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Even Quirky Campus Clubs Help College Students | News

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Even Quirky Campus Clubs Help College Students

(USA Today) -- Students at Georgia Tech and Georgia State University started school Monday, a week after the University of Georgia. In coming days all sorts of campus clubs will be courting the co-eds for membership, but they're not like the student groups their parents joined.

College experts say students today are attracted to clubs with activities that are more innovative - maybe even downright wacky. Some feed squirrels, pretend to be zombies and use science to whip up bacon-flavored cotton candy. 

Strange as that may seem, experts say students who participate in extracurricular activities are more engaged in the college experience, and benefits can be seen both in and outside the classroom. Kevin Kruger of the National Association of Student Personnel Administrators says the students study more, have higher GPAs and are more satisfied with their social lives.

The average student participates in two campus activities, according to a 2009 NASPA report, which surveyed more than 14,000 students from 35 U.S. colleges and universities. Students who attend smaller colleges tend to become involved in more organizations, the report says.

Joining clubs is one of many ways students network and develop lasting friendships, says John Gardner, president of the John N. Gardner Institute for Excellence in Undergraduate Education and author of "Your College Experience: Strategies for Success."

David Bebeau, 20, founded the Humans vs. Zombies club at the University of Wisconsin in 2009. Bebeau describes Humans vs. Zombies, which has become popular on campuses across the country, as a "massive game of tag." Players are split into two groups; humans who are tagged by zombies become zombies themselves, and the game ends when the last human is tagged.

As many as 300 students play the week-long game that goes on 24/7. Bebeau says the club brings together a diverse group of students who wouldn't otherwise interact.

"We get athletes with the hardest of the hard-core nerds, and people who would never actually play together have become very good friends," he said.

Though the main purpose of some clubs is just to have fun, others extend the learning experience. At the Culinary Institute of America, students may sit in a wine class for several hours a day and then attend a wine-tasting sponsored by the Bacchus Wine Society later that night, says David Whalen, associate dean for student activities, recreation and athletics. "They're back there lining up at the door because they want to learn more about wine."

Students also flock to cooking demonstrations by the Avant-Garde Cuisine Society, which has taught aspiring chefs how to make ice cream using liquid nitrogen.

Students who had a handful of clubs at their high school are often overwhelmed by the hundreds of organizations they can join once they step onto large campuses. Officials have different views on whether they should dive in right away or wait a few weeks until they've adjusted to their new courses and environment.

The answer depends on the student, says Tina Samuel Powellson, associate director in the Office of Student Involvement at Indiana University-Purdue University-Indianapolis, which offers about 345 student organizations. She says there is no "cookie-cutter" plan - "I would encourage students to take their time, to get to know what's the best fit for them," she said.

In the NASPA survey, 65 percent of students said participating in campus activities helps them learn to balance their social and academic lives; 14 percent said their commitment to clubs caused their grades to drop, but 25 percent said their grades increased.

Gardner says it's good for students to "jump in" and join clubs right away because clubs can make a large campus feel smaller, and students can immediately make friends.

"Friendship formation is task No. 1 for most students," he said. "If you don't make friends, you're lonely, you're anxious, you feel sort of adrift."

But he adds that students should be careful not to join too many organizations at once, so they're not distracted from other activities such as studying and going to class.

"It's a question of balance and not overdoing it," he said.

While some campuses boast hundreds of clubs - the University of Michigan has more than 1,200 - students attending smaller schools don't lack opportunities to get involved.

Cape Fear Community College in North Carolina sponsors about 40 student organizations. Because it's a two-year college with about 9,000 full-time students, clubs experience a high turnover. This can present a challenge for less popular clubs, says Chris Libert, student activities coordinator. "Most likely, the club advisers are here, but the participants might not be," he said.

But Libert says it's important for students to partake in activities - even at community colleges - if they want their résumés to stand out. Employers look for "well-rounded people" and students who did more than one activity, he says.

Even if clubs like the University of Minnesota's Campus People Watchers or Princeton University's Muggle Quidditch Team (based on the Harry Potter stories) seem to have no apparent benefit, college experts say they provide a way for students with similar interests to "connect" and "engender creativity." They also offer an alternative to the party scene.

"They're a very healthy form of stress relief," Gardner said. "It's better to spend time in this kind of group, rather than drink excessively."