Nestled between the rolling green hills of Palouse country, famous for its agricultural phenomenon which has mastered the mass production of wheat, lies Washington State University (WSU). This university parallels the demographics of the area in which it is situated, as both are small and close knit communities. In a sense, as most students and residents would agree, Pullman is WSU and WSU is Pullman. Unlike large, urban cities, when people go grocery shopping in Pullman they will see few adults, if any, throughout the store. Students will be the people shopping, the helpful produce experts, and even the smiling checkout clerks. The economy of Pullman, Washington thrives because of Pullman's focal point itself—WSU Cougars.
Within the school there are hundreds of Recognized Student Organizations (RSOs), communities of students who work together to make a difference, whether it be locally or globally. Without doubt, WSU's Psi Chi chapter is similar to these other student groups, yet this chapter has made itself outstandingly unique. As one of the country's very first Psi Chi chapters, WSU's community focus shines through using psychology students as leader's who achieve through example.
To understand the amount of growth and evolution that the WSU Psi Chi chapter has experienced, one must first look at where the chapter was a mere two years ago. The chapter made a come back as it was reinitiated in 2003. There were approximately four members, just enough to squeak by with one person for each officer position. In 2004, strong recruiting efforts were put forth and the chapter gained an astounding 50 additional members. This is when the chapter really began to take flight. Every induction since 2004 has further endowed the chapter with additional members, creating a stronger and larger group of committed students. With more and more interest in Psi Chi, there was a need for each member to have an active position within the chapter. An exceptional decision was made to guarantee that every member could be actively involved and contributing some of his/her own attributes. It was formalized that each member was required to take part within a committee headed by each of the executive chairs. It was at this point that an Activities Committee, Community Service Committee, Public Relations Committee, and Fundraising Committee were developed.
These committees provide an outlet to ensure that every Psi Chi member has a voice in the chapter. WSU Psi Chi Chapter Advisor Dr. Samantha Swindell further explains this distinct experience as "not just an honor society that recognizes academically strong students. It's an organization that gives its members access to a number of unique learning experiences—like guest speakers, volunteer work, mentoring and leadership—that they can participate in with other students who share the same interests. It fosters well-rounded individuals who care about their fellow students, their university, and their community." So just how has WSU's chapter done this? The process has been a learning experience and a journey that should speak to psychology students nationwide with a voice that says we can make a difference.
One of the key aspects of WSU is the strong essence of community and support that pervades the small town atmosphere. Beginning in fall of 2004, the WSU Psi Chi chapter has committed itself to an annual Halloween community service event that takes place at the Moscow Community Care Center for the elderly. Psi Chi members bring pumpkins to decorate, decorations for the elderly to put up in their rooms, glitter, ghosts, and most importantly smiles and stories to share. The fun and laughter that are shared between the elder patrons of the Palouse and the younger generation of students have made the event an annual commitment that both look forward to. This sense of community involvement, which has now become a top priority to the chapter, does not stop here. Psi Chi extends community efforts both locally and nationwide with the aims of providing care to others and developing relationships with open arms.
While the students love to spend time with their elderly friends, this is not their only community service focus. Every year the chapter creates an exclusive station at Brain Awareness Day; a day aimed at teaching elementary school children about the unique properties of the brain. Each year Psi Chi strives for bigger and better. Last year, chapter members put on an educational play, built a model of the brain and its capacity for memory storage, and baked goods for children who participated. WSU Psi Chi provides opportunities for members to participate with community residents, from young children to the elderly, whom otherwise they may never get the chance to know. This chapter uses its knowledge of psychology to share with and learn from those who are within and outside of the discipline itself.
In continuing to develop a sense of community service in the local Pullman area, WSU Psi Chi has taken part in Cougar Pride Days. This event involves members cleaning around campus though landscaping and garbage cleanup, and instilling a sense of community pride though donating architectural pieces such as the Psi Chi benches which sit just outside of the campus Psychology building. Last year, Psi Chi won the award for Cougar Pride Days involvement. WSU Psi Chi executive members believe that fostering a campus-wide awareness for the organization's efforts will continue to expand the possibilities that they can achieve.
WSU Psi Chi has also built an important alliance with a grass roots organization called ATVP–Alternatives to Violence of the Palouse. This organization provides support and safety for victims of domestic violence and sexual assault. This year, Psi Chi has participated in a cell phone drive which provides cell phones for women at ATVP. Members decorated used cell phone drop boxes which were then placed at various locations around the Pullman and Moscow areas. Community service events such as this provide an opportunity to give back to the community, but just as importantly, an opportunity for Psi Chi members to get together and build relationships with fellow psychology students. Psi Chi Chapter Vice-President Tisha Sternod views efforts such as this as a way for Psi Chi to define the word community: "Since the fall of 2004, the students of Psi Chi WSU have worked diligently to contribute to the science of psychology and have pulled together as a team to uphold the chapter as a means to serve our community. This community includes the chapter itself, the psychology department at WSU, the university, and the greater Palouse region. Because of this sense of giving, our chapter of Psi Chi has become more than an honor society!"
Yet, one of the recent goals of the WSU Psi Chi chapter involves making a difference that will extend beyond the local Pullman community. One way this has been accomplished is through teaming up with the American Cancer Society for a nationally recognized event called Relay for Life. WSU Psi Chi members spent the night tented on the university's track with one member on the track at all times. This event raised money for research and programs of the American Cancer Society.
This chapter believes in using its resources to stretch beyond the boundaries of the college setting and into the national community. In a particularly distinct endeavor, Psi Chi members aimed at establishing a simplistic event that tied together both the local and national community. Through designing and selling psychology department sweatshirts campus wide, the chapter has promoted knowledge of the chapter and the psychology department across the campus. In turn, the chapter will donate a portion of the proceeds to Hurricane Katrina Relief. WSU Psi Chi has taken available resources and allowed them to reach and serve communities in need across the country. This example can be repeated at any Psi Chi organization throughout the country.
Every Psi Chi chapter will have its own set of particular goals. Some goals will be similar; some will be entirely unique. However, there is a common denominator among all Psi Chi chapters and that is the ability to stretch members thirst for knowledge, provide educated solutions and answers, and use creative resources to give back to the community—whether it be on a local, regional, or national level. The communities that we live in become a part of our learning environment, whether in a big city or in the eclectic, small-town atmosphere, like WSU. Through giving back to the community, fellow psychologists can foster change and make a difference. These changes will pervade not only the communities that we come from, but those we establish and become a part of in the future.