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Chico State

Somewhere to Belong: Celebrating Student Clubs at Chico State

A collage of photos arranged in a scrapbook design show off a range of clubs at Chico State.
(Design: Christian Burke)

Part of Chico State’s trademark culture of belonging stems from the wide range of clubs and organizations that have enhanced life on this campus for over a century.

As of spring 2024, the University has 183 recognized organizations through Student Organizations and Leadership Education (SOLE), and over 225 when combined with Fraternity and Sorority Affairs (FSA) and competitive club sports. This covers everything from legacy clubs with generations of alumni (see rugby) to professional organizations like the Seufferlein Sales Program, innovative upstarts like the Rocketry and Aerospace Club, and on-trend affinity groups like Let’s K-Pop—all offering Wildcats a way to pursue their interests in an uplifting environment.

“The options are always growing and changing, reflecting what’s relevant in our culture and what’s important to our students,” said Kaylee McAllister-Knutson, a senior coordinator with SOLE, who works closely with students to help them find clubs that match their needs. “And if we don’t have what students want, it’s my job to help them create it.”

Last year, more than 4,450 students were registered in at least one club. And those clubs hosted more than 130 events, ranging from the Associated Students (AS) annual Multicultural Showcase to drum recording workshops with the Audio Engineering Society and Imagineer Day, an annual event coordinated by the University’s Society of Women Engineers that brings hundreds of K-8 students to campus.

  • A group of five students on stage are dancing in front of a pink-purple backdrop; they are jumping in unison, all capture mid-air with their right arms raised.
  • Estrella Garcia (left), Daniel Salgado (center), Maria De Jesus Partida (right) and others of the Sueños de las Estrellas Folklorico Dance Club perform in front of Laxson Auditorium.
  • The 2024 Speech and Debate Team pose in formal dress.

More than just social, some are highly competitive, winning prestigious awards and competitions. Every year, we celebrate the regional, national, and global recognition earned by our clubs. Some recent examples include the Alternative Energy Club’s “Leading by Example” award for designing a solar-powered boat at the California Solar Regatta; the cybersecurity team, usr0, placed first out of more than 4,000 teams nationwide in the National Cyber League team game in 2024; and the American Marketing Association (AMA) being named Top Chapter of the Year at the 2023 AMA International Collegiate Conference—ranking in the top 20 out of more than 300 chapters.

There are 32 sport clubs, of which 26 travel and compete as representatives of Chico State to more than 200 events, showcases, and competitions throughout the year. Known for impassioned, connected, and spirited members who work and play hard together, their wins on the proverbial pitch include five national team titles and three individual national titles.

“Whether they are cultural, academic, sports, or activism, clubs are part of the patchwork of college life. Clubs are a connection piece that help you find people, opportunities, hobbies you pick up, and more,” said McAllister-Knutson. “These form part of the poster board of photos, ticket stubs, and notes in your mind, and become part of your life’s story.”

SOLE guides students through the process of creating a club from beginning to end, helping with everything from administrative support to trainings and seminars for leaders. The goal, McAllister-Knutson says, is to create meaningful experiences that serve students for the rest of their lives.

Connective Tissue

Clubs provide a meeting point between academics, recreation, and the professional world, allowing students to test out roles they will likely play after graduating.

“When you leave here, you should be able to articulate how being part of the student organization makes you a qualified candidate for whatever job you’re going into,” McAllister-Knutson asserts. “I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen officers managing budgets of $50,000, putting on events for 200 people, doing work that should give their resumes a huge boost.”

Peer-to-peer learning is a great way to learn, says Cherie Higgs (Public Health, ’23), lead recruiter for Chico State’s College Corps Program, a statewide initiative that provides students with up to $10,000 in assistance for service work in their community—a program Higgs thrived in. Formerly co-president of the Collegiate Entrepreneurs Organization, which coaches, develops, and helps entrepreneurs launch businesses on campus, and vice president of the Black Student Union, Higgs knows firsthand how valuable the club experience can be.

“Having the clubs that are run by your peers makes it more open,” Higgs explained. “It’s almost safer to go there and be your authentic self and make mistakes and learn how to improve on certain skills. A lot of our dynamics is we lift each other up.”

The Wildcat Hiking Club

Started: 2022

“The main catalyst for starting this club was to make new friends,” said Natalia Holmes, a senior majoring in business marketing. Having grown up in a very outdoorsy family in Sacramento and Phoenix, it made sense to start a hiking club.

“In general, people who appreciate the outdoors are naturally very kind and will generally get along,” she said.

In a stroke of luck, Holmes reached out to SOLE at roughly the same time as Dawson Falk, a junior majoring in mechanical engineering, and together they co-founded the Wildcat Hiking Club in 2022. As first-time officers, they supported each other in creating a structure for the group—which has 180 members past and present, many whom meet monthly to hike at local favorites like Upper Bidwell Park and Table Mountain, and make time for social gatherings. Every semester, the club also does trips farther
afield to places like Castle Crags State Park, the Dipsea Trail in San Francisco, Tahoe, and beyond.

