This, my last presidential column for Eye on Psi Chi, has proven to be a difficult one to write. As I write this, Kay Wilson, the Executive Officer of Psi Chi, has recently passed away after a battle with cancer. Kay was a strong leader for Psi Chi and a wonderful friend. The next issue of the Eye will be a commemorative issue dedicated to her, and I will save most of my words about her for that venue. However, she is prominently on my mind as I write.
Kay was dedicated to improving Psi Chi and working with its student members. It was a pleasure attending conferences with her to watch her interact with chapter officers and faculty advisors from all over the country. She was a wealth of Psi Chi information and always offered sound advice to chapters seeking to increase their vitality, enhance their funds, or get involved in the awards and grants programs. Because this Summer issue of the Eye acts as a chapter handbook, I thought it would be appropriate to give some tips to chapters, many of which I learned from Kay.
Elect Strong Leaders
Psi Chi chapters are only as strong as their leaders, both student officers and faculty advisors. Have people in these roles who are genuinely interested in the activities and goals of the chapter, not just interested in noting the office on their grad school application! Be sure to encourage leaders who are interested in building an inclusive club rather than an exclusive clique of just the officers.
Capitalize on your strong leadership by keeping good records to pass on to future officers. So many times I have seen a new batch of officers come in and "reinvent the wheel." As psychologists, we know that there is a learning curve in any new role, yet we often don't take the steps necessary to minimize this. If your chapter has not already done so, start assembling a notebook for each officer that includes a description of the duties and a relevant calendar. Notes from the meetings, important contacts and telephone numbers, as well as helpful hints from the officer can be included and passed down to the next person to hold the office. (Information from this issue of the Eye might be a good place to start.)
Link With the Psychology Club
There are a number of models for maintaining an active Psi Chi chapter and psychology club. The model that is best for you depends on the size of your chapter and club, the number of psychology majors/minors at your school, their level of involvement, the philosophy of the faculty in the department, and the roles these organizations play in the department. However, most successful chapters I have seen are somehow linked with their school's psychology club. In some cases the two are blended. They meet and act as one, and it just so happens that some of the members are also Psi Chi members. This makes a lot of sense if you have a somewhat small chapter. Why divide a chapter with 20 active members in half when you could act together and have a critical mass? In some cases, the two organizations meet separately, but then complement one another and consult each other when planning activities in order to avoid overlap. Either way, these two organizations ultimately will have similar goals and objectives, and student officers (as you know!) are usually active on campus and with their studies. It makes sense for the two organizations to work with each other in whatever way possible to lighten the load and enhance the outcomes.
Support Department Initiatives
One way to enhance your Psi Chi chapter is to work with your psychology department. Each department has its own initiatives and goals, whether they involve increasing campus visibility, facilitating undergraduate research, or something else. Have the chapter officers meet with the department chair to find out what the current initiatives are and how Psi Chi can help. Not only does this give you a solid agenda for your chapter, it also makes the chapter valuable to the department. As such, a department is likely to be more supportive in helping the chapter achieve its goals in return.
Odds are, if you are reading the Eye, your chapter is already doing a lot of great things. Be sure to advertise this. Make sure all faculty in your department, as well as the students, are aware of activities you are sponsoring. Participate in campuswide activities so that people from all over campus recognize your chapter as an active one. At the beginning of the semester, do a small write-up of your upcoming activities for the school newspaper. Put a bulletin board in your student center featuring various psychological topics of interest each month. Create a chapter website and ask the psychology faculty to include it as a link on course webpages. The more well-known Psi Chi is on campus, the easier it will be to maintain vitality and get institutional support.
Alumni members are often untapped resources who would be more than willing to come to your chapter meeting to speak, especially if they are still in the area. Alumni can speak on a wide variety of topics, including employment with a BA or BS, advice for getting into graduate programs, tips for succeeding in a program if you are accepted, and various career paths and specialties within the field of psychology. If you know you have some graduates in the area, include them in your mailings or invite them to inductions. You never know when this type of networking might pay off.
Apply for Psi Chi's Awards and Grants
As usual, I cannot resist the temptation to mention Psi Chi's awards and grant program. Psi Chi remains dedicated to supporting student research and scholarship, and as a member you have a wonderful opportunity to apply for one of the awards or grants. Page 44 of this issue provides a concise overview of all the awards and grants offered (or you can check them out HERE). I strongly encourage you to apply for these awards and grants, and as chapter officers, you can encourage your members to apply. Keep your members (and your faculty!) current on due dates, and provide support for students who want to apply. Perhaps have a meeting devoted to grant writing as that deadline approaches, or have a meeting devoted to proofreading papers before they are submitted. Psi Chi also offers a venue in which to publish your research, the Psi Chi Journal of Undergraduate Research. Consider having a meeting dedicated to editing research papers for publication. If you have a few people who submit for awards, grants, or publication and who understand the process, then it becomes easier for future students to submit something themselves, and you have started a pattern of excellent scholarship.
Finally, have fun with your Psi Chi chapters. Ideally, you chose your major because it is something you enjoy, and Psi Chi is there to further that. Through your chapter, you should gain valuable research and leadership experience, and also make connections with faculty and students that will last throughout your academic career. Even if you pass on leadership information and traditions from one set of officers to the next, each set will have its own unique style and agenda. Enjoy that diversity and make your chapter work for you.
None of these ideas is totally original, and your chapter no doubt already utilizes some of these. But as I reflect on the advice I have given chapters during my presidency and the advice I saw Kay Wilson give as Executive Officer, I realize some of these points bear repeating to new officers or faculty advisors who need a boost. I also have no doubt that Kay could have said this more convincingly, drawing from all the experience she had with chapters nationwide. As I end my term as president, I am grateful for all the leaders who have inspired me, Kay especially, and all the students I have had contact with who keep me motivated. Thank you.