The importance of student organizations at the University of Utah

Story by LUKE MAGEL

It was during a backpacking expedition that the University of Utah student, Emma Taylor, noticed how large the gender gap is in outdoor activities. The men moved quicker than the women in the group did. Therefore, the long-legged men navigated and led the group.

After resolving the issue within the group, Taylor and her friends discussed how to foster a safe and inclusive environment for women in the outdoors.

“So it’s kind of like on this trip and we’re thinking, how do we do this, how do we do this, and then the idea for a club came up,” Taylor said in a Zoom interview.

The Women’s Outdoor Leadership Initiative is one of over 550 Recognized Student Organizations at the University of Utah. Student organizations provide opportunities for students that they would otherwise have to find off-campus. The university contributes to the symbiotic relationship between it and the student organizations by providing resources and advising.

The Women’s Outdoor Leadership Initiative was established in August 2021, making it one of the newest student organizations at the university. The organization already has about 70 members. The primary goal of the initiative is to provide women with skills and confidence in the outdoors.

“The hope is that they can take that with them, be more independent, and then get more of their friends out there so we slowly start to kind of change that gender gap within the outdoor industry,” said Taylor, who is the president of the club.

To accomplish its goal, the organization hosts a monthly course on an outdoor skill and a monthly community bonding meeting. The courses have covered the set of ethics put forth by the Leave No Trace organization, wilderness medicine certification, and backcountry navigation.

A Women’s Outdoor Leadership Initiative community bonding event. Photo courtesy of Emma Taylor.

As winter approaches, the organization is planning an avalanche certification course, ski trips, and volunteer opportunities at the National Ability Center.

The outdoor setting of the club provides students with learning opportunities outside of the classroom. “You’re constantly just kind of having to manage risk, manage your group, manage all these different settings around you,” Taylor said.

The club is classified as a Registered Student Organization. This means that the organization is not affiliated with a department at the university. RSOs are the most autonomous classification.

Student organizations can also be classified as affiliated or sponsored. Affiliated clubs are still separate from the university; however, they are tied to a department and have access to some university resources and an advisor.

Sponsored student organizations are part of a department and must follow its rules. This classification also receives an advisor and the most support from the university.

The University of Utah Beekeepers Association is a Sponsored Student Organization. The club is sponsored by the Bennion Center, the university’s community engagement center.

The U’s Beekeepers Association was started about 10 years ago and boasts hundreds of members. Amalia Friess has been president for two years and was an active member for two years before assuming that role.

The organization has nine honeybee hives in continuously changing locations on campus. The hives are inspected by the organization at least monthly. The inspections can be attended by anyone.

A beekeeper tending to a university hive. Photo courtesy of Amalia Friess.

Friess said taking care of the bees was like having pets. “These are live animals that you’re working with.”

Educational presentations are given to the club by the members themselves. They also give presentations to elementary schools, Boy Scouts, and others. The talks focus on the importance of honeybees and native pollinators.

“If the pollinators are gone, that means that our plants are going to be gone. And that’s the foundation of our whole ecosystem,” Friess said in a Zoom interview.

The beekeepers harvest honey and wax from their hives once a year. The wax, which is made into candles and lip balm, is then given away to those who participate in events or sold along with the honey.

Friess estimates that 40% of the organization’s funds come from honey, wax product, and merchandise sales. The rest of the funds come from the Associated Students of the University of Utah, a perk of being a Sponsored Student Organization.

The Beekeepers Association provides students with an easy way to start beekeeping, an otherwise difficult field to join. The university also benefits from the community engagement.

The student organizations coordinator, Josh Olszewski. He oversees all clubs at the U. Photo courtesy of Josh Olszewski.

“From research, we know that students who get involved tend to have higher GPAs, they tend to feel a stronger sense of belonging on campus, and students who feel like they belong on campus tend to stay,” said Josh Olszewski, the student organizations coordinator for the university.

The broad selection of clubs is an incentive for prospective students to enroll at the U.

Olszewski said having student organizations helps students find community, support groups, and opportunities to build skills outside of the classroom. Students benefit from clubs regardless of the focus of the entity.

Student organizations have raised awareness for immigration laws, mental health, and COVID-19, Olszewski said in a Zoom interview. “These are student-led initiatives that I think raise awareness to the broader community and to the institution as a whole.”