October 1, 2020

Crystal Rawls: Online Organizer

Assistant Director of Student Activities and Engagement Crystal Rawls

Assistant Director of Student Activities and Engagement Crystal Rawls

Nothing ever stopped Crystal Rawls from going to school. With perfect attendance from kindergarten through 12th grade, she never missed a single day with her classmates. So she can understand why students miss being together on the University of Mary Washington campus.

Even while they’re social-distancing during the pandemic, though, UMW students haven’t missed out on opportunities to engage with their peers, thanks to the Office of Student Activities and Engagement (SAE), of which Rawls is assistant director.

“Our goal is to give students the chance to connect with each other, especially during these trying times,” Rawls said. A communications major, she was active on VCU’s campus as an undergrad, which led her to pursue a master’s degree in higher education at Old Dominion University. “We want to help them lay the groundwork so they can continue fostering these relationships once they return to campus.”

That’s easy to do in a normal year, but when COVID-19 cases began to climb last spring, the SAE team had to get creative, lining up activities on social media and Zoom. Throughout the summer, they kept incoming and current students entertained with bracket challenges and game nights, film screenings and cooking videos, playlists and podcast recommendations.

“We were able to interact with a large group of students, especially the Class of 2024,” said Rawls, who expects that even more will engage this fall after Club Carnival, which runs through Sept. 4. The popular Ball Circle event has been transformed into a week of virtual interest meetings, held by UMW’s more than 150 student clubs and organizations.

“Student activities can help you find your on-campus family,” said Rawls, who met one of her closest friends through a college club. “They can help you make lifelong friendships and create a lasting bond with your school.”

 

Q: What activities were you involved in while in college?
A: I served as a resident assistant and undergraduate teaching assistant, and I was a member of VCU ASPiRE, a living and learning community that encourages community engagement.

Q: What does your job at UMW entail?
A: I help UMW’s student clubs and organizations plan campus activities. I’m also the advisor to the Campus Programming Board (CPB) and Class Council, as well as STEP@UMW, Women of Color and Comb As You Are, which promotes natural hair and beauty. I also coordinate the Student Leadership Committee and serve as the Title IX Deputy for Students.

Q: What other virtual activities are planned for the fall?
A: CPB is having a caricature speed drawing event, and we’re also planning socially distanced scavenger hunts and online movie screenings. Bingo is returning, with surprise campus celebrity hosts and a special guest, Morgan McMichaels from RuPaul’s Drag Race.

Q: Are there any new clubs this semester?
A: Aubade Literary and Art Magazine is returning after a hiatus, and new organizations include the Culinary Club, Day on Democracy and the Fourth Wall Studio Club, focusing on filmmaking.

Q: What do you do when you’re not working?
A: Catch up on Netflix – The Umbrella Academy is quite good – and listen to podcasts.

Q: What’s your motto?
A: There is only one of you in the world, so be the best you that you can be.

Tradition Reinvention: Iconic UMW Events Go Virtual

Online trivia, virtual dance parties and outdoor fitness classes are in this fall. High fives, handshakes and hugs are out, at least for now. Activities and engagement are as much a part of college life as academics. That’s why staff and student volunteers at the University of Mary Washington have worked tirelessly this summer to […]

Sandrine Sutphin: Join the Club

Sandrine Sutphin, director of Student Activities and Engagement, and her staff support huge campus-wide events like yesterday's Club Carnival, as well as Orientation, Family Weekend and Homecoming. Photo by Suzanne Rossi.

Sandrine Sutphin, director of Student Activities and Engagement, and her staff support huge campus-wide events like yesterday’s Club Carnival, as well as Orientation, Family Weekend and Homecoming. Photo by Suzanne Rossi.

The carnival came to UMW yesterday – Club Carnival, that is. Rather than rides and fried treats on sticks, this beloved Mary Washington tradition is about forming connections. Hundreds of students congregated on Ball Circle, finding new friends to share their passions. From organizations that encourage community and civic engagement, to clubs for Quidditch and Japanese anime fans – with more than 150 groups seeking new members – there was something for every Eagle.

In the center of it all was Sandrine Sutphin, who has run the event since she came to the University three years ago. “After graduate school, I spent four years at large research institutions, so I wanted to gain experience at a smaller school. Coming to UMW was a great opportunity.”

Indeed. As director of Student Activities and Engagement, Sutphin and her team support Mary Washington clubs and organizations, manage the MyUMW student engagement software and support huge campus-wide events like Orientation, Family Weekend and Homecoming.

As an undergraduate, Sutphin personally experienced the impact that belonging to a club can have on a student. At JMU, she served as a weekend designated driver, an orientation guide and peer advisor, and as a member of the Alpha Phi Omega co-ed service fraternity. But it was her participation in Outriggers that gave her a taste of her future career.

“Our club’s motto was ‘peers helping peers help themselves,’ ” said Sutphin, who facilitated ice breakers, team builders and reflection sessions to assist other campus organizations. “My involvement in that group influenced my decision to become a student affairs professional.”

 

As director of Student Activities and Engagement, Sandrine Sutphin and her team support UMW clubs and organizations. Photo by Suzanne Rossi.

As director of Student Activities and Engagement, Sandrine Sutphin and her team support UMW clubs and organizations. Photo by Suzanne Rossi.

Q: Why does participating in clubs and organizations enhance the college experience?
A: There’s a lot of research around the benefits of involvement and how it can positively impact your success in college and beyond. On the surface, it helps you meet new people, make friends and feel more connected. Beyond that, there are many skills that can be gained, particularly if you take on leadership positions. Organization, communication, team building, critical thinking, gaining multicultural awareness – these competencies support career preparedness.

Q: Anything new at this year’s Club Carnival?
A: We announced next week’s auditions to become UMW’s mascot, Sammy D. Eagle, who’s getting a new look that will be revealed at Homecoming.

Q: Any clubs or activities unique to Mary Washington?
A: The Geek Alliance, which includes the Video Game Club, UMW Whovians, League of Legends Club and Western Animation Club.

Q: What’s the most rewarding part of your job?
A: Developing relationships with students and helping them work through group dynamic challenges.

Q: The most challenging?
A: Remembering how much is out of my control.

Q: How do you enjoy your free time?
A: Having fun with my husband and 2-year-old son. Lately we’ve been focused on preparing to become a family of four this winter!

Q: What is your motto?
A: Most days: “Everything happens for a reason.” When I’m feeling sassy: “A lack of planning on your part does not constitute an emergency on my part.”