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Add Value to Your Community

Purpose: This section will refresh covered information on volunteering and introduce scholars to the importance of joining student organizations to create community and network.

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The Importance of Forming Community

It is important to know that you are more than just a student. You are a member of the community. What better way to expand your network, serve your community and learn something new than through a volunteer experience or joining a student organization. Graduate schools love to see how you collaborate and apply your skills for the good of others and your community. Make sure you are formally connecting with others in ways other than academics, like dancing or white-water rafting, through organizations.

Volunteer UCF is an institutional resource that helps students network with various non-profit entities in Central Florida. This is a great way to start getting involved in your community. For more information visit their website here. A quick google search will reveal more opportunities in your specific area. Try to find service opportunities that closely relate to your field of study, your academic goals or your identity.

UCF hosts many organizations, you are bound to find one that fits your interests. To find a complete listing of student organizations visit Knight Connect.

Note: This material is review from “Get Involved and Give Back” in the Exploring Lesson

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Building Community through Student Organizations

This podcast will dive into the unexpected ways volunteering and participating in student organizations help us build community and discover our career paths.

 Podcast Episode Three: Building Community through Student Organizations.

In this episode of Academic Advancement Programs (AAP) Grad Prep Talk, Juanes Arias, discusses his experiences being involved in a student organization, Latin Rhythm (LAR). Our guest, Juanes, is a senior, majoring in Chemistry at the University of Central Florida (UCF). Colleen Smith, a Grad Prep Advisor, interviews Juanes to learn more about how his grad school path changed because of his involvement in a student organization.

Music: “We Made It” by CC 2.5.


Colleen: Hello, and welcome back to Grad Prep Talk. From University of Central Florida, this is Academic Advancement Programs’ podcast, or audio guide series, to help you prepare for graduate school. Here, we detail student and the expert strategies for graduate school preparation.


Colleen: My name is Colleen Smith and I’m a graduate school preparation advisor for Academic Advancement Programs, or AAP. In this episode, we’re talking to Juanes Arias about building community through volunteering and student organizations.

Community is often multifaceted and complex for every person but it’s something that we all look for during a time in college in both undergraduate and graduate levels. Building community can take many forms and gives you the chance to network, experience leadership roles, and even learn more about yourself. While it may seem daunting, getting involved in your community only takes a moment to step outside of your comfort zone. It seems like there are endless options to engage in whichever community you choose but the important part is to find somewhere that motivates you in your personal and academic life. Let’s listen to the interview with Juanes, a senior chemistry major who found his community and his future career through a chance encounter in a student organization.


Colleen: Hello everyone, my name is Colleen Smith I’m here with Juanes Arias and we’re going to talk today about building community through volunteering and student organizations. How are you today Juanes?

Juanes:  I’m doing alright.

Colleen: Good, good. So, tell us a little bit about yourself and the community you’ve built regarding the student organization you’re a part of.

Juanes: My name is Juanes and I am a chemistry major and aside from studying, I’ve spent a good amount of time in Latin Rhythm. This is an RSO, which is a Registered Student Organization here in the University of Central Florida and our job is to teach people how to dance.

Colleen:  That’s so cool! You know, I’ve been dancing for like 20 years.

Juanes: I had no clue actually! Really?

Colleen:  Yeah! So, I did point, ballet, jazz and tap but very little Latin dancing.

Juanes: Hey, you should show up!

Colleen: I need you to show me some moves sometime!

Juanes: We could definitely do that. You should definitely show up at some point.

Colleen: That would be so cool. So, tell me a little bit more about the community you’ve built with Latin Rhythm.

Juanes: Okay. So, for myself and I also think that for some of the people who are a part of Latin Rhythm this is literally like their second family here at UCF. This is where I met all of my friends, basically, this is the people that I hang out with, that I live with. I think part of the beauty of Latin Rhythm is that you develop so many skills, so it’s not only dancing. So when you become a part of Latin Rhythm, for example you become an instructor, you start to go up the ranks. You stat to develop people skills, communication and leadership.

Colleen: All things that graduate schools deem very important.

Juanes: Absolutely, absolutely. It’s all these soft skills that you really need for graduate school and for everything else really. So, you know, that’s why I think that Latin Rhythm is so great because it’s a community where you’re happy because you have people around you that have one common interest which is dance but the same time you are also developing all these really important skills.

Colleen: Of course! So, a little birdie told me that you made a friend at Latin Rhythm that kind of hooked you into chemistry, your major!

Juanes: Yeah, yeah. So that was like an interesting turn of events, I never expected that Latin Rhythm would lead me in the direction that I’m on academically. This was literally my freshman year I ran into this dude; super nice person and we became friends. As a learned a little bit more about him, he told me that he was a graduate student over here at the University of Central Florida, he was studying chemistry. And at some point, when I was doubting my, at the moment, biology path I would always hear him talk about all the cool things that he did in chemistry. So, I decided to give it a try. Now I’m here!

