Cultivating and maintaining an active Psi Chi chapter is no easy task. Many chapters face the perennial challenges of increasing student involvement, organizing and funding chapter events, and transitioning leadership—all of which can limit a chapter’s productivity and its benefit to members.
|A Year in the Life: Our Formula for Sustaining an Active Chapter
|Jeff Kukucka, PhD, Antonia Santoro, Savanah Clark, Julie Blandford, Kimberly Cates, Perri Hooper, Lillian Skeiky, and Joshua L. Milstein
Towson University (MD)
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At Towson University, our chapter has gradually developed a model that we feel has helped us overcome these challenges. Our model combines forethought, scaffolding, and an annual blueprint that balances consistency with flexibility. We describe a typical academic year for our chapter including many examples of events that have helped us revitalize our chapter.
August: Organize and Mobilize
Ben Franklin once said that “by failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.” Prior to each semester, our officers create a detailed schedule of our weekly events. Many are variations on successful past events, and others are brand new. The agenda notes what each event will require and which officer(s) will handle these duties. To stay ahead, we also arrange a weekly meeting time for officers and advisors, during which we plan events two weeks in advance.
The next challenge is to recruit and mobilize members. At Towson, we have both a Psi Chi chapter and a Psychology Club, which is open to anyone who is interested in psychology. By effectively combining these two organizations, younger students who are not yet Psi Chi members can get a jump start on participating in Psi Chi-sponsored events.
We advertise our weekly events in as many ways as possible including fliers, in-class announcements, and social media. It is important to be clear and consistent in how this information is shared so that members know exactly where to find it. We also try to schedule each event at the same time and (when possible) the same location. By doing this, our events become part of our members’ weekly routine, which results in greater attendance.
September: So You Want to Be a Psychologist?
Fostering professional development is a key goal for our chapter. As such, many of our early-semester events expose students to the many diverse subfields and career options in psychology. For example, at our “Get Psyched!” event, we invite 8 to 10 faculty from different areas of psychology to share information about their field and their own experiences. This event gets students thinking about their futures by illustrating the breadth of our discipline and providing concrete information about a variety of psychology-based careers.
We also sponsor a semesterly lab fair, where we invite current faculty and students to present posters of their own research, while newer students circulate and learn about the research being done at their own institution. This event connects students who want to get involved in research with researchers who can provide those opportunities. It also allows student researchers to share and discuss their research with others, which is valuable practice for those who will later present at professional conferences.
October: It “Pays” to Fund-Raise Early
Successful fund-raising efforts enable your chapter to support more ambitious and expensive activities later in the semester. For that reason, we try to build an early surplus of funds to have available for future events such as guest speakers, field trips, and induction ceremonies. Last year, for example, we were able to cover the travel costs of our officers who were invited to present at the Eastern Psychological Association convention in New York.
Our simplest fund-raising methods are bake sales. They tend not to be overly time-consuming or expensive, and because members often bake and staff the table together, they also foster a sense of community. We try to host two bake sales per semester. Usually, one of these raises money for the chapter, and profits from the other are donated to charitable organizations such as the ASPCA or Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation.
In recent years, we have also designed and sold “Towson Psychology” T-shirts on two separate occasions. Once we design the shirt online, we advertise it not only to Psi Chi members, but also to all psychology majors and faculty. This allows us to gauge interest before placing our order. For larger chapters and departments that can buy shirts in bulk, this can be very profitable. Wearing the shirts around campus also provides advertising for your chapter.
November: Making Service Serve You
Community service is a crucial aspect of many Psi Chi chapters. To get our members involved in these activities both early and easily, we have found ways to incorporate community service into our weekly meetings. For example, as the weather turns colder, homeless shelters see an influx of new individuals, and food banks are often in greater need of food donations. To help alleviate this issue, we occasionally host a meeting where our members collectively make peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, which we then donate to a local food bank.
Also, although many of us spend Thanksgiving surrounded by friends and family, those deployed in the military do not have this luxury. Around this time of year, we typically host a meeting in which our members write thank you cards to those who are serving our country overseas. These activities are easy to accomplish and make a meaningful contribution to both the local and national community, all while helping us reach our community service goals.
December: The Future Is Now
Many Psi Chi officers are seniors who will soon graduate and leave their chapter to a brand new group of officers the following year. To make this transition as smooth as possible, we recently adopted a system in which our members elect the following year’s officers just before Winter break. This gives the rising officers ample time to learn about the duties of their positions before they officially assume those roles later in the spring.
