Student organization travel authorization

Questions? Brooke Lents, student organization safety coordinator, (515) 294-5960

The Student Organization Travel Policy and procedures for student organization use of university vehicles govern travel for activities or events sponsored by a recognized student organization and authorized by Iowa State. Travel authorization requests must be submitted and approved through the Student Organization Travel Authorization system (SOTA) prior to travel.


Iowa State University vehicles are to be used only for university-related business by Iowa State employees acting within the scope of their employment or delegated responsibilities, which may include assisting a student /campus organization. They may also be rented and used by Iowa State's agents or by authorized university volunteers whose approved scope of service includes university vehicle use. Such use of university vehicles is subject to the Fleet Safety and Vehicle Use/Rental Policy and its procedures. Resulting liability claims are processed pursuant to the Iowa Tort Claims Act, Chapter 669 of the Code of Iowa.

Liability for activities of Iowa State student/campus organizations (hereafter also referred to as organization or organizations) and their use of university vehicles is not covered by the Iowa Tort Claims Act in all situations. The university has commercial automobile insurance coverage for organization use of university vehicles. As a result, the procedures below apply for organizations' use of university vehicles as agreed upon in the terms and conditions of the university's commercial vehicle insurance coverage.

Student/campus organizations and advisors should be mindful that use of university vehicles must be: 1) for university business or for the benefit of Iowa State; 2) consistent with the mission of the student organization; and 3) the driver considered an agent of or volunteer to the university (not the organization), before tort claim coverage would be provided in the event commercial insurance limits are exceeded. That determination will ultimately be made by the Attorney General's Office, based on the facts of the claim or lawsuit.

Transportation Services retains the right to deny use of a vehicle by a student/campus organization or sports club, if in its sole opinion: 1) safe vehicle operation cannot be ensured due to weather/road conditions; 2) there has been a past failure of the organization to follow Transportation Service's policies or procedures or the university's Fleet Safety and Vehicle Use/Rental policy and its associated procedures; 3) or due to a past/current failure to adhere to the student organization travel policy. Use of a university vehicle is a privilege and is not an organization's right.

Basic criteria for recognized student/campus organization travel in university vehicles

  • The travel purpose is consistent with the mission of the organization and approved by both the organization's advisor and Risk Management, unless the organization is a sports club. If the organization is a sports club, travel must be approved by the advisor and Recreation Services.
  • The organization must be recognized and currently in good standing with the university.
  • The organization must request use of vehicles through the Student Organization Travel Authorization (SOTA) system. Trip participant waivers must be completed and submitted by all drivers and passengers.
  • The purpose of organization travel, method of transportation to and from the activity, trip itinerary and lodging will be reviewed by the advisor, who will either approve or deny the trip. The advisor will consider the eligible vehicle use categories (see below) and ensure category conditions are met before approving. By approving travel, the advisor affirms he/she will provide university oversight and control of the travel or activity and is knowledgeable concerning the activity or /event to which the organization would be traveling. This includes the advisor's confirmation of appropriate training, oversight, risk management and safety protocols related to the activity and the venue at which the activity occurs. The activity or event must not be personal in nature or solely for an individual participant's personal gain or recognition. When travel involves recruitment or outreach on behalf of Iowa State, the advisor is to ensure that content is vetted and approved by the appropriate department.
  • Following advisor approval of an organization's SOTA application, either Risk Management or Recreation Services (for sports clubs) will review application documentation to verify:
    • Treasurer approval, advisor approval, appropriate number of approved drivers and travel participation agreements.
    • Travel for an activity that involves interaction with youth (individuals under age 18) complies with university policies (Youth Activities, Pre-Collegiate Programs and Camps; Children in the Workplace) and has completed the additional planning and approvals.
    • University vehicles are not being approved for activities that are solely personal in nature, for personal gain or for an individual's personal recognition.  
  • The organization must comply with the Travel - Student Organizations policy.
    • The organization must complete and sign a vehicle use agreement between the student/campus organization and Iowa State.
    • Only authorized drivers can sign vehicle use agreements and pick up keys to university vehicles.  
  • Drivers of university vehicles on student/campus organization travel must:
    • Be at least 18 years of age;
    • If driving a 15-passenger vehicle and/or a vehicle towing a trailer, drivers must be at least 20 years old and must successfully complete the Transportation Services Large Passenger Van and Vehicles Towing Trailers class, including the hands-on driving session.
    • Have a valid U.S. driver's license for the vehicle being driven with the appropriate classifications, restrictions and endorsements;
    • Satisfactorily complete a motor vehicle record check every twelve months.
  • Passengers in university vehicles on student/campus organization travel must be:
    • At least 18 years of age (with the exception of enrolled Iowa State students under the age of 18), AND
    • An Iowa State student or non-student on the membership roster of the organization renting the vehicle, OR
    • An Iowa State employee acting within the scope of his/her employment or delegated responsibilities, OR
    • An authorized volunteer to the organization, OR
    • An authorized Iowa State volunteer, OR
    • Guests of the university, who are participating in an organization event occurring in Ames, IA, when the event is approved by the Event Authorization Committee (EAC) and operated consistent with any specific travel arrangements or restrictions.
  • Authorized Volunteers
    • An individual may volunteer to a student/campus organization after documentation is provided through a volunteer agreement available at Memorial Union Student Engagement. An authorized volunteer to an organization may ride as a passenger in a university vehicle; but, is not considered an "Iowa State volunteer or agent" when acting in this volunteer capacity and may not serve as the driver of the vehicle.
    • Sponsored and affiliated student/campus organizations are eligible to have Iowa State volunteer drivers when there is appropriate departmental oversight and approval. Exceptions for registered organizations to have Iowa State volunteer drivers may be granted by Risk Management for organizations with oversight and written/documented approval from an appropriate university department/unit.
    • Any volunteer's approved status must be verified by Risk Management prior to approval for university vehicle driving or passenger privileges within the SOTA system.