Colleen: You’re about to graduate. You’re about to go graduate school. Have you been accepted yet?

Juanes: Yes, I was accepted into four out of the seven schools that I applied to.

Colleen: Fantastic.

Juanes: Yes!

Colleen: Awesome, so hear this: Latin dancing helped you get into graduate school.

Juanes: Yep! Absolutely, I really do think that LR got me into graduate school in some shape.

Colleen: So, going back to the story of meeting this person who got you into chemistry. I mean, did you know that when you’re getting into the student organization and you were starting to dance and you were just doing something that you love, that you would find your professional and academic passion.

Juanes: Absolutely not. I just went over there because I wanted to dance and low and behold I found so much more. I was definitely not expecting that, but it happened.

Colleen: But you had to keep yourself open to the opportunity and keep your eyes open and apparently your ears open because you said that you had talked to this guy for a while and he was just telling you all the amazing things and you knew that you weren’t exactly happy about biology. So, then what made you take that leap of faith into chemistry?

Juanes: I think the one reason was that I hadn’t considered academia and just science as a career before. I think many people go into graduate school just with the mindset of the only available careers are biomed for medicine and then engineering and maybe business and poli-sci if you want to go into law school. You know maybe that’s just the way we’re raised, I guess. So just having this conversation with Renan, he’s the person that I was speaking off. That kind of opened up my mind to the fact that “Hey, science is a thing. It’s a career that you can take.”

Colleen: So how did first find out about Latin Rhythm, the student organization that you’ve been talking about.

Juanes: So, on our freshman year, or rather, before you start your freshman year, they have orientations and they have tabling events where student organizations can showcase what they do.  I was just walking, and I think it was Key West Ballroom, which is a big room here at UCF, and I heard some Latin music, so I geared in that direction.

Colleen: You just gravitated towards it. “I hear my people!”

Juanes: So, I said “Oh! Hello” and then they said “Hey!” and then I said I wanted to learn how to dance and then they said, “yeah, just start coming to Latin rhythm” and I’ve been there ever since.

Colleen: So, I know a lot of people get really nervous about going to a student organization meeting on their own, by themselves. Were you super nervous that first meeting?

Juanes:  You know? Not so much. The funny story is I got there, and they had music, so they started dancing and stuff and I stated dancing as well and, you know, I felt like “oh my God, I know what I’m doing, I’m dancing over here.” But then a couple of months after, when I really started to learn how to dance I was super embarrassed.

Colleen: “I was not doing what I was supposed to be doing.”

Juanes: So maybe not so much but I can see how other people can definitely get nervous.

Colleen:  Well, for student organizations you can get into something with your interests, right? You can get into something because of your academics and you can get into something because of your professional goals, right? And I feel as though those three different areas and can help you build your resume.  You just ended up getting into an interest area that then in turn helped your academic and professional life. So, you basically hit all three with one organization which is amazing. So, with Latin Rhythm your student organization you’re a part of, have you ever done any type of service or volunteer efforts within that organization?

Juanes: Yes, we have. We either teach at events that are for a good cause. So, for example we did one when the Pulse massacre happened. There was an event to commemorate the families. In that one we didn’t teach, we had a little performance so that’s what we did and what we tried to do there was to be above this horrible situation and to show that we shouldn’t let such a horrible thing like that, break us. That was the message we were trying to give there with our performance.

Colleen: I love it.

Juanes: That we should stay strong in the face of hatred and what not. So, we’ve done some of that, we’ve also taught at middle schools for example and events like this.

Colleen: Very cool. So, you’re saying that volunteering and giving back to your community and being a part of a student organization that also gives back your community, you’re just coming all full circle here.

 Juanes: Yeah, because of Latin Rhythm a big component of my life is really to give back to the community, in which ever way I can.

Colleen: How have you benefited from the experiences that you’ve discussed so far?

Juanes: Ok, so as I mentioned before, you develop the soft skills such as communication and leadership but aside from that, which I think you can put those in a resume, it was just really just having that group of friends I think that was the biggest thing. It’s literally a family. Its people that I know, that I trust. Its literally my safety net, if you will, when I have issues with something, that’s the people that I go speak with.

Colleen: I think its super important to find a community, specially every single time you get to a new institution. So, when you go to graduate school, do you think you’re going to look for another community similar to LR?

Juanes: I will probably look for another community, yeah. I definitely will. I mean, again, Latin Rhythm made a huge impact here at UCF for me.

Colleen: And a graduate student made that impact for you so maybe you can do that in the future.

Juanes: Yep, absolutely. Maybe that’s another thing that Latin Rhythm has helped me with. It made me realize that I enjoy giving back to the community. Because I ended up being head instructor of the club, so my job became not only teach people how to dance but teach other people how to teach.

Colleen: Like train the trainer.