  • A hiker stands on a mountain path overlooking snowy hilltops in the background.
  • Three hikers stand side-by-side in front of snowy peaks in the mountains.

While hiking is the main attraction, a lot of meaningful moments happen between trails.

“Carpooling is a big part of the club experience,” said Holmes, explaining that many first-year and international students in the club don’t have transportation and rely on group support to get to trails.

“When you spend two to three hours with someone in a car, talking and sharing, you get back after the hike and realize: these people are my friends, and it’s awesome!”

During a standout trip to Lassen National Park, Holmes recalls a group of international students who’d never seen or touched snow making their first snowballs.

“It has made me realize how lucky we are to live in a beautiful place like this. And it’s always so heartwarming to see people have these positive outdoor experiences and come away with a group of friends.”

The Society of Physics Students

Started: 2016

Physics doesn’t need to be scary. Need proof? Every year, the Society of Physics Students brings hundreds of people together to enjoy the simple and satisfying act of smashing pumpkins—all in the name of celebrating the science of gravity.

The annual pumpkin drop—where children cheer as squash splatters after falling several stories in a demonstration of science—is the club’s most renowned event, but there’s a lot more on offer for students in any major.

“It’s for anyone who is curious about the world and how things move and what they’re made from,” said Giovanni Paz, club president and senior physics major. “If you want to learn about the stars, the universe, rockets—this is the place. We have students studying psychology, fitness education, chemistry, and math.”

  • Giovanni Paz-Silva looks up at the ceiling inside Chico State's planetarium, using a laser pointer to identify a star.
  • Local elementary school students watch the Society of Physics students drop pumpkins from a lift during the Annual SPS Pumpkin drop.

Bollywood Dance Club

Started: 2022

International student Aishwarya Gowda, a junior majoring in business information systems, has shared an important part of her identity with the University by founding the Bollywood Dance Club.

“In India, one of the main things we do for fun is dance, get dressed up, and enjoy food,” Gowda explained. The idea for a club started when she and her friends in the Indian Student Association gave an impromptu performance at the AS Multicultural Showcase. Rather than feeling any pressure to dazzle or stage fright, Gowda found comfort in doing something entirely familiar.

The Bollywood Dance Club performs during the International Festival in 2023. (Matt Bates / University Photographer)

“What I felt in dancing was a flood of memories, enjoyment, laughter, reliving all the stress.” Her idea gained traction quickly, attracting a wide range of interest from local and international students. By implementing a code of radical inclusivity that welcomes all attendees as dancers regardless of experience or ability or body type, the Bollywood Dance Club saw membership climb above 50 people within its first year. By spring 2024, numbers have climbed to 90.

One of the biggest indications of its success came in spring 2023, when the Bollywood Dance Club was honored with the Wildcat Sponsorship Award, which included a $2,000 check.

“For all the stress and learning I’ve had to do starting this club, it has been a very rewarding experience. I’m still in shock about the recognition.”

Rebound Scholars

Started: 2024

Rebound Scholars is a new student organization created by formerly incarcerated and system-impacted students to support each other at Chico State. While still very new, the club is doing important work in creating a sense of connection and belonging for groups who could otherwise be isolated, explains Joe Lodge (Social Work, ’23), a member who is set to earn a master’s degree in social work this spring.

Professor Nandi Crosby speaks during the Cross-Cultural Leadership Center’s Dinner and a Story, an event for the justice-impacted community to unite and share stories. (Matt Bates / University Photographer)

“It’s been powerful to be able to come out of that shadow and feel more like I have a community of peers who understand the stigma and shame we carry,” said Lodge. “In that club, I can connect with people, we can laugh, and I can let my guard down a little. We’ve gone through a lot and we’re just trying to better our lives and move toward positive things. To have camaraderie is huge for us.”

Although he is leaving just as the club is starting to take off, Lodge is pleased that others will reap the benefits it provides.

“I’m excited to see how Rebound Scholars takes shape and comes to fruition. It’s going to help people.”

Women’s Rugby

Started: 1998

Through its dedicated players and alumni, women’s rugby has become one of the premier recreation sports programs on campus—boasting two national titles in 2001 and 2018.

Catherine McCarthy, a senior from Walnut Creek studying media production, is playing her final season for a club she admits she joined on impulse.

“I was actually on my way to Ultimate Frisbee and got lost,” she explained. “But I quickly knew I’d come to the right place.”

