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Eye on Psi Chi: Fall 1996
An Ode to Experienced
Faculty Advisors:
The Reflections of a New Advisor

Jeanne M. Slattery, Clarion University (PA)

I was recently talking to one of our chapter's members about faculty who have served as their chapter's sponsor for a large number of years. His response was that he wondered whether the chapter was more theirs than the students' as a result. Although I am a new advisor I took him to task, not only because these were faculty advisors I saw as extraordinarily successful, but also because I see tremendous benefits accruing to a group from having a single good advisor for a long time. Although I see our chapter as very successful, my comments come out of the context of my past year, my first year advising, as I tried to reinvent the wheel to create a strong chapter with a chapter council that was also composed of first-time officers.

What could an advisor with a long history of experience do for a chapter? What better way of conveying the message that Psi Chi is important than an advisor (or officer or council) with a long history of enthusiasm for, experience with, and commitment to the group? When I see someone who has devoted a significant portion of his or her life to a group, with no more data, I am more likely to conclude that this group is an important one--especially if this is someone I respect and if I do not see significant reinforcers that otherwise compel involvement.

A good faculty advisor is also a resource and can point students to the office or people who can meet their needs. Our university recently mailed us a survey asking if we were aware of the variety of services offered by Student Services. My frequent response to these questions was no. As it turns out, this did not hurt our chapter because these services were offered instead by our department out of our department's budget, but it could have. Similarly, although I have attempted to keep up with mailings from the Psi Chi National Office, I have discovered that I was unaware of many of the things that Psi Chi can do for our chapter or students as well as what we can do for the National Office or for other chapters.

A strong advisor can normalize the struggles that the chapter may experience, as well as identify ways around these. For example, several officers were recently very discouraged by the (common) drop-off in commitment among second-semester seniors as they approached graduation. Simply having this event labeled as common and understandable in the greater context relieved some tension among the balance of the officers. Furthermore, knowing that this is a common pattern means that our chapter has begun to struggle with ways to avoid this dilemma. We have moved our elections to earlier in the semester and are beginning to set up a type of apprenticeship program for incoming officers, having new officers overlap with old.

Incoming officers will probably need some encouragement to get the ball going at the beginning of a semester, to set an initial meeting date as well as to assist them in beginning to develop a schedule for the semester. Many of our new officers have suffered from the Impostor Syndrome and have needed me to help them recognize that they have the right (and responsibility) to make decisions. Furthermore, the type of people our chapter attracts as officers often have many other responsibilities which may waylay the best intentions. (One recent officer took 18 credits including an internship, was also an officer in her sorority as well as a majorette, served on a faculty committee, and applied for graduate school, all within a single semester.) It would be easy for students like her to place other responsibilities on the front burner and move Psi Chi to the rear.

With experience an advisor learns from each year's successes and mistakes. One can learn what is possible and use this to extend the legacy of previous classes. That history can enable an advisor to recognize fewer limits (and more options) as they brainstorm about their agenda for the upcoming year. While our chapter has had good ideas, increased enrollment, and a large active core, I was very impressed by the range of creative ideas that some long-term advisors and their chapters have developed. These advisors can assist a chapter in becoming flexible in meeting the membership's needs rather than more rigid with time.

I agree with my student: the chapter should not be about the advisor, but for the students. A good advisor should not get burdened with the bulk of the responsibility for holding together a flagging chapter--as I heard some frustrated advisors describe at a regional meeting. A good advisor should empower students, help them recognize their possibilities, and actualize those rather than take responsibility for the chapter or diminish the ideas and decisions of the membership. This can be a balancing act: helping students recognize the possibilities they enjoy with Psi Chi, empowering them to act, and helping them to identify obstacles without usurping their own power. As I talked with other advisors at our national meeting, I saw people who have seemed to embody these ideals. These are my goals for the future.


Jeanne M. Slattery, PhD, is assistant professor of psychology and Psi Chi faculty advisor at Clarion University in Clarion, Pennsylvania. Dr. Slattery received her MA (1980) and PhD (1984) from Miami University in Oxford, Ohio, completed her respecialization in clinical psychology at Indiana University of Pennsylvania in 1992, and was licensed in 1993. Dr. Slattery is the mother of two wonderful daughters, Allison, 12, and Becky, 7.

Copyright 1996 (Volume 1, Issue 1) by Psi Chi, the International Honor Society in Psychology


 

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Eye on Psi Chi is a magazine designed to keep members and alumni up-to-date with all the latest information about Psi Chi’s programs, awards, and chapter activities. It features informative articles about careers, graduate school admission, chapter ideas, personal development, the various fields of psychology, and important issues related to our discipline.

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