Juanes: Exactly, and I think that showed me how much I enjoy giving back to the community, so absolutely. It would be really cool if I ended being that graduate student that veered someone into chemistry wherever I go.

 Collene: Yeah! Well, you have to think about how you want to leave your legacy in the future. So, do you have a story when there was this big moment that transformed the way you thought about yourself or your team, or your profession because of this student organization Latin Rhythm?

Juanes: I think aside from what I mentioned from this person getting me into chemistry, that was huge for me. I think another really cool moment was to see other people grow. So, the person who is currently my roommate, he began LR maybe a year or two after me. I was the one who taught him at the beginning and I just saw him grow. This man could literally not dance but he found the same community that I did. He liked it so much, he would keep coming back he would go to my office hours, he would always be spending time in Latin Rhythm trying to learn and meeting people. It became such a big part of him that at the moment he’s competing with a professional team.

Colleen: Oh wow!

Juanes: That made me so happy just to see this person that before LR, and I’ve had conversations with him he would tell me “man, my life before LR was miserable because I didn’t have I didn’t have that one thing in my life”

Colleen: So, how does that connect with your professional goal after graduate school? Are you hoping to become a faculty member?

Juanes: Yes, absolutely. I’m definitely open to possibilities because I think that’s how it should be but at the moment academia is my goal and for sure things like that made a big impact. Seeing people grow and seeing that I could help people just become happy.

Colleen: Yeah, I can definitely see that parallel, from watching someone grow as head instructor to other instructors but also your roommate and someone who started out not being such a great dancer to an amazing dancer and now you’re looking into your faculty profession and it seems like you really enjoy and you get so much satisfaction watching someone be able grow and learn a new skill or content. So, I can definitely see that parallel. To sum it all up, how have your experiences in your student organization help prepare you more for graduate school?

Juanes: I would say in three major ways. The first one being the soft skills that I developed: communication and leadership, those are the big ones. Then, it was a community for me, that was my way of relaxing and I was going through rough times that was the community that I would fall back to. It kinda helped me push through undergrad and eventually make it to grad school. Which I’m not there yet but I will be there soon. Finally, the resume building. I don’t think many chemistry majors apply to graduate school as being head instructors of a Latin dance club.

Colleen: So, it kinda puts you apart from the crowd?

Juanes: yeah, absolutely I think it did. So yeah, I think those are the three major things.

Colleen: So Juanes there is probably a few listeners right now who are just wanting some advice on how to get started. What advice would you give to a student who is looking for a student organization or a volunteer experience that they want to be a part of.

Juanes: So, my advice would be find something. It can be something that you know you like, just try to go and find those people that do that same thing and you’ll be amazed at how much you can get out of it. If you don’t have something in mind, try something new! At Latin Rhythm we’ve had a bunch of people that they kind of just showed up, you know, and it was similar success stories in terms of like they just became a part of this community that’s so much for them

Collen: So, it sounds like the major thing is just show up.

Juanes: Yeah, just go somewhere!

Colleen: That sounds like the easiest piece of advice but also the hardest advice to follow. So you just want to make sure that someone shows up!

Juanes: Yep! I think that’s really the biggest thing and I understand that maybe some people can get nervous you know. Because meeting new people sometimes is not easy, but I think in the end these organizations they’re there to help people, that what we do at Latin Rhythm and that is what they do pretty much at all the other places. These student organizations are there for you. Hopefully that gives you a little bit of peace.

Colleen: Awesome. Alright so thank you much Juanes for being here today.

Juanes: Yes, it was a pleasure.

Colleen: It was great getting to know you and we should go dancing sometimes

Juanes: We definitely should, I didn’t know this about you so now I do. I’m happy.


Colleen: Juanes spoke about some key components and results of building community. It helps you develop people skills, close friendships, and a larger sense of belonging. Organizations can take your passions and create opportunities to lead up others, experience new things and build a sense of community for yourself. When looking for a community, find potential organizations through tabling events and showcases. Whether it be dancing, robotics, or law. You can also find organizations by discovering groups that share common interests. If you’re nervous about attending your first organization meeting alone, bring along a friend. These groups can also open the door for you to give back to the neighborhoods within your area. Together, these pieces help build your community, support system, and your lasting legacy.


That’s all we have today for this episode for Grad Prep Talk. I’m Colleen Smith and you’ll find our next episode in the Prepare Your Finances lesson of Academic Advancement Programs’ guide to grad school. Remember, your graduate preparation starts now!

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Suggested Assignment

Suggested Assignment

Assignment #9

Planning to Add Value (Reflection)

Purpose: Scholars will list the names of the people that form part of their close community and reflect on what they have learned and gained from them. For assistance schedule a visit with AAP Peer Advisors.
Instructions: Planning to Add Value (Reflection)

Save Your Work: Complete the assignment by typing in the boxes in the PDF below and downloading the document for your records.

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