An Interview with Sara Robinson about SET

Formally known as JAB, SET has become the new face of student activities on campus. Through new ideas and revitalization of what it means to be a Jimmy, SET could be the very foundation for UJs future. After huge spikes in attendance at recent events and a very intriguing incentive for students. It felt important to understand just what was happening behind the scenes. Sara Robinson, Addie Nybo, and their newly formed student team were able to create exciting events for everyone. Through this interview, she details the trials, and growth of the newly named program. How she works with the student staff, and the goals she has for them and SET as it evolves.

Rather than a student organization Sara and Addie wanted to create opportunities for students to thrive. They created SET as a way for students to be given leadership opportunities. To create things that people could be proud of. She explains later that SET isn’t just about the activities but rather about creating lifelong skills for students. But most importantly helping create an atmosphere with activities that keep students engaged with the community. But more importantly, I believe that they view SET as a platform for students to grow. They have created ways for potential leaders to grow in a positive environment.

Sara: [activities are] “So important and changes your college experience. Because if you wanted an online education with none of the extras… you wouldn’t pay to come to UJ. and so, the work that [SET] do to plan those events, to make those come to life, the university values that! We value that, and we wanted to elevate them [SET members] in the work that they do.”

Caleb: “so in a sense, it is not a student org anymore and rather part of the university.”

Sarah: “yeah so, the student engagement team is no longer a student org it doesn’t follow that contract anymore it’s a wing of student affairs now. Just like Esports is, just like shooting sports is. And a closer one would be like our ministry team. Ministry isn’t a student org. It’s a wing of ministry which is under the umbrella of student affairs. And so now our student engagement team is the same. So, Addie, and I are student engagement professional staff. And they are kind of our student staff.

Caleb:  “are the students that work for you, are they work-study students?”

Sara:     “That’s a great question, they are not currently. So, they are volunteer based just like our welcome weekend team. However, the work that they do is important and is valued and our ultimate goal is to get them into a paid position for the work that they do. In some way shape or form, we would love to be able to compensate them for their efforts. So, we haven’t quite figured out how that looks. We’re in process and discussion, but we couldn’t do that if we remained a student org. Yeah, so something needed to change so that we could elevate them in the vision and direction that we felt like they deserved.”

She later clarified that while they can’t pay students for the work yet, they are heavily lobbying for it. SET view their work as important and something the college should invest money into.

Caleb:  “Since you restructured in essence completely. What do you think that means going forward… if you look back on the way you were going as jab… you probably saw the future. What do you see for the future for [SET].”

Sara:     …So now in this structure we have these team leads, that this is it’s an application process now. To join the team, we have a limited number of spots, we have six seats, we have four event coordinators and two photographers. And that’s our team, and so it’s an application process to be part of that. So that allows us to interview. And have these conversations and make sure that you know the people that are joining our team want to do this work… It really allows the events to be more student-led. Because instead of us planning the events as advisors or taking on the bulk of the work. The students are taking on the bulk of the work and so we’re able to empower them to do that. But then the events truly are student LED and I think there’s something really powerful in that. Because I’m not a college student anymore, I don’t know what’s cool anymore…but I totally can support our students to do what they think student other students want.”

Caleb: “What can students expect from the new formal situation that you created?”

Sara:  “So our hope is that really what we saw from experiencing welcome weekend is, that there are students on this campus that really desire a leadership position… Which is no surprise especially with our growing character and leadership minor that people are looking for opportunities to actually practice those skills. And so, we noticed this and welcome weekend when we had that become an application process, that students really had to think if they wanted to commit to applying. To commit to interviewing and then holding the positions. And when we made it, an application process the investment from students was higher. And so, then the result was much more cohesive work because the students were just more bought into what they were doing. We were able to have more clear conversations about expectations and work and kind of our vision and it just felt more of like a team… And so, in a sense you know an application process for SET is similar. We can talk to you about the work commitment kind of our expectations, [and] your expectations. How we can work together as a team to make that happen? But six people isn’t enough to do the massive events that we do on campus. So, on top of our six SET positions, we also rely really heavily on a volunteer list. And so, the beautiful thing about that, is that students can apply to be on our volunteer list. And then we don’t need to do interviews or anything like that…then when we need volunteers, we just send a mass e-mail to all of those students and just say: “hey this is what we’re looking for.” It allows students to help when they have free time, but to not have to commit to the same commitment that our team spots do… And then our hope eventually is, that as we grow this new structure as we grow this volunteer list, that the volunteers come around and realize kind of the benefits of being a team member, and what that looks like, and think that that’s cool! And so, then our volunteer list eventually will turn into the people that we would want to hire for the open positions.