Once the new officers are elected, each current officer is responsible for teaching their successor about their future position. A critical part of this process is the creation of “transition binders,” which include documents that outline the key responsibilities of each position. Each officer updates their binder yearly, adding information that will benefit the next person in their position. Then, during the spring semester, the rising officers shadow the current officers and occasionally attend the weekly officer meeting. By doing this, they gain experience that allows them to “hit the ground running” when they take over leadership of the chapter next fall.
Lastly, December is a good time to share information with students who plan to apply for Psi Chi membership in the spring. To make this as easy as possible, we provide potential applicants with a clear timeline of when applications are due, when decisions will be made, when dues must be paid, and when the induction ceremony will be held.
January: Is There Life After Graduation?
Many of our members will pursue graduate study in psychology and are preparing their graduate school applications around the start of the spring semester. With this in mind, we find it worthwhile to help our members through this difficult and stressful process by having a graduate school application workshop.
At this event, we ask a representative from our on-campus Career Center to speak about topics such as how to register and prepare for the GRE, how to craft an effective CV/resumé, how to prepare for an interview, and how to write a strong personal statement. We advertise this meeting even more widely than usual because these topics are useful not only for psychology majors, but for anyone who will soon apply to graduate school or other jobs after graduation. This meeting also gives younger students the opportunity to begin learning about this process well in advance from students who are currently going through it.
February: Birds of a Feather Fund-Raise Together
With one semester under their belt, our officers are ready to undertake more elaborate fund-raising events in the spring. First, we make an effort to host joint events with other campus organizations who have similar interests such as NAMI or Active Minds. These tend to pull in a larger audience, which is beneficial in terms of community building and recruiting new members. Last year, for example, we organized a Yoga Night with Active Minds, where we sold raffle tickets for a gift certificate and split the proceeds between the two clubs.
At least once per year, we also collaborate with a local business (e.g., a restaurant, bakery, etc.) to help fund-raise for our chapter. Typically, the business agrees to donate a percentage of their total sales during a given time frame to our chapter, which tends to be a sizeable amount. These events benefit the host also, by bringing in business and providing free advertising to students. In fact, some businesses have been so grateful for a successful event that they have later offered to donate drinks and snacks for our future events.
March: Growing Our Service Efforts
As our efforts to fund-raise become more ambitious, so too do our community service efforts, as we begin to partake in more off-campus service activities. These events are important not only as a means of giving back to our community, but also as a way of representing our chapter outside of the university in a positive way.
The changing weather provides more opportunities for outdoor service activities in the spring. In the past, our chapter has sought out nature preservation and neighborhood enhancement events such as planting trees and cleaning up waste in local parks. We also try to identify community service events that appeal to the personal and/or professional interests of our members including volunteer opportunities at the Baltimore Zoo and Project Homeless Connect. In many cases, working with these organizations provides students with valuable networking and leadership opportunities as well.
April: One Door Closes, Another One Opens
With the year coming to a close, it will soon be time to admit new members and bid farewell to our graduating seniors. Our chapter hosts induction ceremonies in both the fall and spring, but the spring ceremony is typically much larger. Using the funds that we have accumulated during the past year, we are able to provide brunch for inductees and their guests, as well as invite a guest speaker to address our new inductees.
Our chapter also distributes graduation cords to seniors during the spring induction ceremony. Rather than giving cords to all seniors, we require our students to complete a set number of community service hours to earn their cords. Although we do our best to estimate the number of seniors who will receive cords at the ceremony, it is helpful to keep an extra supply of cords on hand, and to order these well ahead of when they are needed.
Finally, during this ceremony, our elected officers officially assume their new roles, and they each receive the transition binder for their position. This allows the new officers to review their binders during the summer and begin thinking ahead to August, at which point they will restart the process by putting their own spin on this same annual blueprint.
At Towson, this formula has given us the stability to remain productive, but also the flexibility to try new and ambitious activities. Rather than “reinventing the wheel” each year, our model gives us a stable foundation from which we can build on our previous successes. Insofar as many chapters face similar obstacles, we hope that sharing our experiences will help others find similar success in invigorating their own chapters.
Towson University is a campus of over 22,000 students in Towson, Maryland. In addition to 1,200 undergraduate psychology majors, Towson’s psychology department offers masters degrees in experimental psychology, clinical psychology, counseling psychology, school psychology, and human resource development. This article was coauthored by Towson’s 2015-16 Psi Chi officers, which include Antonia Santoro (president), Savanah Clark (treasurer), Julie Blandford (public relations), Kimberly Cates (vice-president), Perri Hooper (historian), Lillian Skeiky (secretary), and Joshua Milstein (Psychology Club representative). Towson Psi Chi’s faculty coadvisors are Dr. Jeff Kukucka (email@example.com) and Dr. David Earnest (firstname.lastname@example.org).
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Copyright 2016 (Volume 21, Issue 1) by Psi Chi, the
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