Engagement… With Friends?

Saturday my engagement group held our first workshop, and in many ways, it went surprisingly well considering we had a week to prepare.  Those who attended for the most part participated with thoughtful comments and listened openly to others.  Considering how quickly we introduced concept maps to them, they picked up on it fairly well.  The feedback from the students who attended was consistently positive.  They said it was engaging and interesting.  One friend was especially enthusiastic and engaged, and commented very openly.  He even said that it didn’t feel like he was going to a workshop for the sake of a friend, but that once he was there it felt like something he was doing for himself and own interest.  He said for the rest of the day he continued to think about how he perceives other topics in the same way he did with rats during our workshop.

Here lies the problem (maybe?).  Everyone who attended was a friend, and even though I only received positive feedback once they were there, many admitted to me they only went because I insisted they went and initially didn’t want to but wanted to be a good friend.  They knew how much this workshop mattered to me, both passion wise and for my grade.

One of the more goofy comments left by a participant during the workshop.

I am trying to decide if it is a problem that it was friends who attended and that they didn’t initially want to go.  It was not my groups initial plan to have the people we engaged with be exclusively friends.  We wanted a large array of students.  And while next workshop I’d like more variety in the social groupings of the students who attend, maybe some good came out of having it be friends for the pilot.  We got to test out our project and workshop in a small group of about eight people we were comfortable with.  But even more importantly, I got a chance to show my friends what I’m doing and get them interested in a topic I’m passionate about, that they previously didn’t think they were.  None of my close friends are ENVS majors.  The students who attended were still pursuing degrees in a diversity of majors.  Maybe I couldn’t of asked for a better outcome of our first workshop than to show my friends that they are interested in something and get them thinking about something that they previously never considered.  There is something special about watching eight friends attend something against their desire for your sake (which shows they are good friends) to come out of it enthusiastically with a new interest they share with you.

I still want to experience this type of engagement with people other than friends for next workshop, even though I would like friends to attend again.  I could have the same type of experience with random students that I did with my friends, where they gain interest in something new in only two hours and on their own, start thinking about it in a new way.  I don’t know how to do this though.  If my friends only attended because I told them to, than how could I ever get students I don’t know well, or even at all, to engage with me?  I advertised this workshop heavily.  I announced it in my art class twice, had the plateau send out an email, and put flyers all over campus.  The only method that managed to bring people was directly telling them I really wanted them to go.  I don’t know what else I can do to have a less selective group of students attend.  And I still have to ask myself one question: is engagement still engagement when it is with the people you actively communicate with and spend time with on a regular basis?

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