Students develop leadership, community through RSOs


Michael Bojda The Daily Illini Puja Amin, first from the right, junior in BUS, and Yuri Kim, 2nd from the right, senior in BUS, tempt new students to sign up for the Minority Business Student Association with free shirts at Business Quad Day.

By Mariah Schaefer, Assistant features editor

For many University students, signing up for RSOs during Quad Day and remaining involved with those organizations can shape their college experiences. In Fiona Kalensky’s case, joining Design for America influenced the junior in Engineering to switch majors and gave her a sense of community.

“I think (being involved with an RSO) is a way to kind of ground myself because I think the stress of school and the pressure from academics is oftentimes very overwhelming, so it’s nice to have a community that you can constantly return to for support or for feedback or reassurance about what you’re doing,” she said.

Kalensky joined DFA in the fall of 2014 and is now co-director of education. She began as a biology major but recently switched to systems engineering and design after her experience with Therapalz, a former DFA project and now startup that is creating therapeutic stuffed animals for individuals with Alzheimer’s.

Through the organization, she said she met incredible people who supported her transition into engineering and who helped with Therapalz.

Samantha Moriarty, senior in Media, also found her path through RSOs. She joined the American Advertising Federation and Business Council to decide if she wanted to major in advertising or business. Moriarty then joined the Public Relations Student Society of America during her sophomore year and is now president of the organization.

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Moriarty said she did not think being president of an RSO could be possible for her because of the size of the student population.

“Joining a media organization like PRSSA I feel like offers so much opportunity, and it’s so much more tight-knit being able to develop relationships with people,” she said. “As far as how I’ve grown within it, I feel like it’s given me more confidence.”

Moriarty said that because the University is so large, finding a niche is important.

Emily Chen, junior in Engineering, found hers during her sophomore year when she joined the Green Observer, the only student-run environmental magazine on campus. Chen is currently the Green Observer’s editor-in-chief.

“I definitely recommend going to Quad Day because that’s where you can find a bunch of different clubs, and you can really see how diverse this university is,” Chen said. “You might not find your first niche right away — I definitely didn’t my freshman year — but it’s important to go and try different things and just be open about it because you’ll find friends and really cool people that way.”

During Quad Day 2013, a booth caught the attention of Hannah Nobbe, senior in LAS. She said she had wanted to attend the University of Wisconsin at Madison but ended up attending the University. When she saw a flyer for a band she liked at Star Course’s table, she decided to join the organization that brings musical acts to campus.

“Star Course was the reason I didn’t transfer schools because I really found my place in here, and I would love people to know that we are open to anyone,” she said. “Basically, we’re all a bunch of music nerds.”

Nobbe became really involved with the RSO, was a social media manager during her sophomore and junior years and is now co-senior manager.

She said she is excited for this year and grateful because she worked hard for her new position, and getting recognition for the work she put in for Star Course was so nice.

“If you are working hard and doing a good job, people will notice your dedication and hard work,” Nobbe said. “It might not seem like it, but they do.”

Moriarty also emphasized how hard work in RSOs can benefit students.

“I started off not thinking that it was possible to make tons of friends at U of I and be a leader on an executive board … but it’s all about working hard and making connections and relationships with people,” she said. “Basically, I encourage everyone to go out for all sizes of clubs — small, medium, large — all your different passions because it helped me decide the career path I want to take, it helped me make friends and it helped me develop interpersonal skills.”

Subarna Bhattacharjee, senior in LAS and Engineering, developed her leadership skills by joining Founders, an organization that fosters entrepreneurship and provides resources for startups on campus. She has been the RSO’s president since her junior year and said Founders helped her go from being a team player to being able to delegate tasks.

“I went from no knowledge of entrepreneurship to actually being very interested in entrepreneurship,” Bhattacharjee said. “At this point, I actually feel like it’s kind of like my responsibility to help students gain the same levels of awareness and kind of help them understand how great it could be to actually have a startup of your own.”

For Chen, becoming involved with the Green Observer helped her grow and also developed her leadership side.

“I think my commitment to a club grew because college is very different from high school,” Chen said. “College is much more big and vast, but once you find your niche, it’s important to stay with it and important to grow with it, and that’s what I did.”

Mariah Schaefer is a junior in Media. 

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