Appeals process

An appeals committee for these procedures will be comprised of one representative from each of the following: Government of the Student Body (GSB), Division of Student Affairs, Transportation Services, Risk Management, and Assistant Vice President for Business Services. A member of the affected organization will be asked to attend the appeals committee meeting to provide additional information. A representative from the Office of University Counsel may also be asked to attend appeals committee meetings and provide input from both a legal and risk perspective. Both the member of the organization and legal counsel, when attending appeals committee meetings, will serve in a non-voting capacity. When the appeals committee cannot timely meet to review an appeal, the Senior Vice President for Business and Finance or designee may review the appeal.

Eligible vehicle use

Competitions: Organization is participating in a competition (a contest of skills or abilities) that is within the purpose of the organization, and the competition is:

  • Sponsored by a college or university, OR
  • Held at a college or university and organization is competing in a collegiate division, OR
  • Approved by Recreation Services for participation by member organizations of its Sports Club Council, OR
  • Sponsored by a third party (non-college/university), and organization and/or its members are competing in a collegiate division or are representing Iowa State as a group instead of competing for personal recognition and/or benefit.

Note: The use of university vehicles for travel to practice for collegiate competition is allowed when such practice is not possible on the Iowa State campus and travel is necessary to practice for approved competition. First consideration will be given to practice sites within the state of Iowa.

Community Service: Organization is volunteering to a legitimate, organized community service project, AND

  • The service project is consistent with the mission of the organization, AND
  • Is encouraged/requested by an Iowa State department/unit, OR
  • Is funded in whole or in part by an Iowa State department/unit.

Recruiting, mentoring and/or outreach on behalf of an Iowa State department/unit when at the written request of - and coordinated by - an Iowa State department/unit.

Attending conferences/meetings/retreats and representing Iowa State when: 

  • Conference content is consistent with the mission of the organization and its constitution, AND
  • Giving a presentation on behalf of the university to conference attendees, AND/OR
  • Conference/meeting content is education or training tied to the organization's mission AND/OR
  • Conference/meeting content is tied to an academic component or curriculum OR department/unit program at Iowa State, AND/OR
  • Event is sponsored by and/or held at a college/university.
  • For sponsored and affiliated organizations when attending a conference/meeting for content directly related to that organization's mission at Iowa State.

Note: Trips will generally not be approved if the organization is part of another organized local, state or national organization. Those organizations would be expected to make their own travel arrangements for participants.

Participating in industry/career tours (similar to an academic field trip):

  • At the written request of and endorsement by an Iowa State department/unit noting the value to the Iowa State student participants, AND
  • Visiting a business that has operations consistent with the mission of the organization and an official program at Iowa State.

