College of Education > News and Publications > News: Oct. - Dec. 2011 > Schreyer Scholar Isn’t Clowning Around with Campus Club

Schreyer Scholar Isn’t Clowning Around with Campus Club

Chad Littlefield started a fun new student club that spreads happiness.

chadandlion.jpgBy Megan Dutill (October 2011)

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. – It started with a red foam nose.

Two years ago, circus troupe Cirque du Soleil handed out free clown noses in the HUB to market its performances at Penn State’s Bryce Jordan Center. Schreyer Scholar Chad Littlefield grabbed one and on a whim decided to wear it all the way back to his dorm, grinning and waving to all of the people he passed. To his surprise, fellow students were delighted.

“Every single reaction I got from people was positive,” he said. “Everyone engaged at some level.”

That was the unofficial beginning of the Clown Nose Club, the organization that Chad would formally start a few months later to encourage positive social interactions on campus and in the community. But he is quick to point out that the club has nothing to do with actual clowns--just their red noses, which Chad sees as symbolic of goofy social icebreakers and people taking themselves less seriously.

The club’s philosophy is simple: People matter and the way we interact with each other makes a difference. “Something very inspiring to me is the mindset that you impact every single person that you interact with, whether it’s positive or negative,” Chad said.

clownNoseClub.jpgNoting that it’s too easy for people to simply walk past each other and accidentally treat others – be they cashiers, bus drivers, or other students – like numbers or robots, Chad said that one of the club’s missions is to simply give people the dignity of being seen and appreciated.

It doesn’t take much: The club believes that a simple “hello” or “thank you” can make a big difference.

“In our culture at Penn State, a positive social risk would be looking up into the eyes of your cashier and saying, ‘Thanks, I appreciate you,’” Chad said. “I did it in Sbarro recently, and the cashier stopped and was like, ‘Thank you. Wow.’ You could tell that it completely turned his head backward – he was just so dumbfounded that somebody took two seconds to move their vision up four feet and say hi.”

“It’s about valuing people for who they are,” said David Manos, the club’s staff adviser and assistant director of housing at Penn State. “It’s wanting everybody to connect in a positive way. School can be very tough. There’s a lot of pressure, and even the most socially adept among us are going to have tough times. We want to just be a smiling face or an encouraging word, right here and right now, for people when they need it.”

It turns out that this attitude is infectious. More than 1,250 people “like” the club’s Facebook page. The Clown Nose Club itself has grown to around 90 dues-paying members and chapters are even starting at North Carolina State University and Louisiana State University. But to the club’s leaders, growth isn’t defined by the numbers.

“You don’t have to be at Penn State, and you don’t have to attend a meeting to participate in the Clown Nose Club,” Chad said. “Everybody can be intentional about having a positive impact on another human being through interaction. Growth to me is people outside the club choosing to see people differently.”

So what does the club actually do, besides outfitting its members with clown noses? Chad said activities have ranged from creating and distributing “You Matter” cards to bringing fun to an orphanage and grade schools in the Dominican Republic over spring break earlier this year.

Most ideas come out of club meetings. The club has monthly large-group meetings and several small-group teams that meet biweekly to brainstorm and execute creative ideas for new projects.

Manos recalled that one of his favorite initiatives was an event called “Blast Bus Drivers with Bravos,” where members waited at bus stops with signs, balloons and gifts for the CATA bus drivers. “Somebody sees them as a human being and acknowledges their contribution to the overall process, and that’s powerful,” he said.

Although Chad, a junior double majoring in Rehabilitation and Human Services and Psychology, is in the process of turning over his position as club president, he plans to participate as a member and to mentor the current club leadership.

And after college?

“I clearly want to work with people,” Chad said about his career goals. His future plans aren’t yet firm, but could involve creating workshops for corporations or working with high schools. But wherever he goes, Chad plans to embody the club’s mission and take positive social risks.

And that’s something to smile about.