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Clubs Ignite Passions and Expand Horizons

With more than 300 campus organizations, students have plenty of opportunities to explore their interests.

Otto stands in front of a crowd at the involvement fair posing for the camera
Otto pays a visit to the Involvement Fair, which gives students the opportunity to learn about campus clubs and organizations. This fall’s fair is scheduled for Sept. 9 on the Quad.

Ofentse Mokoka ’23 has always loved music, but worried she might not be able to pursue her musical interests in college. During her Syracuse University Welcome orientation, Mokoka learned about the a cappella community on campus, and her worries were put to rest. She auditioned for the Mandarins—an all-women a cappella group—and now is in her fifth semester singing with them and serves as the group’s president. “Getting to interact with these amazing women showed me that not only are they all incredibly talented people, but they’re kind, funny and welcoming,” says Mokoka, an economics and writing and rhetoric major. “I’m forever grateful to them, because they gave me my first home on campus.”

Group of acapella singers performing on stage
The Mandarins perform at the First Year Players’ annual cabaret in fall 2019. Pictured are soloists Marissa Madonna (front left) and Gia Marcogliese, with Lindy Melegari (second from left) and Ofentse Mokoka singing behind them.

Whether you’re interested in singing a cappella or playing badminton, competing in esports or writing for a publication, chances are you’ll find a recognized student organization to pursue your passion or ignite a new interest. With more than 300 organizations, the range of offerings to explore is vast, diverse and ever growing.

Beyond making friends with like-minded folks and expanding your horizons, you can gain experience in communication, leadership, teamwork, problem solving, budgeting, management and much more.

If you’re interested in meeting club representatives, check out the annual Fall Involvement Fair, a gathering of organizations on the Shaw Quad that will be held Sept. 9.

There’s also ’Cuse Activities, a web-based offering you can use to learn about the broad range of organizations—including Greek chapters, sport clubs and academic groups—and their events. And if you have a special interest that isn’t among the options, you can apply to establish your own organization.

What’s Cooking?

Daisy Leepson ’23 pursues several interests through student organizations. She hits the water as a member of the sailing team and participates in Delta Kappa Alpha, a professional film fraternity on campus. But above all, she considers herself a food enthusiast and serves as president of the Slow Food chapter at Syracuse University. “Slow Food is all about creating a community for students who are equally passionate about food—whether it’s through cooking, sustainability, better growing practices or working on negating food insecurity,” says Leepson, a dual major in magazine and information management and technology. “I really enjoy that I’m able to dive deep into food conversations and have people who are as excited and passionate about it as I am.”

The benefit of being involved in Slow Food and student organizations in general is you’re able to truly find your people within a certain niche. The people in Slow Food get as excited about an heirloom tomato as I do.

—Daisy Leepson ’23

Slow Food members explore food culture in a variety of ways, from visiting coffee houses, bakeries and farms to volunteering at Pete’s Giving Garden on campus and organizing a community-supported agriculture program that offers seasonal goods from a local farm to University community members. Along with all the opportunities, Leepson says Slow Food has helped her realize she wants to focus her professional career on food, whether it’s being involved in writing, food media, startups or other related options. “The benefit of being involved in Slow Food and student organizations in general is you’re able to truly find your people within a certain niche,” she says. “The people in Slow Food get as excited about an heirloom tomato as I do.”

Table Tennis, Anyone?

Group of athletes in uniform gather around for photo showing off their medals
Members of the Syracuse University Table Tennis Club gather at the 2019 National Collegiate Table Tennis Association Great Lakes Regional Championship at the University of Akron. They are displaying the trophies and medals they’d previously won at the Upstate New York Central Division Tournament.

When Xinyue Mao ’22 arrived on campus in 2018 from Fujian, China, she was interested in making friends and finding activities to participate in. At the Sport Club Fair, she talked with members of the Syracuse University Table Tennis Club—which plays in collegiate tournaments and local friendly competitions—and decided to join. “We hold a tryout for the team since we want to recruit the best players, but everyone is welcome to be a club member if they have a great passion for table tennis,” says Mao, who now serves as club president.

While regular participation helps players develop their skills and teamwork, friendship is what Mao enjoys most about the experience. “When I was new, all the club members helped me a lot with table tennis and my life at SU,” she says, noting how one teammate influenced her decision to become a math major. “Since there are a lot of international students in our club, they helped me with language, being involved with the team and even U.S. college life.”

Opportunities Abound

Balloons spelling out "Involvement Fair" on the quad
The Involvement Fair bustles with activity as students visit information tables hosted by campus clubs and organizations.

Making friends and getting involved in campus life is a major part of the college experience—and Student Association (SA) President David Bruen ’23 encourages all students to take full advantage of the experiences available. “There are so many opportunities—not just on campus, but outside of it as well, and you can go really far in them and exceed your own expectations,” he says.

SA allocates funding to student groups through the student activity fee. Members serve as leaders for the undergraduate student body and have institutional representation, serving on committees, interacting with administrators and working to set policies. “SA essentially creates the entire student experience that we have here,” says Bruen, a political science and policy studies major. “It’s funding amazing events like Juice Jam and so many more SA initiatives that are important to students. Being in SA allows you to play a role in how that funding is distributed.”

Hosting Events

Many students come together to produce major events. For instance, members of the University Union—the official student programming board—organize Juice Jam, Block Party and other big-time entertainment events. And then there’s CuseHacks—Syracuse’s first and only student-run hackathon, which is the main event of Innovate Orange. “Our mission is to encourage and develop student interest in technology and programming, as well as create opportunities for students to engage in project-based learning,” says Innovate Orange co-president Maya Ostoin ’21, G’22, a computer science graduate student with bachelor’s degrees in computer science and applied math.

It’s a lot of fun. Pretty much all the people have a good time, as well as create something and expand their skill sets.

—Maya Ostoin ’21, G’22

CuseHacks takes place over 24 hours, and participants go it alone or team up to create apps, websites and hardware projects. You can also attend skill-building workshops, meet company representatives and network. Last year, CuseHacks was held virtually and drew upwards of 200 participants from around the world. It was also the first time the event was affiliated with Major League Hacking, the official collegiate hackathon league, which boosted its reach. Ostoin, who has been involved with Innovate Orange since her sophomore year, emphasizes the event’s collaborative environment for learning and innovating. “It’s a lot of fun,” she says. “Pretty much all the people have a good time, as well as create something and expand their skill sets.”

Building Professional Skills and Connections

As a Nottingham High School student in Syracuse, Tysean Canada ’23 joined the National Society of Black Engineers (NSBE), one of the largest student-governed organizations in the country. The computer engineering major says the organization helped create a foundation for him and continues to fuel his passion. “It’s wonderful to see a bunch of successful people who look like me in positions of power doing big things on a national level,” says Canada, now president of the University’s chapter of NSBE. “That’s the biggest motivation for me—just to always keep going and know there’s no excuse.”

I want to put a lot of people in positions to be successful.

—Tysean Canada ’23

The chapter organizes professional development activities like hosting alumni and resume-building workshops, and also fun events like movie nights and karaoke. “All those kinds of things that make people feel welcome and just want to become a family,” Canada says.

Beyond that, Canada wants other NSBE members to benefit from the organization, recalling how attending the national conference as a high school student inspired him. He looks forward to this year’s conference and wants to continue that legacy of giving back for others. “I want to put a lot of people in positions to be successful,” says the aspiring video game designer. “I like throwing alley-oops to people.”

Jay Cox

This story was published on .

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