Caleb: “one other thing I wanted to ask you was about some of the new newer decisions that we’re seeing right now that [have] become more popular. So, I think one of them I like I said earlier… it feels like there’s direct incentives for people to attend these events. And I feel like that kind of I think it paid off very well. But what led to that specific decision because I know you’ve been thinking about it for a for a little bit. How did that come to fruition?”

Sara: “in event planning, there’s a lot of things that go that go into things, but the event is only gonna be as great as the people that are there. And everything we do on campus does have some cost to it.”

She later goes on to explain the cost of the event and its impact on the University. Mentioning that it could cost three thousand dollars to host an event. Which makes attendance for these events even more important. With dwindling attendance at events, the newly formed SET team came up with an idea.

And so, we really did a deep dive into what are students interested in to make sure that we’re bringing the right kind of live performers to campus. And what’s going to get students to these events? How do we get them in these seats? Because we know that these performers are great, when we go to these conferences, we have the opportunity to see them live!… We know when they get there they’re gonna have a great time. But how do we get them there? and so over the last two years, casino night has really taken on a life of its own. It’s become an event that students know and love and talk about. To the point where our incoming freshman students often hear about casino night two weeks into their experience here. Like students talk about casino night as something that they know and love. And so, we’ve kind of tried to examine that. What do students love about it? Is there any way we can replicate other pieces of that in different events that we’re doing. And what we decided is to use that event as leverage, because it is already a very successful event. Last year we had 500 students in attendance at casino night!… Massive right? In a campus of 1100 that is a massive turnout. And so looking at that why are students coming to that? And then how can we use that?… Because students are already coming to that event, they love that event and we thought that would be a great way to get them to come to other events we know they’re going to have fun at… So that’s how casino night VIP was born. Is as the way to get students to these awesome events to earn a VIP experience at an event that they already know they’re going to love.

Caleb: “Can you give any information about this yet?”

Sara: “oh hot tea! We haven’t made final decisions. Casino night planning will be really starting in November. In fact, our presidential cabinet has recognized the importance and the weight that casino night has on our students, and how much they enjoy it. And because we live in rural North Dakota where winters are miserable, January and February is a really hard time of year for everyone. From seasonal depression to terrible winter weather. All these things come by and make way for a hard time. And so, they’ve asked us to move casino night up, so previously it’s been in March after spring break, and our cabinet has asked us to move it forward. So, it will be in February this year. So, we gotta get planning for it. Obviously, we have lots of discussions about what the VIP experience could look like. And no promises! But here are some ideas that we’ve brainstormed but nothing concrete. So last year we heard y’all, one of the massive issues getting into casino night last year was the line. There was a long wait, sometimes students were waiting 30 to 45 minutes even to enter. So, we’ll keep that in mind for VIPs. Thinking of VIP entrance access. Either like separate access or skip-the-line sort of situation. So, boom there’s thirty to forty five more minutes that you get added to play and to hang. So that’s something we’re throwing around. At the door, we always give students free play money, and free tokens to play with. It would be very easy for us to give additional coins, and tokens to our VIPs. Perhaps a special prize that only VIPs were eligible to win. We don’t know, lots of things that were kind of tossing around. We’ve also tossed around like a what do you call it… a chauffeur! …So definitely things we have to work through but it’s going to be the VIP experience for real. it’ll be exclusive, it will be elevated, it will be worth it.”

Caleb: “Oh lastly I just wanted to ask is there anything that you want people to be aware of going forward do you have any last things like events or things you want to tell people about?”

Sara: “Yeah, I think one thing that I think might be helpful for students, just to know about what we do is we really plan like chunks of time. So, we kind of have planned six to eight weeks at a time, and then we have that section of time planned. So, then that’s six to eight weeks we spend planning the next six to eight weeks if that makes sense. Yeah, and so you know really every six to eight weeks we release our dates and our events that are planned. And so, it would be in students’ best interest to follow that, and kind of mark those on their calendars. So that it’s not just like oh this event is tomorrow like we’ve known about this event coming up now for six weeks, right? And so that makes it a little bit easier to make your schedule work. We are very present this year on Instagram, so following our handle would be great. UJ_SET is our handle. And then the other thing that I really would love for students to know is, that this year we have an actual text line! So, there’s a phone number that you can text to join our text line and then because we know how overwhelming emails can be. Instead of getting an e-mail about the event you’re gonna get a text message.”

To learn more about SET follow their Instagram!


To volunteer to help with events visit this google form!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.