2001 Cousins National Chapter Award
[right] Lehman College faculty advisor Dr. Vincent Prohaska, the 2001 Denmark National Faculty Advisor Award winner, and representatives of the Lehman College Psi Chi Chapter, winner of the 2001 Cousins National Chapter Award, were honored at the Psi Chi/APA Convention. Standing, from left: Dr. Prohaska, Michael G. Ainette, 1998-2000 chapter president; Debbie Del Valle, 2000-01 chapter secretary and 2001 vice-president; Monique Guishard (holding plaque), 2000-01 chapter president; and Olanta Barton, 2001-02 chapter president. In front: Quailan Pantin, 1999-2000 chapter vice-president; and Michael D'Nodal, 2000-02 chapter vice-president.
Four Keys to Unlock Your Chapter's Potential
Michael G. Ainette, Psi Chi Chapter President
Debbie Del Valle, Psi Chi Chapter Secretary
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Winner of the 2001 Cousins National Chapter Award
All Psi Chi members have the potential to create and maintain successful chapters. We have excellent records of academic achievement. We know how to budget our time and effort in order to achieve Psi Chi's purposes. Our chapter has found that there are four crucial keys that can be used to unlock the greater potential in all of our chapters. These four keys are: publicity, community, resourcefulness, and productivity.
Our first key is publicity. Students have to know about the existence of the chapter, what the purpose of Psi Chi is, and what obligations are expected of members. Through publicity, your goal is to induct more new members than members who graduate, so that the chapter grows. Posters, web sites, and announcements made by instructors in class are all valuable. However, we have found that the best results are accomplished when members talk with other students about Psi Chi. We set a goal for each member to distribute at least 5 applications to potential candidates. We are less concerned with whether the potential candidates meet the requirements, but more interested in getting the word out about the chapter. Our aim is to create an environment in which membership in Psi Chi is seen as expected of those eligible and as a goal to achieve for those currently ineligible. Activities and events are best advertised in the same manner, through constant direct communication with students. Such contact creates an atmosphere in which students begin to feel that by missing events, they are missing something that their peers see as important. We have found publicity to be extremely important, especially because significant numbers of our students are transfer students from other colleges. Often arriving at Lehman as juniors, they have not seen information or heard about our chapter's activities while taking their early psychology courses. We need to recruit them as early as possible if they are to make the most of their time here and participate and contribute to their fullest capacity.
We created a new officer position, Public Relations Officer, to coordinate our publicity and recruitment efforts. Our Public Relations Officers have used several techniques to increase students' awareness of our chapter: Psi Chi members were encouraged to speak in every psychology class about the benefits of the society and the fellowship of its members. A listing of all psychology classes is prepared and members sign up for the ones in which they will speak. The department chair is asked to send a letter to faculty alerting them that members will approach them asking for a few minutes at the start or end of their classes to discuss Psi Chi membership. We have found the vast majority of faculty to be quite willing when approached. We use announcements in many different styles to capture student attention (fliers, information tables, memos to faculty, and presentations). Bright colored paper, eye-catching words, and the strategic placement of flyers are important to increase visibility. Current members also wear their chapter logo tee-shirts and Psi Chi buttons throughout the semester.
The second key is to schedule activities that both promote the goals of Psi Chi and meet the needs of your members. Our members are busy: many hold full-time jobs, many are parents, none live on campus. To draw them to events, the events have to be relevant and useful. Conducting meetings for the sake of just having meetings does not work. Inviting psychology professionals to give formal presentations or to have informal discussions does work. Do not overlook your own faculty when looking for presenters. Many Psychology Departments have colloquia involving visiting scientists. Ask if a time could be set aside for these visitors to meet with your chapter. Here at Lehman, colloquia speakers usually have an informal lunch with chapter members. Local hospitals and mental, health centers also can be a source of speakers, who can be especially valuable as a first step in developing networks that might provide research or internship opportunities. Show members that your activities may enable them to create ties with various institutions and organizations that may lead to interuships or employment. Meet members' needs. During difficult times (e.g., exam periods), our chapter meetings become times to help one another work on papers, prepare for exams, share class notes, or just talk about our anxieties and lend one another emotional support. At other times we have focused meetings on swapping graduate school information, holding practice presentation sessions in preparation for conferences, and even discussing the psychology department's course offerings (one such discussion lead to a request to the department chair to schedule a course that had not been offered in several years).
Remember that the ultimate goal of psychology is to help others. With this in mind, service to your community and your campus is an important fuiiction of a successful chapter. Service to your community is important because it keeps members in touch with the real world outside of their lives in academia. For many, community service may be needed exposure to the diversity that makes up the world. Service to your campus, and to students outside of the chapter, also is important. For five years we have run a volunteer tutoring program. Each member contributes 1 hour per week to tutor students, primarily from the General Psychology course, but often from the Statistical Methods, Abnormal, Experimental and Physiological Psychology courses as well. Through tutoring, we use our abilities and knowledge in psychology to help other students better understand our field. But, in addition, we strengthen our own knowledge. It is often said that through teaching you truly learn. Thus, tutoring provides growth experiences for both tutor and student. Finally, service has the added benefit of helping to publicize the chapter (Key #1) and helping members meet their needs (Key #2).
Finally, your chapter should be built on a foundation of a deep sense of affiliation among members. Every member should care about the chapter and about the other members. We see an example of this when a member attends a conference or a graduate program's Open House and returns with a report and materials to pass on to the rest of the chapter. How do you build this affiliation?
We direct the first two comments to those of you who are chapter officers. First, listen to your members. Some of the benefits of attracting new members are the stimulating new ideas and possibilities for activities that they may suggest. But to take full advantage requires you to be flexible and open to suggestions. The important aim is to achieve your chapter's goals in ways that reflect the strengths of the current membership. Realize that the methods and activities that work this semester may not be the best choices next semester. Because our College is a commuter campus with members attending classes during days, nights, and weekends, staying in touch by phone and/or email has become more essential in getting everyone's input and keeping everyone connected. This requires extra effort on your part, but the payoff is worth it.
Second, reward your members for their work. We give a Certificate of Appreciation to every member who participates in our tutoring program. We also use special certificates to recognize members who make significant contributions. These certificates are awarded during our Induction Ceremonies, so the recognition is very public. We also have established additional officer positions. In addition to our President, Executive Vice President, Secretary, and Treasurer, we also have an Activities Coordinator, who creates and establishes events, a Public Relations Officer, who coordinates campus-wide publicity and recruitment, a Communications Officer, who informs members of activities and events, an Editor, who works on award and grant submissions and will be coordinating our new newsletter, and a Web Master, who has been putting together our web site. These officer positions help to divide the workload by spreading it across more members. They also help us to acknowledge those members who take on more responsibilities.
The third and final point we direct to members. Contribute as much as you can to your chapter. Realize that everyone has different commitments, abilities, and availabilities; some of you may be able to contribute more or less than others, but everyone's contribution is important. Both officers and members should be discouraged from taking on more than they can handle. Everyone should strive to work cooperatively at tasks; cliques and internal "power struggles" do not advance your chapter or Psi Chi's aims. However, when a large number of members are active and feel appreciated for their efforts, your chapter will develop a strong sense of unity. Perhaps more importantly, you will have a successful chapter and your members will enjoy and be proud of their membership.