by Cedarville Magazine
Students may not even realize it, but behind every fun, crazy, and wild event they enjoy on campus is a team of hundreds of staff members and volunteers working tirelessly to make it happen. And that team is led by Brian Burns ’95, Director of Campus Experience, who is living out his passion for people.
Burns has served at Cedarville University since 2001, in roles as diverse as Advancement grant coordinator to resident director. His calling has always been service, but it was in 2016 when God led him to his current position that he discovered a platform for serving the entire University community.
Cedarville Magazine asked Burns to share his journey and explain how the Campus Experience office at Cedarville enriches a students’ 1,000 days on campus.
Q: How did you get started with Campus Experience?
A: That’s a long story! There are actually five men — plus my mother — who played a role in my journey here. I was a student-worker in what was then called Campus Activities, serving with Dick Walker ’74. My time with him allowed me to see the ministry and career opportunities that were available. Years later, after returning to Cedarville as a staff member, God used several campus leaders at just the right time to challenge me to pursue new opportunities in this field. This culminated when the Campus Experience office was created, and I was given the opportunity to serve as its first Director.
But it was my mom who was the biggest influence in my life and encouraged me to work in student life at a university. When I was a student, it was obvious that I found more joy in serving and planning than I did in studying. My mom repeatedly said, “You should do what Dick Walker does; it is the perfect fit for you.” The wisdom of mothers is profound, and she has been one of my biggest encouragers as I serve in this position.
Q: What other names has Campus Experience gone by? What other changes have you seen?
A: This area has changed names and organization structure over the years to best meet the needs of the University as it grew. It was originally Campus Activities and then Student Life Programs. In 2016, Student Life Programs merged with Event Services to become Campus Experience.
One major change Campus Experience has seen is in innovative technology.
I want Campus Experience to be a place that encourages and demands innovation but also allows and expects mistakes. Our new Creative Solutions group has developed software and technical solutions for our team. They have developed the Smart Events at CU platform to track event attendance and provide our team with data that helps us understand the student body. Students use the app to check in to events, which helps us determine how many students are engaging with us and which ones aren’t. It can help keep a student from slipping through the cracks. The Academic Division will also use this data to determine how event attendance and involvement affect student retention.
Q: What are the roles within Campus Experience?
A: The Campus Experience office is unique in that it serves many different needs on campus from the following groups:
- Information Group – Serves as the face and voice of Cedarville University. We manage and operate the Campus Experience office (20 students).
- Rinnova Coffee – An authentic coffee house with gross annual sales of $380,000 (30 students).
- Campus Activity Board (CAB) – Develops and builds campus culture through events like ALT Nights and Campus Christmas (21 students).
- Student Government Association (SGA) – Serves as the voice of the student body. They also are the voice of the administration to the students and develop and strengthen campus morale (10 paid students, 300 volunteers).
- Class Council – Fulfills SGA’s purpose by fostering distinct class identity (16 students).
- Operations Group – Makes events and programs possible by helping with set-up and tear-down. (20 students).
- Creative Solutions Group – Supports the mission of Campus Experience by driving innovation across the organization, developing and maintaining solutions, and encouraging creative thinking (12 students).
Q: What is the driving passion or philosophy of Campus Experience at Cedarville?
A: Campus Experience’s mission is to support the mission and vision of Cedarville University. We provide services, environments, and opportunities for all Cedarville University guests (students, faculty, staff, and outside guests) to have a positive and influential campus experience.
Our common purpose is, “We create opportunities for others to create moments.” Therefore, we view people as our guests. This includes the internal population of students, faculty, and staff, as well as the external population of our summer guests, parents, and the community.
We embrace each day with a Bravo Zulu mindset. Bravo Zulu is a U.S. Navy term that means ‘well done.’ Having a Bravo Zulu or “BZ” mindset means we have a culture that provides extraordinary effort and strives for excellence.
Q: What are your favorite memories?
A: There are so many, but three events stand out year after year: Getting Started Weekend, Campus Christmas, and Elliv.
