Walk in. Workout. Walk out. Repeat. This is the average student’s mindset when going to the university’s recreation center. Rarely do students take the opportunity to look around, actively seek out what’s new or explore different programs. Most students take on a routine, whether it’s heading to the basketball courts for their IM game or jumping on the treadmill for their sweat sesh. So how do you engage students to try something new or participate in a specific activity? Here are three ways we are making this happen at UC Riverside:
You heard that right: students like stuff, especially free stuff. Giving out incentives in return for participating in an activity is a great way to start a conversation and garner future engagement. For example, our street team sets up a table on campus every week, spreading awareness about all of our events and upcoming activities. In order for students to receive one of the cool and trendy prizes we offer, like metal straws, T-shirts or rechargeable battery bricks, students must follow us on social media where they receive updates from our accounts almost daily. This creates a pathway for future engagement and a way to inform students of our future events. We also like to show students that we have a personality, so sometimes students can win a prize by competing in a hula hoop contest or completing a 30-second plank. This effort demonstrates we are not just a department on campus, but a group of people that can have fun and wants to invest in students’ health and wellness.
It’s amazing how a competition attracts students. At our recreation center, we do our best to find a balance between friendly competition and too much heat. How you ask? Through challenging our students to compete with themselves. Our FitWell program area — responsible for group fitness classes, bootcamp, weight room management, among other things — created a punchcard that rewards students who work out or attend a class at least three times a week every week for the whole quarter. Those that accumulate the right number of punches receives a prize — back to those giveaways again. This is something we have seen success with and are encouraging our other program areas to participate in by creating one single punchcard good to use at any of our classes or activities, including outdoor trips, intramural games, rock wall climbing and cooking classes. In this way, we are encouraging our students to participate in any activity we offer and try new ones as well.
People love to see themselves online, especially when they can share it with their networks. This is a great way to encourage students to check out your facility through their friends. As an example, we interview gym-goers at all stages of their journeys and with different interests. We focus on how working out, the recreation center and/or the services we offer have positively affected their time at the university. By featuring them on our social media platforms and tagging them, we are not only humanizing a facility but also attracting a new audience that may not have been interested before seeing his/her friend. This also helps shed light on all the programs we offer and illustrates first hand how students are taking advantage of it.
Engaging students and encouraging them to participate in new activities isn’t easy. With these ideas, students are sure to stop and take a second to look around to join a new class or participate in a new activity. At the end of the day though, our main goal is for students who enter our doors to cross that stage at graduation. If we can somehow be a small part of that, by encouraging participation in a wide range of opportunities that decrease stress or provide an academic break, we consider that a success to our department.