Providing support or assistance for Sponsored or Affiliated organizations' approved events or needs (i.e. SUB, college student councils, Greek Week, Homecoming, etc.), with approval by either Event Authorization Committee (EAC) or the corresponding university department/unit.

Participating or performing in an artistic or performance-based event, such as Dance Club, Hip-Hop Club, etc.:

  • When the performance is consistent with the mission of the organization, AND
  • At the written request of and endorsement by a university department/unit noting the value to the Iowa State student participants, OR
  • At the written request of and endorsement by a university department/unit noting the value of positively representing Iowa State as a goal of the performance.

The student organization must designate one member of the travel party as trip coordinator. Once a trip has been submitted in SOTA, only the trip coordinator has access to view and edit trip details.

Trip coordinator responsibilities:

  • Submit travel authorization requests through SOTA for each trip.
  • Travel with the organization and act as liaison for their student organization during the approval process and while on the trip.
  • Confirm receipt of appropriate travel documents with the staff of either Risk Management or Recreation Services (for Sport Clubs). When necessary, the trip coordinator may need to meet with staff to review and evaluate the completed SOTA request.
  • When a trip involves use of a 15-passenger van or a vehicle towing a trailer, the trip coordinator must ensure that drivers for the trip have completed the required van and trailer training. The required two-part training includes an online course in SOTA and driving observation, which must be scheduled through Transportation Services. Your trip will not be approved until all drivers have completed both portions of the training.

  1. In SOTA, search for your organization's name exactly as it appears in the student organization database.
  2. Click on your organization's name.
  3. In the application:
    • Add lodging (if applicable).
    • Add itinerary information (be as specific as possible).
    • Submit vehicle request (if applicable). In order to use university vehicles, your organization's travel must fit within one of the "Eligible Vehicle Use" criteria listed in Procedures for Student Organization Use of University Vehicles.
    • Add participants. Only members who have been added to the organization's roster and who have acknowledged their membership in the student organization database may be added to the trip. As you add participants, be sure to mark which are drivers. Participants can be added and removed until the trip is approved by Risk Management or Recreation Services.
  4. When all items have been completed, click "Submit Application." You will have a chance to review your trip one final time, and then click to submit the trip.

Student organization members who want to drive for their student organization travel must complete Student Organization Driving Policy and Safety Training in SOTA prior to travel. After you have successfully passed the Student Organization Driver Training quiz, you are approved to drive all university vehicles except large passenger vans. You are required to complete additional training to drive large passenger vans or to tow a trailer. Visit the Transportation Services Van and Trailer Training page for more information and instructions to access the training. Your student organization driver training is valid as long as you are an Iowa State student.

How do I get my student organization authorized to travel?

The student organization must designate a member of the travel party to serve as trip coordinator. This person is responsible for submitting information through the Student Organization Travel Authorization (SOTA) system.

Student organization travel must relate to the purpose of the organization and comply with the policies of the Board of Regents, State of Iowa, and Iowa State University. The purpose of student organization travel and transportation to and from the event will be reviewed and authorized by the group's advisor, group's treasurer and Risk Management or Recreation Services (for Sport Clubs) prior to travel.

What is the timeline to submit travel plans for authorization?

You should submit your trip in SOTA at least four weeks prior to travel to allow adequate time for review and approvals.

Why isn't my trip approved?

Common reasons a trip may be pending and not yet approved:

  • The application was not final submitted.
  • The advisor and treasurer have not approved the trip.
  • Your drivers have not completed their Motor Vehicle Request forms online, and/or they haven't been approved.
  • Your drivers have not completed the required student organization driver training or large passenger van training (if applicable).
  • Your participants have not all been added, and/or have not all completed their online participant waivers.

What if we want to take a university vehicle?

By connecting to the Student Organization Travel Authorization (SOTA) system, you will have the option to link to Vehicle Reservations at ISU Transportation Services. University vehicles are available for use by student organizations, but specific travel policies and procedures apply and must be acknowledged prior to their use.

What if we will be driving our own vehicles?

The same travel authorization process applies. By connecting to the Student Organization Travel Authorization (SOTA) system and completing the general travel information, you will receive an option to link to information regarding use of personally-owned vehicles. This link will connect you to policy information and waiver and release of liability forms. GSB funding allocations can not be used to cover the costs of non-university vehicles used for travel.