One Tuesday evening not too long ago, I rushed home from work to feed my daughter and my cat, finish up my Spanish assignment, and attend a Student Government meeting. Using parliamentary procedure, we discussed common projects such as the results of a student survey and distributing funds for student events. What made this meeting unique was that the other elected senators were from many places, including Washington, Oregon, Virginia, and Turkey. Our public meeting was being held, as it is every other Tuesday evening, in an on-line chat forum so we can represent the growing student populace of Washington State University's Distance Degree Programs (WSU DDP).
As distance education gains momentum, there's a growing need for Student Governments to represent their non-traditional students. As new as the technology that's used to implement it, WSU's Distance Degree Student Government (Associated Students of Washington State University Distance Degree Program or ASWSU-DDP) was established in September 1998 with only a president and a vice president forming the constitution and rules in order to "specifically represent the unique and particular interests, needs, and welfare of WSU's DDP students." Now, ASWSU-DDP has seven senators who are treading new ground and overcoming new challenges.
One of these challenges is advertising. During the fall 2003 semester alone, WSU DDP served approximately 2,000 students living in 45 states and 16 countries. Since its inception, WSU DDP has served students in all fifty states and in 81 other countries. That's a lot of flyers! WSU has created a quarterly newsletter e-mail system which ASWSU-DDP can use to advertise, but other methods include word of mouth (or should I say keyboard to keyboard?), within chat room, e-mail, instant message, virtual classroom contexts, and some mass mailings. The most popular way of advertising is the ASWSU-DDP's well-kept and informational website at http://aswsu-ddp.wsu.edu. This website contains all the history, upcoming events, announcements, and even a virtual student commons and extensive resource page. It's well-maintained by an ASWSU-DDP-funded web master and constantly updated.
Like any other SG, public elections are held each year (via an on-line form) at the end of the current senator's term. The typical structure is also maintained: There's a president, vice president, treasurer, secretary, senators, and an advisor. There are even committees which meet regularly to discuss such topics as event planning, technology, and public relations, all in on-line formats or teleconferences. Currently, there's a subcommittee run by two dedicated DDP students which is very close to accomplishing its goal of establishing a distance degree honor society. Another current project is trying to unite the on-line students with the other WSU campuses in order to be represented to the legislature. This spring, several senators and officers will meet with legislators to discuss students' needs.
Events are organized by the event planning committee and held for distance degree students to meet each year. This task is much more complicated than a typical event-planning task because a central location is almost impossible to find. Currently, events are usually held in the Washington area and sometimes within the area of elected senators and officers. According to the 2003-2004 president, Amy Laptad, who herself lives in Virginia, ASWSU-DDP would like to see future events held on each coast and in other areas of the world where students are clustered. Until then, there are local events such as Rendevouz, an SG-funded get-together held in Washington every March, where some DDP students and SG senators can mingle. "We're seeking to make each event fun and exciting and are hoping to attract many DDP students to enjoy the festivities, meet others, and benefit in a variety of ways from the services that are provided," says Andrea Kerr, 2003-2004 senator and events planning committee chair.
"To my knowledge I don't know of another SG organization dedicated to a university's distance student population," says Renee Smith, ASWSU-DDP advisor. "A few times a year, I send messages to other schools with distance degree programs to see if they have a similar SG. I usually receive several responses, but haven't found any other SG like A-DDP. Oftentimes, the people who responded are interested in A-DDP and how it was created and operates."
Robin Whitson-O'Flinn, 2003-2004 Vice President, adds that ASWSU-DDP is "forging the way for fledging distance learning programs that need and deserve a voice in their university."
Melissa Weise is a 2003-2004 ASWSU-DDP senator. For more information, contact Smith at email@example.com or visit http://aswsu-ddp.wsu.edu.