Congratulations to our newest members on your induction into Psi Chi. During your induction, you probably heard the phrase: "Honor is the reward of merit." We use this phrase because your induction honors you for your merit: for your hard work, for your diligent studying, and for your academic successes.
But something more happened during your induction. You did not just receive a reward for your accomplishments. I am certain that some, or even many, of you received rewards in the past—scholarships, Dean's list recognitions, academic awards, and so on. But this reward is different. You were inducted into the National Honor Society in Psychology. We call our organization a society, and that has a very specific meaning. It implies a group with common characteristics, goals, and aspirations. It implies activity, an active organization. A society is a community that people join to be a part of, and to participate in. The honor that you received at your induction was not just a listing, it was the opportunity to work with a group of like-minded individuals for a common purpose.
Now, I know, some of you are thinking, "Wait a minute. What's he talking about? Nobody said I was going to have to do more work. I'm already overwhelmed with commitments." Relax, you are correct. A society is something that you participate in voluntarily. If you want to take a free ride, you can. However, I am going to urge you not to take that free ride for two reasons--the first is for yourself, the other is for your chapter.
Active participation in Psi Chi is important for you, for your own personal and professional growth. I asked Olanta Barton, our chapter president, what she gained from being in Psi Chi, and she immediately listed three things:
- An increased knowledge and connection to psychology, far beyond the classroom. She has attended conferences, such as EPA and APA, that she didn't even know existed before joining Psi Chi. She has heard research presentations by people whose names she had read in her textbooks. And, as she prepares to present her own research at those conferences, she begins to feel more a part of the community of psychology.
- An opportunity for leadership. Her first officer position in our chapter was her first experience in any type of a leadership position. And, she has found that she can do it. She has learned about motivating others, organizing her time and commitments, and prioritizing. These skills are going to benefit her throughout her career.
- Friendship and support. She has found herself belonging to a community in which people care about one another and are available to help whenever she needs it. Sometimes this involves having a study partner, sometimes it is having someone who just listens. Debbie Del Valle, last year's vice-president, told me about how much being a chapter officer improved her own communication skills and abilities in working with others.
These are things that you learn to do as participants in a society. Psi Chi's national president, Peter Giordano, recently wrote about how becoming involved in chapter activities provides an excellent way to hone your leadership and interpersonal skills (Giordano, 2001). These are skills that you do not learn in classrooms, but they are qualities that make employers and graduate admissions committees sit up and take notice. And you are probably going to need that extra notice. You are now one of 400,000+ lifetime Psi Chi members (Wilson, 2001). As far as simply being a member is concerned, you have a lot of company out there. So, given all those members, what is going to make you special? Why should a potential employer or graduate program care about your membership in Psi Chi? Well, what will make them notice you is what you can tell them that you did in Psi Chi. You have a terrific amount to gain from becoming an active participant in the society of your chapter.
Now for the other reason, for your chapter: Has your chapter been recognized for its accomplishments? Has it won or competed for either a regional chapter award or for the Ruth Hubbard Cousins National Chapter Award? Are the members proud of the chapter? Does membership mean something to them? The responsibility for your chapter's success now rests with you, its newest inductees, especially those of you who will be returning next year. This is now your society, and whether it sinks or swims is up to you. So what should your chapter be expecting of you? Let me pose some answers to that question based on my experience with our chapter at Lehman.
Your chapter should expect that you will maintain your level of scholarship, and even improve on it. You should not feel that being inducted into Psi Chi means you can let your GPA slip. In fact, your professors should be expecting even more from you now.
More and more undergraduate students in psychology are becoming involved in research. And more and more doctoral programs are looking for evidence of research experience from their applicants. Indeed, this year, Psi Chi will begin giving summer research grants to students to support their involvement in research. Six students will each receive a stipend of $2,500 to work on a research project with a faculty member. In addition, Psi Chi is contributing $20,000 to fund Psi Chi members who are participating in the NSF's summer research program. Are you already involved in research? If not, you should be, especially if you are planning to make psychology your career.