Getting Started is when we welcome new students and their families to campus in August. I love to watch as 400-500 student-volunteers show up at 7 a.m. — lining the streets, waving pool noodles, holding signs, shouting encouragement — to welcome freshmen to campus. I get on a golf cart and just drive around watching their smiling faces. It’s fun to see parents amazed to not have to lift a finger to get their car unpacked. We want to welcome students with energy and acclimate them so they feel like they’re home. We want to overwhelm families with who Cedarville is.
For Campus Christmas, we prepare for two weeks, staging decorations and getting ready. Then, in one night, we have about 90 students working together to transform campus. This year we hung 3,000 snowballs from the Stevens Student Center ceiling in about three hours. I love seeing the students working together, Christmas music blaring. We have four lifts going up and down; we call it the lift ballet. Then we moved to the Dixon Ministry Center, Center for Biblical and Theological Studies, Chick-fil-A, and the dining hall, transforming them as well. We were all done by 3 a.m. I’m getting too old for it, but it’s a lot of fun. My favorite part may be sitting in the SSC at 9 the next morning watching students come in to see it for the first time, taking out their phones to take pictures to send to their parents.
Finally, Elliv, is our end-of-year celebratory, high-energy show with music and dancing. It’s put on by 160 students, and I get to walk with them and facilitate it, asking “what if?” — “I see what you’re doing, but what if you try this?” We want to show that as Christians we can have fun, but not in a way that’s contrary to the Word of God. It’s a time to celebrate the year, and it invigorates the students for final exams. I want students to walk away saying, “I’m glad I’m at Cedarville.”
Q: What role does Campus Experience play on campus? How does Campus Experience contribute to students’ 1,000 days?
A: Campus Experience touches all students during their 1,000 days at Cedarville University. This starts at the very beginning, Getting Started Weekend, when our team welcomes and acclimates the new Yellow Jackets to campus. Then we have the privilege of planning events for students all the way through their 1,000 days. We’re helping create lasting memories and lifelong friends.
Beyond events, the full-time Campus Experience team seeks to equip and engage our student-teammates with leadership development, professional opportunities, and especially discipleship. In doing this, our student-teammates then take what they have learned and influence their friends in their major, residence hall, or friend group.
We take the 1,000 days we have with our students seriously, and our goal is to be intentional with anyone God brings across our path.
Q: What makes a successful student event? How do you measure success? What needs to happen?
A: Successful events are all about the experience provided rather than the number of people who attend. If you focus on the experience an event will provide, you will have the numbers to validate the event. So, success must focus on the students rather than the event.
Successful events start with planning and taking the time to ask the following questions: What does the student need? What does the student want? What is the attitude of the students about the event or life at this point? What are the perceptions (thoughts) of the students? Taking the time to get a clear picture of the student allows you to develop an intentional event and develop desired guest outcomes that identify the following: What will the guest think about the event? What will the guest feel about the event? and How will the student respond because of the event? Events must be viewed from the students’ perspective, not the planners’.
A successful event for Campus Experience does the above. In addition, it provides opportunities, environment, activities, services, and programs so that the student can create memorable and meaningful moments. Our goal is to provide for and serve others, and an event is successful when it meets their needs and wants.
Q: Why do you think student events are important? Why does it matter that we put on ALT nights, Elliv, JS, and other events?
A: Events and programs are essential because they meet the needs of the community, and they also equip students to seek out that community when they are away from campus. We put on activities and events to encourage community. We want students to put down their technology and engage with one another. Events like ALT nights encourage personal student growth as they grow in community outside the classroom.
Campus Experience views events and programs as co curricular and not extracurricular. We want our student teammates and our guests to be able to use what they are learning in the classroom here on campus.
Q: What do you love most about your job?
A: I have a great job — it is a calling. God has allowed me to serve others through creativity, organization, and leadership development. When I drive on campus each day, I am reminded that this is a gift and to make the most of every day.
The most rewarding part of the job is the people I work with. The people who serve alongside me in the Campus Experience office, the colleagues across campus, the summer guest groups we host, and, most importantly, the students God brings to Cedarville University. My job is people; my passion is people.