA have been active in their CCAs for at least half their undergraduate lives.
Many of this year’s 40 student awardees have been with their CCAs for over two years: starting out as members, before taking up leadership roles in their CCA executive committees and Constituent Body (CBD) management committees. For these awardees, the time and energy spent in their CCAs brings to life many of the things they’ve encountered on a theoretical basis in the classroom. Lim Ke Hao, the president of the 10th SMU Sports Union, found that while his role was challenging, it also taught him a great deal. “Working through disagreements and stressful periods to continue contributing to the Sports Union taught me the true meaning of sportsmanship.”
Through their experience in running CCAs, our students are also equipped to make bold moves that benefit the student population at large. For example, SMU Fitnessworks – which won the bronze award for Excellence in Student Life – was created to promote fitness and healthy living through recreational fitness classes that would appeal to those who may not be interested in one specific sporting activity. The president of Fitnessworks, Rahul Thadani, shares: “Many of the former exco members of Fitnessworks were in competitive sports, and they wanted to change the mindset about sport being a competition to that of sport being a lifestyle.”.
Another club that aimed to influence the SMU community positively was SMU Verts, the university’s environmental club, which clinched the gold award for Excellence in Student Life. Its president, Lee Qian Yi, also won the individual gold award for her remarkable achievements in the area of community integration. “In junior college and secondary school, there’s a stereotype that environmental clubs are clubs who just chant reduce, reuse, recycle,” she said. Through collaborating with SMU’s Office of Facilities Management (OFM), SMU Verts was able to share environmental practices and kick-start green habits across the university which slowly but surely gained widespread acceptance. “When we worked with OFM to execute Earth Hour in 2013, we received complaints from students. But we remained committed to the environmental cause behind Earth Hour, and in 2014, there were no more complaints!”
Some of the staff members who let their hair down for the USLA ceremony’s show segment: President Arnoud De Meyer, Dr Bervyn Lee (Associate Dean of Students) and Ms Emily Hogan (Assistant Director, Centre for Social Responsibility boogied down to ABBA’s Dancing Queen.
The importance of student life within the SMU experience is underscored by the support given by the greater SMU community. While our students and clubs are empowered with considerable autonomy, they are also supported by the Office of Student Life (OSL), whose managers work with CCA clubs and CBDs throughout the year to provide the student leaders with guidance and expertise. Having collaborated with OSL both as a CCA member and a club exco member, Royce Lee, president of SMU Broadcast & Entertainment is grateful for the OSL managers and their passion for student life. “It is when they guide us with their expertise, experience and knowledge that we are able to carry out our mission, make better decisions, and foster a conducive atmosphere for our club members to learn and grow.”
To further emphasise that student life at SMU is supported by non-students, the USLA awards also acknowledge staff and faculty for their contributions to student life. Even our former students actively contribute to our student life activities: one of two donor awards given out this year is sponsored by the SMU Alumni Association, while many members of our alumni remain active in their CCAs even after they’ve graduated.
Our vibrant student life is just one of many things that makes SMU a Different U. Find out more about the SMU experience here!