I always enjoy the fresh start at the beginning of a new calendar or academic year. These transitions allow our Psi Chi chapter to reflect on the successes and mistakes of previous semesters and plan for the upcoming year. Although Creighton University has had a Psi Chi chapter for over 20 years, I am a relative newcomer to the department and to the role of faculty advisor. As both novices and old-timers know, advising is both a challenging and rewarding undertaking. An important lesson I have learned in the past three years is to maintain a balance between controlling and laissez-faire mentoring.
An effective advisor should motivate members, provide support and educational resources, and serve as a source of contacts within the institution (Shea, 1992). I would like to further argue that optimal student advising should also involve: (a) facilitating (but not running) program planning by being available and informed, (b) enhancing the development of chapter leaders and members, and (c) providing a sense of perspective and history. In other words, a faculty advisor serves as a mentor and moderator, but not a dictator or uninterested parent. How can an advisor improve these mentoring and moderating skills? I have found several training, preparation, and record-keeping steps helpful as I try to be an optimal advisor.
Training and Planning
National resources. One of the first things I needed to do as Psi Chi faculty advisor was to learn/review national policies and procedures. Prior to my term, important advising information was verbally passed along (usually after a deadline had been missed) with a series of accompanying loose-leaf papers. The pile of papers I received turned out to contain some old application forms, a table of contents for a nonexistent book, an honors banquet invitation, and some children's drawings. Needless to say, I found conversations with colleagues and the Psi Chi Chapter Notebook (Psi Chi, 2001) provided by the National Office very helpful that first year! (Chapter Notebook contents are available online at www.psichi.org.) These materials (membership forms, chapter forms, award forms and deadlines, appreciation forms, officer materials) are both informative and thorough. In addition, I talk with my colleagues in the department about the strengths and weaknesses of Psi Chi in the past. Armed with this information I feel ready to meet the executive officers. I try to follow this same procedure at the beginning of each year.
Officer transition and training. Our chapter elects four executive officers each April. Before the end of the academic year we plan a retreat at the start of the upcoming fall semester for those newly elected student leaders. For the past two years I have hosted the retreat and provided dinner. The main purpose of the retreat is to allow student leaders (and the advisor) to interact and get to know one another better in a relaxed atmosphere. The retreat has been a hit and has helped prepare student leaders for the year ahead. In order to transition from the outgoing to newly elected officers, you could hold a similar retreat at the end of the year (before outgoing leaders leave office).
At the three- to four-hour retreat, officers review the Chapter Handbook (published in the Summer issue of Eye on Psi Chi) and work on developing their leadership skills. I also share with the incoming executive officers the previous year's high and low points mentioned by departmental faculty. Officers then can reflect on previous activities and discuss faculty comments, review national guidelines and recommendations, and begin planning for the upcoming year. Our chapter has had great success planning meetings and events around a theme. In 2000-01 the theme was "Health - Mind, Body, Spirit"; some of the meetings were held at a coffeehouse, a video arcade, or the campus recreation center, and social events were held at faculty members' homes, a golf course, and a pumpkin patch. A general theme provides continuity for meetings and social events throughout the year, which helps organization and improves attendance. I must confess that our chapter is also very fortunate to have active members and excellent faculty involvement (100% of our faculty attend induction ceremonies, and on average 75% attend Psi Chi-sponsored social events).
Student services office. Another great officer training source is your university student services office. At Creighton University the Student Activities Office publishes a Student Organization's Guide to Success (2001) and hosts an annual training conference. The organization manual comes in both a student and moderator version and contains information about campus policies and resources. For example, the room reservation application form and procedures are presented so that student leaders are aware of which rooms are available for meetings and how to secure a site. Student organization policies and procedures are also covered briefly at the annual conference. Additionally, the conference has a motivational keynote address, afternoon breakout sessions where each officer meets with officers from other organizations (i.e., the presidents meet, the vice presidents meet, etc.), and another session for Psi Chi officers to meet with each other to plan upcoming activities. This conference provides an opportunity for individual development and networking opportunities. However, in order for all these training activities to be maximally useful, it is equally important that the accomplishments of one group be passed on to their successors.
Record Keeping: Manuals
Perhaps the most important lesson I have learned after receiving a pile of papers and verbal advice is to document, document, document! Our chapter was continually (and successfully) reinventing the wheel. During my first year as a faculty advisor, I created a Psi Chi Faculty Advisor Manual. This manual provides a step-by-step ap-proach to fulfilling the duties of the advisory position. In addition to the materials published in the Psi Chi Chapter Notebook, I created the following sections:
- History of our chapter. This is the most detailed section, and it includes the standard operating procedures filed with the National Office and department each year as well as information and contacts useful for optimal chapter functioning (e.g., copy of a member survey, copy of a personalized invitation letter, copy of a memo to the registrar asking for the GPA and names of students qualified to join Psi Chi).
- Chapter officer information. This lists details about the expectations and responsibilities for each officer (beyond national requirements), which are created/updated during the annual retreat.
- Committee chair information. This lists details similar to the chapter officer information and publicity information for on-campus newspaper, radio, and television stations.
- Membership directory. A listing of current members and their contact information as well as lists of former members by graduation year.
- Merit point system. A description of policies for maintaining active status in Psi Chi and wearing an honor medallion for the graduation ceremonies.
- Chapter information. This contains a subsection for each academic year, including meeting announcements, meeting minutes, event fliers, induction programs, etc.
- Future ideas
This advisor's manual became so valuable that our chapter created similar manuals for each officer and a chapter scrapbook. Before creating four position-specific manuals, officers were coming to me for forms or fliers because they knew I had a historical record of chapter-specific information. All officers now keep their own notebooks, each with important documentation for their particular position and a computer disk with files, letters, fliers, and other relevant information. They are responsible for adding and deleting important information over the course of the year to their respective notebooks. At the end of their term in office, officers review their duties and explain the manual to their successors.
In conclusion, what steps should a faculty advisor take to ensure a new year will get off to the best start possible? To begin, appropriate training is important for advisors and student leaders alike. Next, advisors should work with officers to prepare for the year by creating a general theme in the planning and publicizing of each meeting/event. Finally, keeping records (electronic, hard copy files, and pictorial archives) allows advisors and Psi Chi members to reflect on others' experiences. While these tips in and of themselves will not ensure a successful year, they provide a context and structure for effectively advising your Psi Chi chapter without taking control or being uninvolved.
Psi Chi. (2001). Psi Chi Chapter Notebook (revised annually). Chattanooga, TN: Author.
Shea, G. F. (1992). Mentoring: A practical guide. Menlo Park, CA: Crisp.
Student Activities Office. (2001). Student organization's guide to success. Omaha, NE: Creighton University.