Taking charge of your own education involves more than simply earning high marks. When students actively contribute to their own education through involvement in student organizations, they benefit in ways that go well beyond what they may gain in the classroom, and Psi Chi chapters may be an untapped resource for achieving this. Of course, students who are the most involved will reap the most benefits because they will be afforded multiple opportunities for developing the content knowledge, leadership skills, communication skills, and professional social skills that result from participation in chapter activities. Although there are many challenges to maintaining a successful Psi Chi chapter that provides these types of student outcomes, there are also many solutions that are within your chapter’s reach. In this article, we will identify some specific chapter activities that may facilitate this learning in members.
Barriers and Solutions
Keeping a successful chapter running from year-to-year is no easy task, but there are ways of overcoming common barriers to success. The following three sections will discuss how to enhance your chapter’s visibility, maintain active membership, and fund chapter events.
Getting on the Radar
There are many options for student participation in organizations, and chapters may have difficulty motivating students to devote their time and attention to Psi Chi. We have found the following strategies can help students recognize the value of Psi Chi membership:
- announcing Psi Chi activities and inviting new members to join Psi Chi in classroom settings, thereby creating the opportunity to spotlight the merits of membership to a broad audience;
- publicizing Psi Chi events in a widely-circulated departmental newsletter;
- displaying a prominently-located bulletin board dedicated to Psi Chi events, awards, and benefits for members;
- sponsoring departmental and campus-wide events; and
- creating departmental awards sponsored by your Psi Chi chapter.
Staying on the Radar
Once you’ve recruited members, keeping them interested and active in the organization may present a further challenge. Students may be involved in a variety of organizations and their time may be limited. Some students may say they will be active, but instead they become social loafers as they see others carrying the burden of responsibility. We have found that the following types of benefits of active membership can help increase student ownership:
- stressing the importance of students’ active membership, accountability, and ownership of Psi Chi during the induction ceremony; and
- emphasizing that active involvement can enhance faculty members’ knowledge of the students’ abilities, which can result in better letters of recommendation.
Footing the Bill
Now that you have established visibility and an active membership, you may find yourself wondering how to fund activities. Because membership dues can only go so far in financing activities, chapters can pursue the following options to support chapter activities:
- fundraising, which can range from bake sales, car washes, and participation in recycling programs to larger-scale events such as silent auctions or ticketed banquets;
- applying for grants from the national Psi Chi office (www.psichi.org/awards); and
- dedicating departmental and/or Student Life funds specifically to support chapter activities.
So What’s in It for You?
While many student organizations provide their membership with a sense of community and affiliation, Psi Chi goes beyond this by also providing opportunities to gain content knowledge as well as leadership, communication, and professional social skills.
Students gain a great deal of content knowledge in classrooms; however, Psi Chi provides an alternative venue for promoting this type of learning. Aside from learning more about various areas of psychology, students can also acquire knowledge about graduate programs, degrees, and professional development through well-planned Psi Chi chapter activities. This can be accomplished through the following types of chapter activities:
- invited speakers on topics of interest;
- alumni and graduate program panels;
- student panel discussions of internship and research experiences; and
- field trips to psychologically-relevant settings.
Students who are interested in developing their leadership abilities and adding to the skills that they may list on a resume or application for a job, may run for elected positions in Psi Chi. As student leaders they are exposed to the inner-workings of their organization within Student Life and the psychology department, and they gain greater visibility among their peers and the faculty. As officers, leadership skills will be enhanced through engaging in the following types of activities:
- scheduling, organizing, running, and advertising meetings and events;
- prioritizing and delegating tasks;
- motivating members to complete tasks; and
- writing Psi Chi grants or other funding requests.
Certainly students gain speaking and writing skills in the classroom, but the audience is typically limited to their professor and classmates. In today’s competitive job and graduate school markets, students need communication skills that are more developed than what a typical classroom experience offers. Psi Chi provides an arena to enhance one’s oral and written communication skills through the following types of activities:
- writing for a Psi Chi chapter newsletter or website;
- contributing as a reviewer or author to the Psi Chi Journal of Undergraduate Research (www.psichi.org/pubs/journal) or an undergraduate institutional research journal; and
- participating in undergraduate research conferences through organizing and hosting them yourself or finding a nearby chapter or institution with which to collaborate.
Professional Social Skills
Another often-overlooked category of skills that students gain when participating in Psi Chi is professional social skills, ranging from dressing appropriately, to being on time, being receptive to feedback, and showing interest and motivation toward assigned tasks (see Sleigh & Ritzer, 2004 for a more complete listing of professional social skills). Knowing how to conduct oneself in professional situations is a skill set that many government, private, and non-profit organizations look for in college-educated employees (Sleigh & Ritzer). Because faculty often do not dedicate time to teaching these skills, learning them outside of the classroom is necessary. While most of the activities that have been listed above (field trips, guest speakers, undergraduate research conferences, etc.) allow students to gain content knowledge, leadership skills, and communication skills, participation in these activities also provides members with opportunities to practice and refine these important professional social skills. Faculty advisors can emphasize the importance of these skills by explicitly conveying their significance to chapter members.
Some Final Thoughts for Chapter Advisors
While constructing a successful Psi Chi chapter can be challenging at times, we have proposed many solutions to these barriers, and the student learning that results is certainly worth the effort. Chapter advisors invest a lot of time and energy into helping ensure the success of the chapters, and they do this to support student learning; however, we can also benefit from our role as chapter advisors. For example, Psi Chi provides faculty with additional venues to foster student learning, as well as opportunities to engage in the scholarship of teaching through their work as chapter advisors. Psi Chi also offers chapter advisors a variety of awards and grants to assist with their own research as well as chapter events (www.psichi.org/awards). Finally, faculty members can fulfill their departmental and in some cases institutional service responsibilities through becoming a chapter advisor; and sometimes working with students can be (even) more fun than sitting through lengthy faculty committee meetings.
Sleigh, M. J., & Ritzer, D. R. (2004, September). Beyond the classroom: Developing students’ professional social skills. The Observer, 17(9), 39-40, 51-53.