The power of events to build belonging among students

XJTLU’s new Entrepreneur College had to work fast to build a sense of belonging among its first student cohorts, and one way it did this was by hosting a series of events. Xiaotong Lu shares the strategies adopted

Xiaotong Lu's avatar
12 Jan 2023
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Students enjoying an informal get together over coffee

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Created in partnership with

Xi'an Jiaotong Liverpool University 

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Being a pioneer is exciting, but it can also result in anxiety. We saw these mixed emotions among the first students to enrol at Xi’an Jiaotong-Liverpool University (XJTLU)’s new Entrepreneur College in Taicang, opened in September 2022.

Students expressed concern about the college, the new programmes and the new educational model. To reassure the students, the School of Intelligent Finance and Business, one of the seven industry-themed schools within the college, worked to foster a sense of belonging.

The school began by introducing a series of events for its first and second student cohorts, involving students and staff. The feedback was overwhelmingly positive and the events generated interest in the school specifically, as well as in the wider college. Both the college and the school successfully met their student recruitment targets for the 2022/23 academic year.

To enhance students’ sense of belonging, especially in a joint-venture university, the following strategies proved helpful: 

  • appoint students as marketing ambassadors and involve them in organising events such as guest lectures and programme information sessions
  • build a multicultural and student-centred school culture
  • develop effective staff-student relationships by inviting academic staff to work closely alongside students at events.

Involve students in organising events 

A group of students were recruited as marketing ambassadors and asked for their input into what events the school should hold, such as an open day, a photography competition and a homecoming party.

The student marketing ambassadors worked with professional service staff to plan monthly social and extracurricular events, and academic events such as guest lectures and industry company visits.

At XJTLU, first-year students come into the university with undecided majors. They choose their programmes during a set period in March every year, at the beginning of the second semester.

The school invited those students to participate in and lead multiple student recruitment events during this period, which helped to meet its student recruitment target in March 2022. In June 2022, about 15 per cent of the school’s new students applied to be “school marketing ambassadors”, a 10 per cent increase from the previous year. 

Student marketing ambassadors who served in 2021 to 2022 reported feeling that their voices were heard and valued as the new school grew with them.

Involvement in the events programme made students feel like active participants in shaping the school’s culture. Those year-two and -three students would be more likely to publicise their schools and programmes to the year-one students. 

Build a multicultural and student-centred culture

As members of an international joint-venture university in China, the staff and students at XJTLU and its Entrepreneur College are from diverse backgrounds and regions across China and want to get insight into Western college life.

The school’s first official event was a formal Western-style school homecoming event for all the students. The students were actively involved in planning the event, which combined activities and foods from across China and the world. There was a Western-style buffet, a British tea break, Korean dancing and Japanese songs as well as games for students from eastern and western China to play as teams. The event enabled students from a rich variety of backgrounds to sit together and get to know each other.

As a result of student marketing ambassadors’ preparation and active promotion, the event attracted almost all the school’s year-two and -three students and many first-year students, who gained a positive insight into campus life. In focus group interviews, students said they were thrilled with the event and were looking forward to more. The social media posts about the event received more than a thousand views. Moreover, some new students told us that when they chose their programmes, they cared not only about the programme but also the school culture. The homecoming event, with its diverse, open and inclusive approach, strengthened their determination to choose this school.

Develop staff-student relationships through collaboration 

To nurture better staff and student relationships, academic staff took the lead in school events such as guest lectures, academic competitions and social-cultural events, including vlog competitions and annual parties. In running the events, they collaborated with student marketing ambassadors and other student representatives, giving them more opportunities to interact with students in circumstances beyond the lecture hall or classroom.

These extra interactions strengthened teacher-student partnerships, leading to greater mutual trust. Students were then more proactive in reflecting on academic staff’s learning and teaching performance, benefitting students’ personal growth and the school’s long-term development.

What happens next?

In September 2022, the students moved to the college’s newly opened campus. The school assembled a welcome package for all students. The package contained useful items such as a tableware set and portable charger, as well as branded T-shirts and a pin of the university mascot, which boosted students’ sense of belonging.

After moving to the new campus, the School of Intelligent Finance and Business received fewer complaints about the new facilities than any other school, attributed in part to its work creating an inclusive culture and sense of belonging among students.

As the college welcomes 50 per cent more students and staff members this year, it will keep working with students on events, including the homecoming celebration, on a larger scale to strengthen the school culture. Casual staff-student days will be planned to give students and staff more opportunities to build their relationships beyond the classroom.

Xiaotong Lu is the executive assistant to the dean of the School of Intelligent Finance and Business of XJTLU Entrepreneur College (Taicang), who also leads the school marketing.

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