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What should our SG training retreat include?

Q. I am trying to plan a four day long SGA orientation that will take place the week before the academic year starts. There will be about 15 students at this orientation, and I was wondering what some good activities or discussions would be during this orientation. Already at this orientation I am planning to have members of the administration come and meet with us, including the president, the head of dining services, etc. Please let me know if you have any suggestions for what we can do at this orientation to get the most out of it to promote leadership, character building, and to help introduce and bring the SGA members together. In addition, I want to use this orientation for the members of SGA to start brainstorming projects and ways to improve during the year, and to get a jump start on all of this before school begins.
A. Expert Butch Oxendine answers...

This is a wise idea!
The idea of a "retreat" is to get all of your officers, members, and advisors on the "same page" regarding goals for the year, expectations of each other, job responsibilities, and more.
It would be great if several of the key administrators could come and explain their roles and answer common student questions. I could see you providing the answers at your SGA web site (with the goal of your web site becoming a conduit of information about Colgate that is not available at the main Colgate web site). If your SGA web site can become a place students go to get answers to questions and solutions to problems then you will have people coming to the web site frequently and using it as a resource. This will make your SGA indispensable.
Back to the retreat. If you can host it off-site, that would be great. It's more costly, but having it at a rustic camp, away from distractions, is a common practice for more evolved SGAs. Also, rules on leaving the retreat and use of cell phones/texting can help avoid distractions. It's hard to get everyone thinking about SGA and immersing themselves in SGA, but an out-of-the-way locale can help participants focus.
Tentative Agenda
1. What is SGA and what should it do? (30 minutes to one hour)
At the end of this, you should all be able to articulate at least three reasons SGA exists and what it does on your campus. It's helpful to frame for everyone what you do exactly. What is your purpose? Are you a programming board or advocate organization?
2. Why are you involved? (30 minutes to one hour)
Each SGA member should individually list two of three reasons they're involved. Your secretary should take notes of why everyone is involved and what they hope to accomplish. Individually, everyone should write down this and keep it in a "binder" that can be shared with successors.
3. Q&A with Key Administrators
The President, Vice President for Student Affairs, treasurer/bursar, financial aid director. Each person can explain his/her role, why things are the way they are, and answer questions from your members. Ideally, SGA would submit some questions in advance so the administrators can be prepared. Again, keep records and post at your web site. Perhaps even get video and have that at your web site.
4. Job Descriptions
Each member should articulate and in writing what he/she does. The more detail in writing, the better. What time commitment is required. How loves and hates you? Who is helpful on campus. What do I do in my role. Who are allies on campus? Each person should be able to clearly and quickly describe his/her role. It will be helpful to others to understand what everyone else does.
5. Meeting Management
You could have a mock meeting to help everyone get comfortable with participating. Roberts Rules and Parli-Pro are often stumbling blocks for new members and even more experienced ones. An SGA like yours must have order and parli-pro is one of the keys to this. Having a professor who is a skilled parliamentarian would be ideal to help you run through making motions, etc. ASGA has resources and DVDs to help with this process.
6. SGA Goals & Plans
This is the time to brainstorm in small groups about what SGA hopes to accomplish, changes that need to be made, and rank these goals by how likely they are to be influenced by SGA. Setting realistic goals is the key here and taking on projects that have a realistic chance of succeeding will help boost morale and your overall effectiveness and image across campus. You want to be seen as a "do-something" group. At the end of this discussion, there should be consensus on three major issues that SGA will tackle during the year.
7. How Effective is Our SGA?
Have everyone take the ASGA "SG Effectiveness Test" to determine where your strengths and weaknesses are then discuss.
8. The Administrator Test
Have everyone take the ASGA "Administrator Test" to determine how your SGA is perceived on campus. The "group" score will help you determine a course of action and strategy to continue improving your status on campus.
9. Summary & Inspiration
This should be a review of priorities, goals, and plans and a chance to "inspire" the SGA to really make positive changes to help your institution improve.
This is a just a "guideline" for an effective retreat. ASGA would be glad to assist you in more depth. Just call on us!
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The American Student Government Association will provide all Student Government leaders and advisors nationwide with networking, research, and information resources and will teach them how to become more effective, ethical, and influential leaders on their campuses. ASGA also will promote the advancement of SGs, conduct research as the nation’s only “SG Think Tank,” and advocate the importance of having a vibrant, autonomous Student Government organization at every institution in America.

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