On average, college students spend about 15 hours a week in class – or these days, in a virtual classroom – and they spend roughly an additional 15 hours studying.
This means much of a student’s time is open to other experiences, including tutoring, student club participation, volunteering, living-learning opportunities, and much, much more.
Helping develop and connect students to these enriching experiences is where Harrisburg University’s Student Services and Student Life teams step in.
And in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic that has closed campus, the Student Life team has
worked hard to provide even more opportunities to students to help keep them connected during these unprecedented times.
The Student Life team is holding about 15 virtual events a month and is providing many more tools and resources students need online. The team has also created two SharePoint pages for Student Housing and Student Activities and even developed virtual Student Life Office that allows students to engage and interact with the Student Life team and more.
We recently caught up with Islam to learn more about him, his team, and the opportunities and challenges the Student Life Office faced during the pandemic.
Meet Nayeem Islam, Associate Director of Student Life
Q: Tell us about your educational background?
A: I have spent all my higher education years in Pennsylvania. I graduated from Bloomsburg University of Pennsylvania with a Bachelor of Arts in Business Economics in 2010. I followed up with a Master of Public Administration from Penn State University in 2012. During my time at Penn State, I also completed a certification in Public Budgeting and Financial Management.
Q: Where did you work before arriving to HU? When did you arrive to HU?
A: I started at HU during the Summer of 2012, originally as Residence Director. I was the first full-time staff hired by the University for Student Housing. Before my time here, I worked at Penn State University as Assistant Coordinator of Residence Life. Residence Life and Housing are my passion, and I spent much of my career in this field.
Q: Could you describe your role at HU?
A: I am the Associate Director of Student Life at HU. I manage the Student Life team and we are part of the University’s Student Services Functional Area. The Student Life team at Harrisburg University manages Student Activities, Student Clubs and University Housing operations. In our office, we love using the phrases, “we take care of students outside of the classroom” and “come for the academics, stay for the amenities”.
Q: What do you love the most about working at HU?
A: Harrisburg University is not like any other place I have worked. There are many good and unique aspects to HU, my favorite is the entrepreneurial nature of our work culture. We can come up with new ideas, build on them and launch all within a semester. Continuing, we can make speedy changes to initiatives with feedback we receive. The University supports this nature of continuous innovation and the “trying new things to see what works best”. This aspect is usually missing from other colleges where things are more set in their traditions. While at HU we currently have the privilege to build HU traditions. Some good examples of these would be how we modify our student activities calendar to match the needs of our current student community. We also modified housing options to provide students more options when it comes to the number of roommates they would like.
Q: What are the most rewarding aspects of your work?
A: There are a few, I will mention my top three. Firstly, it is our student population. For some students HU provides an opportunity to work towards a degree that can help them, and in turn, their families prosper in the future. There is a deep sense of satisfaction when we can help a student figure out their housing situation, so they have a safe space to stay and continue classes. Or when first generation college students can form new student groups on campus and express their creativity and culture to the community.
Secondly, we have a tight knit HU staff family. A lot of staff knows each other well and thus can foster a better collaborative work environment. On our Student Services and Student Life teams we practice that culture of support in our team meetings. We hang out more than we like to admit.
Thirdly, I see myself in our student population. Personally, it feels great to help students that remind me of my own journey. Here we embrace words like ‘nerds’, ‘geeks’ and ‘gamers’, all things I used to be called. I love working for this population and providing them a safe space to learn and engage.
Q: Any special awards or certifications we should know about?
A: I have small certifications involving student development. Over the years I received continuing education certifications regarding conflict resolution, mental health awareness, and new housing practices.
Q: What do you think makes HU stand out as a University for our students and our faculty?
A: I think the small class sizes and our focus in science and technology is the biggest draw. Students get more hands-on experience from faculty that value STEM learning. The other big draw is the student body, new students are joining a community that embraces STEM with similar interests both inside and outside the classroom.
Q: Where are you from originally? Where do you live now?
A: I am originally from a small Asian country called Bangladesh. It is a beautiful, warm tropical place, with no snow. I currently live in downtown Harrisburg. My wife and I enjoy the city living.
Q: Any hobbies or activities you can share? Any other life details you would like to share? Family etc.?
A: I love gaming and am a big movie buff. In my spare time, I spend time with friends online playing multiplayer games such as Destiny 2, Call of Duty etc., and my wife and I love watching shows and movies. We are always adding new things to see on our list. My wife also enjoys nature, and we go for many afternoon walks around the city.
Q: What are your thoughts on having to switch over to an online model this fall in light of the COVID-19 pandemic in terms of delivering the same quality education/services to our students?
A: I miss the students. A lot of what we did involve around seeing students face to face. So that hurts. But we are now in a nice smooth rhythm. We are taking many video meetings with students and putting up a good number of events virtually for students to enjoy. We are averaging 15 events a month.
I think our office made a nice switch into the online format. Student Life was able to migrate many tools and resources that students would need. We have two fully up and running SharePoint pages one each for Student Housing and Student Activities. We moved to an online meeting scheduler that students can directly book with us. We created a virtual Student Life office with graphics. We also moved our housing buildings and student clubs online through MS Teams, each group with their own space to engage in.
I think our transition was swift and very helpful for students. We are excited to continue to offer our services and meet the student need.
We kept housing open for students. Those students that needed a safe space to continue their academics were given access to housing. Our students come from all walks of life, those that may be homeless, lacks internet or proper technology at home, lacks a safe academic space to do their work; all had the option to apply for housing. We have around 50 students currently with more students interested in applying for Spring 2021.
Q: Anything else you would like to add?
A: The student life team is fantastic! I am assisted by two more professional staff members and many student leaders. We have Resident Assistants for housing students, Connection Leaders for new students, Student Government leaders for campus activities. All working with us to put out the best experience for our student community.
About Harrisburg University
Accredited by the Middle States Commission on Higher Education, Harrisburg University is a private non-profit university offering bachelor and graduate degree programs in science, technology, and math fields to a diverse student body. For more information on the University’s affordable demand-driven undergraduate and graduate programs, call 717.901.5146 or email, Connect@HarrisburgU.edu.