Enhancing the Rowan experience

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Courtney Van Leuvan’s work helped create a sense of community—and fun—on Rowan’s campus

Courtney Van Leuvan did more than simply enjoy the Rowan University experience. She helped create it.

“Of all the things we did in SUP (Student University Programmers), the one thing we’ve really succeeded in doing was creating a sense of community on campus,” says Van Leuvan, 22, of Toms River.

“Students today are a lot more invested in Rowan than they were even four years ago, when I was a freshman. The University is doing a good job of giving students what they need and of making their experiences amazing.”

If Van Leuvan sounds like a seasoned student affairs professional--rather than a graduating undergraduate psychology major--that’s because, in many ways, she is.

As the first-ever two-time president of SUP, Van Leuvan took a leadership role in growing student activities and programming from the student perspective. Her work with SUP and Rowan After Hours, coupled with her involvement with Healthy Campus Initiatives and Orientation & Student Leadership Programs, gave her chance to truly make an impact on student life.

And while some students would have been happy with being just a little involved—and having a wee bit of responsibility—well, that’s just not Van Leuvan’s way.

A natural leader

“I’ve always been a natural leader,” says Van Leuvan, who has received the Thomas E. Robinson Leadership Award medallion, the highest honor a graduating senior can receive. Named in memory of Robinson, the University’s third and longest-serving president, the award recognizes outstanding leadership to the student body and the Rowan community.

“I need to be in charge of things. As I got more involved, I spent more and more time thinking about how to improve the organizations I was involved in.”

Van Leuvan began her Rowan experience a week before her freshman year, when she volunteered on service projects through the Freshman Connection program. Under the program, freshmen spend a week together before move-in day, making connections with each other and to the University.

“I thought it would be a good starting-off point. It was a very good experience. I got to know the campus beforehand and, through that, I learned about SUP,” says Van Leuvan, a 2010 graduate of Toms River East High School, who also enjoyed an alternative spring break trip to do service projects in the area her freshman year.

By her sophomore year, Van Leuvan was a student leader on a Freshman Connection trip and decided to run as president of SUP. She took the presidency in her junior year. That same year, she also spent a week in Kissimmee, Fla., volunteering with Give Kids the World Village through another alternative spring break trip. The village gives children fighting terminal illnesses the chance to play and have fun. Van Leuvan was one of a dozen Rowan students to volunteer with the program.

“If I want to do something, I go for it,” she says. “I always tell people, ‘If you don’t explore, you’re not going to get the full experience that you could have here. When you don’t go out and experience things, you’re limiting your potential.’”

Realizing her potential

Van Leuvan realized her own potential working side-by-side 11 other SUP officers to provide programming that enhanced the Rowan experiences of their fellow students. The group was responsible for planning 35 campus events a year and Van Leuvan oversaw the distribution of a $350,000 budget. Additionally, she contributed creative ideas for event production and marketing.

Two of SUP’s most popular events include RoGlow, the fall extravaganza that is part concert and part neon dance fest, and St. Baldrick’s Day, a fundraiser to benefit pediatric cancer research. Rowan After Hours, which offers late-night programming three nights a week during the academic year, also has exploded in popularity the last few years.

Involvement in SUP, Van Leuvan says, helped her enhance her event planning and customer service skills. It also helped her become more professional and polished, she adds. Those skills will be tantamount when Van Leuvan begins graduate school at Rowan in the fall as she pursues her master’s degree in higher education administration, Van Leuvan has accepted the graduate assistant position in the Rowan Rec Center, where she’ll coordinate youth programing and special events and serve as the coordinator of the Kids Rule summer program.

“It’s a new position, which is very exciting for me,” says Van Leuvan, a certified peer leader who has her sights set for a leadership position focusing on student life in higher education. “I love being the first to do things. Ultimately, I definitely could see myself as a dean of students one day.”

University wide, Van Leuvan has served as an intern for both Healthy Campus Initiatives, where she served as leader of Chill ‘N Chat, a program that encourages students to learn about healthy living, get involved in volunteerism and meet new people; and with Orientation & Student Leadership Programs, where she developed an extended orientation program called Freshman Connection: Leadership. The program helps students develop leadership skills by offering them a certification in leadership.

Fun…and a sense of belonging

And while Van Leuvan’s involvement on campus has meant an enormous amount of work, it also has involved a lot of fun, she says. During Homecoming, she dressed in green, head-to-toe, to be the alien on SUP’s float, which had a “Toy Story” theme. She’s thrown paint at runners during Rowan’s color run through campus. She’s ridden a mechanical bull in the Pit of the Student Center. She’s gone whitewater rafting and “caving” on SUP retreats. And she’s bounced in giant inflatables.

Last year, she publicly shaved her head during St. Baldrick’s Day to benefit the St. Baldrick’s Foundation. The experience, she says, was transformative. Since 2011, students have raised nearly $90,500 for pediatric cancer research and St. Baldrick’s Day has grown monumentally each year as the event has become a Rowan tradition.

“Shaving my head was a social statement to question everything and to say that we’re beautiful for who we are. It’s not about what you look like.

“The experience was terrifying but amazing at the same time. There were so many people there, smiling and cheering us on. The love that was in that building was just overwhelming,” adds Van Leuvan, a student in the Thomas N. Bantivoglio Honors Program who is graduating magna cum laude with a minor in law and justice studies and a concentration in women’s and gender studies.

When it comes to enjoying all that the collegiate experience has to offer, student programming matters, says Van Leuvan. And it’s about more than just fun. The programming helps to promote a real sense of belonging for students, she maintains.

“College life is a critical time in people’s lives,” she says. “During those years, you’re becoming the person you’ll be. And you also need to be able to have fun and let loose a little bit. I couldn’t imagine being on a campus that doesn’t have fun, interesting events.

“Rowan has a very student-focused campus. In SUP, we think a lot about what’s best for our students. I’m very proud to be part of creating that sense of belonging, that sense of friendship, on campus.”

Van Leuvan took the opportunities for growth presented to her at Rowan and “just ran with them,” says Constantine Alexakos, assistant director of student activities.

“Courtney is a person that took full advantage of the Rowan experience. She just ate it up,” says Alexakos, noting that more than 100 students have been actively involved in planning SUP events this year, a number that has grown while Van Leuvan has been president.

“SUP is a bigger organization than it was four years ago. That says something about her leadership style. Courtney is a great listener, a true leader, and a tremendous worker. She absolutely loves what she does.”

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