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Eye on Psi Chi: Winter 2016

Ideas for Making Your
Psi Chi Chapter Effective

Theresa Luhrs, PhD, and Jennifer Zimmerman, PhD, DePaul University (IL)
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Luhrs: Four Great Ideas That Work
Last year, I was asked to contribute to a panel discussion at MPA 2015 entitled, “Great Ideas for Making Your Psi Chi Chapter Effective,” and this article is an extension thereof. In many ways, I find myself in an enviable position because I was a PhD student at the same institution where I now serve as a faculty advisor for Psi Chi. I’ve seen ideas that work well, some that seemed to work well in theory, and ideas that were well-intended yet fizzled in application. As I reflected on what I thought were the “great ideas for making a chapter effective,” what immediately came to mind were coadvising, expanding officer positions to include president-elect and treasurer-elect positions to build a strong governance team, involving officers and members in departmental research, and engaging with the greater urban community in sustainable service commitments that reflect the values of Psi Chi. To elaborate on these ideas, I asked my own wonderful coadvisor, Dr. Jennifer Zimmerman to join me in authoring this piece.
Zimmerman: Advising Team
Our chapter’s advising team consists of two faculty members and one graduate student. One week prior to our general body meetings, the officers and advisors finalize plans and brainstorm topics for future meetings and service events. Our chapter benefits from having multiple advisors who bring with them a unique set of skills, ideas, experiences, and styles of support.
For example, Dr. Luhrs’s connection to the Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington DC inspired the chapter to make hand-crafted appreciation pop-up cards for wounded veterans. The chapter made 50 individual cards for hospitalized soldiers. My involvement in the American Heart Association 5K Walk led to one of the chapter’s service events this year. We recruited 12 members, raised $715, and increased awareness of cardiovascular disease and stroke. Having two faculty advisors share responsibilities and divide up tasks enables us to plan more meetings, workshops, and service projects and provide our students with more support.
The graduate student advisor serves as an important link between where the undergraduate students are currently and where most of them want to be in the future. She has served on a panel with other graduate students during our annual graduate school meeting and shared her experience selecting graduate programs, completing applications, writing a personal statement, asking for strong letters of recommendation, and preparing for interviews. Having a strong advising team of faculty and a graduate student has led to greater support for our members and officers, and resulted in an active and successful chapter.
Luhrs: Officer Leadership Transitions
Before I became an official advisor, I had observed that, each spring quarter, our current officers seemed to scurry about in a somewhat frantic recruitment effort to find new officers immediately prior to our yearly induction ceremony. I was both concerned and curious. Conversations with prior advisors and involved students shed lighton the problem. Each year, we were re-creating the wheel. The trend for years had been for all of the primary officers to be graduating seniors who had only served in an officer capacity during their senior year. Despite a well-maintained Best Practices manual, none of these students had engaged on the other side of the recruitment process, nor had they planned and overseen an induction ceremony. We brainstormed about the notion of the need for leadership continuity and decided to explore “officers-in-training,” or officer-elect positions. Our primary concern was the president and vice-president roles, and how we might expand the vice-president position into a president-elect who would spend an entire year training under the current president before taking on the role for their senior year. Let me say unequivocally, this is the single best idea that we have implemented that has made our chapter better, stronger, bigger, and more efficient.
Logistically, this means that we have to keep our collective eyes on talented, interested, and qualified first- and second-year majors. Dr. Zimmerman and I teach core psychology courses and are in a wonderful position to identify possible candidates. Our current officers take note of first- and second-year students who express an interest in the organization, attend meetings, and become involved in research. For the past five years, we have been extremely successful in identifying outstanding candidates for vice-president/president-elect who have gone on to excel as chapter presidents in their own right. These officers spend their junior year shadowing the president and taking on more responsibility as the academic year progresses. By the June induction ceremony, the current president need only pass the torch to the successor. This has worked so well for us that we now have a student serving as treasurer-elect who is shadowing our current treasurer in this extremely crucial position. This position is quite complex and involves financial training, procurement of funds for meetings and events, and ongoing interactions with university officials and other organizations.
Zimmerman: Matchmaker Program
In accordance with Psi Chi’s purpose and mission, our chapter values and prioritizes advancing the science of psychology and offering educational and research opportunities to our students. To help students find research opportunities within the psychology department, we developed a Matchmaker Program on our chapter’s website. Faculty and graduate students who are conducting research and looking for research assistants provide us with information about their project, and we post the information online for students to view. Researchers provide us with the project title, project description, principal investigators, student duties, student eligibility requirements, time commitment, number of open positions, and contact information. We also provide our students with a link to the faculty webpage so that they can learn about the faculty members’ major areas of interest and recent publications.
Although any psychology student may apply to work in one or more of these research labs, we recommend that students have completed Statistics I and Research Methods I (nonexperimental) and II (experimental) to prepare them for these experiences. Students can volunteer in these research labs, or they can earn course credit, either as an independent study or to fulfill their junior year experiential learning requirement. To make students more aware of the Matchmaker Program and the available research opportunities in the department, we invite representatives from the different research labs to one of our meetings to announce their projects and recruit students. Students have used the Matchmaker Program and participated in research projects, many of whom have presented their work at DePaul’s Annual Psychology Night and at the MPA annual meeting.
Luhrs: Sustainable Community Service
At DePaul University, we view service to the greater Chicago community as central to our Psi Chi mission, and our chapter has always engaged in yearly service projects. But as each team of elected officers changed in entirety each year, the new officers once again found themselves having to explore and vet new opportunities for the chapter. This was not an optimal experience for our students because service often became a one-time venture into an organization or event and little opportunity to truly engage beyond a limited time and scope. Last year, we entered into a long-term sustainable service relationship with a wonderful organization that is allowing our chapter to craft an ongoing tradition of service steeped in the rich history of our city.
Chicago Lights is an afterschool tutoring, mentoring, and enrichment program that recently celebrated 50 years of service to former residents of the Cabrini Green community and to the current communities nearby. Officers, members, and advisors serve a warm meal, teach enrichment classes including a psychology class for 1st to 6th grades entitled, “The Story of Me,” and engage in one-on-one tutoring with 1st to 12th grade students. Chicago Lights also has summer tutoring programs and an Urban Farm that provide our chapter with ample opportunities for service. We hope and plan to sustain this relationship for many years to come, providing a wonderful experience for our students and a history of being a trusted asset for Chicago Lights.

Theresa Luhrs, PhD, is the director of Undergraduate Studies in the Department of Psychology at DePaul University. She received her MA and PhD in experimental psychology at DePaul University. Dr. Luhrs is a social psychologist and studies social perceptions of perpetrators and victims of intimate partner violence.

Jennifer Zimmerman, PhD,
is a professional lecturer at DePaul University in Chicago, IL. She has been the chapter’s coadvisor for the past four years. Dr. Zimmerman received her BA in psychology from the University of Illinois at Chicago and her MA and PhD in experimental psychology from DePaul University. Dr. Zimmerman is a social psychologist and studies status, ideological beliefs, and system justification and condemnation.

Copyright 2016 (Volume 20, Issue 2) 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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