Have you presented research, or even attended a psychology conference? It is time that you extend your scholarship beyond the classroom and beyond your own institution. We encourage our members to participate in psychology events outside of Lehman. We always try to send members to the annual Greater New York Conference on Behavioral Research. Each year, we also have managed to find enough money, from a variety of sources, to send a contingent of members to EPA. Conference trips are expensive. But we have found that the experience of attending a professional conference is worth the effort to get there. Especially for those of you planning to go on to graduate study in psychology, attending such conferences gives you the opportunity to hear about the latest research and to meet faculty from other institutions (institutions to which you might be applying for graduate work). In addition, the recognition of actually having presented your research at such conferences can provide a real boost to your graduate school application. (Besides, winning a Psi Chi regional research award will put a check for $300 into your pocket!)
Your chapter also should expect that you make a contribution that improves the chapter. Perhaps you can become an officer. Now I hear you screaming, "I don't have time for that!" That is a real and justified concern; I will not make light of it. But I believe that each one of you has the time to do something. At Lehman, we have addressed this problem, successfully, I think, by diversifying and increasing the number of our officer positions. We currently have 10 officers: president, two vice-presidents, treasurer, secretary, activities coordinator, editor, public relations officer, webmaster, and alumni advisor. The titles are less important than the concept. By creating more officer positions, we reduce the amount of work that each officer must do. For example, our activities coordinator handles the two or three events we try to hold each semester. This person is responsible for planning and advertising. Our public relations officer handles the recruitment of new members. He or she creates a schedule and coordinates it so that every class is visited by a member who makes an announcement about the value of Psi Chi membership and hands out application forms. We have found it easier to fill officer positions because they are limited in their responsibilities and time commitments. No one is expected to carry the entire weight of the chapter.
We also use lower officer positions, such as activities coordinator and public relations officer, as training for major offices such as president and vice-president. For example, over the past five years, our chapter presidents have all had prior service as some other officer before becoming president. This has given them a good idea of what to expect, a sense of what they wish to accomplish, and models of how to handle the problems and situations that inevitably come up.
If you just don't want to be an officer, I am certain there is plenty else you can do. You can help out with a chapter activity. We hold a lot of bake sales as fundraisers, so we always need extra hands to be at the table (and we use this money to send members to EPA). We also ask every member of our chapter to volunteer to work as a psychology tutor for one hour per week in the college's tutoring center. I am certain that there is one area in which all of you can help your chapter immediately: Recruit a new member for the next induction. Many chapters induct mostly seniors. This is not a very good practice for the long-term health of your chapter. Who takes over next year? We have had great success by actively recruiting not only juniors but sophomores. Because they get to spend time in the chapter, there is a real continuity in the chapter. But it takes some effort. You probably still remember how little you knew when you were their age. They often don't even know a Psi Chi chapter exists, or what it is, or how to get into it. We have found that the best way to recruit new members is when members do it: when members make announcements in their classes; when members talk to students before and after their classes, and in the library, and while studying; and, when members tell students what Psi Chi is and how important it is for them to become members. Recruiting nonseniors gives your chapter a firm base from which to continually revitalize the chapter and keep it going. Each of you should make a commitment to recruit at least one new nonsenior for your chapter's next induction.
Finally, your chapter should expect that you do something on behalf of the chapter that benefits the college or the wider community. Our tutoring program is a good example of this. It started as a way to use what our members are best at, psychology, to help those students who are struggling with it. At first we targeted two specific courses: Statistics (I probably don't have to tell you why) and General Psychology. Our involvement in tutoring gives us a way to serve other students at the college, and it gains the chapter no small measure of respect from the college's administration. Psi Chi's national service projects are another way your chapter can serve the community. Or you can do something more local. Last semester, as a response to the tragedy of 9/11, our chapter raised money for the New York City Police & Fire Widows' & Children's Benefit Fund.
All this is daunting, if you are trying to do it yourself. We manage, because we have many members, each contributing whatever he or she can. In our Cousin's Award essay, we wrote the following advice to chapter members: "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" (Ainette & Del Valle, 2001).
So I challenge each of you, over the course of the next year, to do something that will enhance and improve your chapter. I am not asking you to do everything. But I am asking you to do something.
Ainette, M. G., & Del Valle, D. (2001, Fall). Four keys to unlock your chapter's potential. Eye on Psi Chi, 6, 12-13.
Giordano, P. J. (2001, Fall). Psi Chi creates learning opportunities while faculty keep their mouths shut. Eye on Psi Chi, 6, 4, 13.
Wilson, K. (2001, Fall). Annual report of the executive officer. Eye on Psi Chi, 6, 5, 40-45.