With more than 560 members in less than five years, Kaplan University’s (KU) Psi Chi chapter has been busy growing its membership and fund-raising. In recent months, the chapter exceeded its fund-raising goals by donating to both the United Way® and the Bowery Mission®, a charitable group that helps the homeless in New York City. Perhaps most impressively of all, as part of an online university, chapter members accomplished all of this via virtual reality. Here’s how they did it and how you may be able to take advantage of the Internet to improve your chapter as well.
About KU Students
Each week, approximately 60,000 KU students log on to their virtual classrooms from across the country. Some students log on from international locations, too. Most students are very busy juggling full- or part-time jobs, and also managing the demands of children and families. Given their demanding schedules, KU students are attracted to the university for the flexibility that the online environment offers.
Most KU students are able to log on to their seminars and classrooms from the comfort of their own home during their off-work hours. Students typically work independently to complete their assignments, with minimal contact with their peers outside of the classroom.
Creating Community at KU
To offer students a way to connect with one another outside the classroom, the Office of Student Life provides students with a variety of options to participate in student organizations. These virtual clubs are an important part of university-wide efforts to create a sense of community and belonging for students. At KU, virtual clubs are made readily available to students in various areas of study such as business, math, and nursing.
In addition to the various clubs, KU also offers students the opportunity to join honor societies including Psi Chi, the International Honor Society in Psychology. Honor societies such as Psi Chi are invitation only, however, and only the top performing students in the field are given the opportunity to join. Today, Psi Chi has a vibrant and lively community at KU, growing from only 21 initial members in 2010, to more than 560 lifetime members today.
Dr. Mary Streit served as KU’s Psi Chi faculty advisor for 5 years and continuously encouraged students to get involved, give back, and create “positive ripples in all that they do.” The 2014 team of student officers included Madeline Baczkowski Birdsall (president), Cameron Leach (vice-president), Karen Ing (secretary), and Melissa Fabian (charitable chair). They worked tirelessly with Audra Kachonik, KU’s Student Life Representative for the Honor Society, who coordinates efforts to ensure that their donations are made in a manner that is in line with the bylaws of Psi Chi, as well as the rules and regulations of KU’s Office of Student Life.
About KU’s Psi Chi Meetings
KU Psi Chi members attend virtual monthly meetings where they help plan events, vote on issues, and attend presentations featuring guest speakers that cover a wide variety of topics such as eating disorders, stress and illness, sports psychology, and the biological etiology of addictions.
Planning Online Conferences
At the beginning of each year, chapter officers meet with Psi Chi members to discuss their areas of interest (e.g., latest research on addictions, evidence-based best practices in applied behavior analysis, or the latest research on teams in the workplace). With a list of possible topics, the faculty advisor then reaches out to the department chair to assist in locating faculty experts to speak to the members.
Setting Up the Virtual Conference Room
The first step is to find a web conference application such as Adobe® Connect™ to set up the conference room. Within the conference application chosen, confirm the types of creative programs (e.g., PDF, PowerPoint presentations, videos) that can be used. Once the room is created, the creative assets are added to the virtual room and a date is set. Members are provided a website address to join the virtual conference.
Just like a traditional conference, you can have guest speakers including a keynote address in addition to visual displays in the form of PowerPoint presentations or video (be creative!). During the conference, members can (virtually) raise their hand to ask questions, too. Members are able to post comments within a chat box window for all to see, and speakers and officers can respond live via their computer’s microphone. As a result, students may begin to feel more connected to one another and the faculty, creating a community.
In addition to regular guest speakers, KU’s Psi Chi members also regularly plan and contribute to charitable fund-raising efforts. Traditionally, fund-raisers for Psi Chi take place at least twice a year. Recently, Psi Chi members worked toward raising money to support the homeless in NYC during the holidays by creating virtual fund-raising pages for the Bowery Mission®. Funds were raised by various individual members, with the chapter president raising almost $300. Additionally, the KU Psi Chi chapter elected to donate funds to the United Way®, Mental Health America®, The American Red Cross®, and Autism Speaks®—just to name a few.
KU’s Psi Chi chapter offers students the opportunity to connect on Facebook®. Monthly meeting notices are typically posted on this page, and alumni as well as current members may attend Psi Chi meetings by clicking on the virtual conference room web link.
In addition, Psi Chi members and officers share interesting articles on hot topics in the field to the Facebook page. Many alumni remain active and engaged with Psi Chi through social media.
For students who wish to go the extra mile, leadership positions are offered. Elections are held annually via an e-survey ballot, and the membership at large votes on the leadership positions. Students can either nominate themselves or a peer to run for office. This voting process ensures that student members are involved, engaged, and actively represented in the Honor Society.
This year marks the fifth year of Psi Chi at KU. A new faculty advisor and leadership team are already in place. The officers have a lot of great things on their agenda, and they are gearing up for the spring membership drive with the online induction ceremony set for August. This year will surely be another great one for the chapter!
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