WSA Launches New Student Group Platform

By Miranda Katz, News Editor
Monday, September 2, 2013

c/o Wesleyan

The Wesleyan Student Assembly’s (WSA) new student group management system went live on Monday, Sept. 2, offering students an array of new tools with which they can manage and grow their student groups. OrgSync, founded in 2007 by students at the University of Texas at Austin, will replace WSA Tools and Applications, the University’s former system.

WSA Community Committee (CoCo) Chair Alton Wang ’16 explained the impetus behind the decision.

“We felt that it was time that we needed a system that would be easier for students...to use, and to give students more tools with their groups, with the management [and] communication,” he said.

Wang added that WSA Tools and Applications presented several problems in part due to the fact that it was created by the University rather than a professional platform.

“I wouldn’t call it broken, because it wasn’t necessarily, but there were times when we’d have issues with the system,” Wang said. “We’ve had a group…go missing, which we never want, or [other] things like that. Overall, it was in part just the usage and the usability of that system, as well as a desire to give students more tools.”

The WSA collaborated with the Center for Community Partnership (CCP) and Information Technology Services (ITS) in choosing and launching OrgSync. CCP will use the system to track student volunteer involvement and keep track of the names of students working with the Center.

“[We are] really trying to ensure that we’re capturing all of the information of our student participants and making sure that we’re tracking that information, trying to figure out ways that we could have better communication with them,” said CCP Director Catherine Lechowicz. “And then also with our student leaders transitioning, making sure that all of the information was transitioned from year to year.”

The WSA and CCP were independently searching for a platform such as OrgSync when they realized the similarities in their searches and decided to collaborate.

“Since many of the groups through the Office of Community Service in particular are already student-recognized groups, to us it made sense not to have our student groups have to do two separate things,” Lechowicz said. “This would just really make it easier getting recognized by the WSA while also meeting what our hopes were in terms of capturing student participants, the transition process, all of those things.”

Other systems considered by the WSA and CCP included NobleHour, a platform intended for community service-related management, and CollegiateLink, a platform similar in many ways to OrgSync. Although OrgSync is slightly more expensive than the other platforms, the WSA ultimately decided that it is the best tool for the University’s needs. The WSA is splitting the cost of the software with Information Technology Services (ITS).

“We ultimately chose the one that is more well-rounded, that is better at tools for the students, easier to use for the average user, and something that had more support,” Wang said. “[OrgSync] has been around longer, and knows a bit more.”

Registration for OrgSync opened on Monday, Sept. 2 for pre-existing groups; registration for new groups will open the week of Monday, Sept. 23. In order to ensure that all students become familiar with the platform, the WSA is requiring all groups—whether or not they have previously been approved by CoCo—to register with OrgSync. Groups must be registered to request funding from the Student Budget Committee (SBC).

In the past, students often experienced delays between requesting funding and receiving money. SBC Chair Nicole Softness ’14 explained that while OrgSync will not fundamentally change the process, it should ideally streamline it and allow groups to receive funding more quickly.

“I think it’s actually a lot easier to navigate,” Softness said. “It’s going to be faster. In the old system, it would go through several different systems before getting to the Wesleyan Financial System, so sometimes people would start complaining that it had been weeks and they hadn’t gotten their money. That was what the core problems were with the old system, so a lot of that’s been automated now, so it should work a lot more efficiently.”

Wang added that even groups not looking for SBC funding have a lot to gain from OrgSync.

“We’ve had a good number of groups any given year that register with CoCo that aren’t ever getting SBC funding,” Wang said. “Sometimes they want that because they want access to getting an email address or [an email list] or things like that, so they can still register to access all those tools we have on OrgSync.”

These range from means of tracking names, emails, and class years, to more complex tools that allow student leaders to turn OrgSync into a home base for their group. Students looking to join a new group can search the system by keyword; group leaders can create calendars and share events on a newsfeed-like interface; and each group will have a page where it can display information, pictures, and even allow members to upload files and fill out forms.

OrgSync can also function as a replacement for email lists such as Lyris.

“Lyris is not the easiest things for student groups to use,” Wang said. “We’ve already been encouraging student groups within the last year [that] if you want a very strong [email list] replacement, you should go to Google Groups. This is another option student groups can use, because everyone’s already in the system—you don’t have to add anybody, and when you remove someone from your group because they graduate or something, they’re gone—you don’t have to worry about upkeep.”

Lechowicz pointed out the importance of this feature for the CCP given how many student names the Center tracks. OrgSync, she hopes, will ease the transition process from year to year.

“I’ll be able to access that [list of names], rather than having my students email me at the end of every semester,” Lechowicz said.

Both the WSA and CCP hope that the transition to OrgSync will prove to be smooth. ITS Director of Administrative Systems Steven Machuga explained that though every new system takes some adjusting, OrgSync does not seem to pose too many difficulties.

“I think this first month is going to be interesting, because it’s new software, and everyone needs to get trained on the system, get a little more familiar with it,” Machuga said. “I think the system is incredibly user-friendly, but there’s always a little bit of hiccups at the beginning.”

Yet the organizers behind OrgSync are hopeful that once all groups are registered in the system, students will embrace the new platform.

“I think the most difficult part is getting people on there,” Wang said. “People in our generation—we go [online], we press a few buttons, and we know how to use everything.”

Machuga said that once the system is implemented, it will function not only as an organizational platform, but ideally also as a means of changing the way student groups function at Wesleyan.

“It’s a whole new dimension of student life experience,” Machuga said. “I think we’ll do a better job with it.”