Catherine McCarthy in action against Cal Poly Humboldt. (Jason Halley / University Photographer)

McCarthy immediately clicked with the game, her network of peers who shared her passion for “aggressive sports,” and rugby culture’s many traditions. “After every game, you shake hands and then hang out and sing your songs together, even though you basically beat each other up on the field earlier,” she said.

Jokes aside, the sense of community has created a lasting impression on McCarthy.

“Honestly, leaving this sport is one of the hardest parts of graduating. You go into college and you feel overwhelmed and then you suddenly have this entire community,” said McCarthy. “You have 20 people to hang out with every night for practice. We have a great network of alumni who we can bond with over this experience, but you leave a little sadder because you have a lot here on campus.”

The History Club

Started: 1984

The History Club puts a fun, creative, and safe spin on the harrowing act of discussing politics around the dinner table. With game nights, trivia, annual field trips, movie screenings, and guest speakers, the club serves as a great access point for anyone in any major to learn about history—ancient and contemporary.

“We have a lot of fun and try to make our discussions relevant to everyone today, without making anyone feel like they’re in a classroom or being lectured,” said Sage Young, a master’s student in history who
serves as vice president.

The History Club, circa 2021. (Jason Halley / University Photographer)

Young and Kira Runkle, a senior in the history program and outgoing club president, have worked closely to build membership numbers and nurture the club’s spirit of inclusion and community—factors that drew them in and made their academic experience so powerful.

“For me, the transition into life on campus was complicated,” said Runkle, who graduated high school in 2020 and began her college career without in-person events or classes. When the opportunity to attend a club meeting arose, she took a chance and inadvertently made the most significant decision of her undergrad career.

“They brought me in with open arms. I was very shy and scared of public speaking, and I have come into my own through this club,” said Runkle. Both Young and Runkle say they have grown as leaders and academics, having presented at regional Phi Alpha Theta history honors society conferences and created their own strategy for leading club communications.

Men’s Rugby

Started: 1918

The men’s rugby club needs almost no introduction, serving as the original competitive sports organization on campus with a network of dedicated alumni and many accolades, including 4 PAC-West Club Championships in 2014, 2015, 2018, and 2019, and advancing to the D1-AA national championship final in 2019.

An action photo of rugby player Jack Mulholland holding the ball close as he prepares to run into players on the field.
Chico State’s Men’s Rugby Club captain Jack Mulholland takes possession of the ball against Monterey Bay. (Jason Halley / University Photographer)

For team captain Jack Mulholland, playing for Chico State is a source of family honor and personal pride.

“The Chico State men’s rugby club is one of the main reasons I’m a student here,” he said. “Love and care for this club is something my brother Matt (Sustainable Manufacturing, ’22) genuinely passed on to me.”

You can watch rugby to appreciate its intensity and pace, but you have to play it to understand the camaraderie and beauty behind the chaos.

“It looks violent, but the people and the character of the people playing the game should be upstanding, because it’s a true team effort based on cohesiveness,” said Mulholland. “It’s not an ego-centric game at all.”

As a leader, Mulholland tries to translate the team dynamic on the pitch to efforts in the community, including cleanups of Big Chico Creek.

Let’s K-Pop

Started: 2022

Let’s K-Pop perform at the API Graduation Celebration in 2023. Photo: Jason Halley

K-Pop, or Korean pop music, is one of the fastest-growing music genres in the nation. Tapping into a
flood of student enthusiasm, Let’s K-Pop is dedicated to all things K-Pop: culture, trivia, music
appreciation, and dance.

“We are very welcoming to everybody at all stages of interest,” said Jr. Evans, a second-year student in
the Recreation, Hospitality, and Parks Management program and current president of Let’s K-Pop. “Some people who join us have been fans since they were children. Others only know one K-pop group and a song, and they just aren’t interested in learning more.”

Bass Fishing

Started: 2009

There are two sides to the Chico State Bass Fishing Team according to Jordan Harris, the club’s treasurer: “There are tournament anglers and then there’s people who want to learn more about fishing and have a good time with us.”

All are welcome, he says. As someone who fits into the former category, Harris said the bass team was the lure that made him choose Chico State.

“I’ve been fishing my whole life,” he explained. “I got into high school tournaments, and once that was ending, the next step was college fishing, doing competitive bass tournaments and the only way to do that really is to be on a college team.”

Prior to becoming a recognized sport, bass fishing at Chico State goes back decades with notable alums like pro angler Alex Klein (Communication Studies, ’15) to its credit.

“The bass fishing team has a really good reputation,” Harris said. “There’s a large group of alumni who work in the fishing industry and fished on the bass team; they’re great and will connect with the club to give talks or share their experience.”

The team has seen consistent success during its 15 years as an official club, with anglers regularly taking home top honors in the Major Fishing League’s regional college circuit and pro tournaments alike. From Lake Oroville to the California Delta and beyond, the Wildcat-branded team boat casts a long shadow.

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