Louis Lippman, PhD, faculty advisor of the Western Washington University Psi Chi Chapter [and newly elected Psi Chi Western Regional Vice-President, 1997-99]:
Over my years of serving as faculty advisor (from our chapter's inception) at Western Washington University, I've seen varieties of leadership. Following instances of disorganization came the strongest, most effective and inspiring leaders that our chapter has ever had. They not only rescued the chapter from the doldrums or near nonexistence, but also promoted new inductions, research and conference participation, fundraising, and a variety of social activities.
Nancy Clark, who is currently finishing her doctoral work at University of Florida, was our president following a serious time of upheaval. Eron Berg, who is finishing our master's program and is also serving as APAGS Advocacy Coordinating Team Member for Washington, Oregon, Idaho, and Montana, was our president following less dire circumstances. The remainder of this article consists of their own explanations and descriptions of how they rescued a moribund chapter. They both were extraordinarily effective. It is hoped that their stories can provide suggestions to other chapters where dedicated officers, willing to invest time and energy, would wish to enhance participation and activity in their membership.
My election as chapter president of Psi Chi came by default and after some pressure. My experience with the chapter the last two years had not been particularly rewarding. When the current officers lost interest in the chapter, meetings weren't held and interest dwindled. The treasury was depleted and records were incomplete and confusing. I hesitated to get more involved. My reservation was overcome by friends who pointed out that if I was unhappy with the past, I could change it. I bowed to the inevitable after a friend agreed to serve as vice president and others agreed to help. I would like to take credit for the changes that came about during my term in office but feel obliged to point out that without the help of faculty, staff, and other students, nothing would have been accomplished. We established several short- and long-term goals for the chapter and set about planning and organizing before our installation to be ready to start the new year on a roll. Active membership, research, and support of the department were our main goals.
Our first goal was to increase active membership. We began an all-out campaign among the graduate students at the end of spring term and planned to approach the undergraduates early in the fall term. We decided that it was important to emphasize both short- and long-term benefits for the students when we recruited since many have little time to invest in purely social activities with organized groups while in school. For the graduate student campaign, we focused on the research opportunities offered by Psi Chi membership and the idea that many PhD admissions committee members find honor society membership and active community participation attractive. We also stressed the opportunity to get to know faculty members, graduate students, and undergraduates who share interests. Also, access to people who might have invaluable information about professional development and advanced educational opportunities was stressed. Our approach to undergraduates was similar, but we further encouraged them to view Psi Chi as a resource through which they could expand and explore possible areas of interest. We put posters around the department, had a booth at the student organization fair, and spoke in classrooms to generate greater interest. We approached students who were at all levels of development and encouraged those unable to qualify for Psi Chi membership to join the Psychology Club early in their careers and take advantage of the knowledge of more advanced students when making future plans. We participated in the department's presentation for prospective incoming students to let them know that as resources, Psi Chi and the Psychology Club were available to them.
We wanted to stress the importance of research in psychology and the importance of research in student advancement. In support of that goal, we provided refreshments for all of the department colloquia and encouraged graduates and undergraduates to attend the colloquia. We held a workshop on "how to 'do' conferences" that included information about all aspects of conference participation from submission through actual presentation. Finally, advice was given on how to make the most of conference attendance including everything from how to reduce costs of attendance to making valuable connections. We offered financial support for students whose research had been accepted for presentation at professional conferences. We encouraged students to present their own research in whatever forums they could, such as the annual Sigma Xi Student Poster Presentation event on our campus.
A further goal was to develop a working relationship with the departmental faculty (and staff) that would establish Psi Chi as a resource within the department and not "just another club." We approached faculty members and asked for advice and suggestions to improve the relationship with the department. We then incorporated many of the suggestions in our planning. We asked faculty members to share their research with our members and to attend functions. In an effort to insure continuity and to maintain interest, we elected a full slate of officers to replace us, provided a timetable of regularly scheduled department and university events that Psi Chi had participated in, and offered assistance in getting a good start on the following year. Despite efforts to provide new officers with strong structure and strategies for efficient organization, a change in officers and new leadership can result in shifts in goals and can increase the potential for drift in level of activity. Nevertheless, it is essential to hand over a chapter in good shape so there is greatest likelihood of success for subsequent leaders and enrichment for chapter members.
I became Psi Chi chapter president at the end of my senior year, being voted in without opposition and without fellow officers. The officers preceding my term had done a creative job of fundraising in order to support student attendance at regional conferences; however, they had not planned adequately for the election process. Membership and chapter visibility were also down. Much of my time was spent planning and organizing chapter priorities for the upcoming year. In order of importance, the following were the goals that I identified: recruitment of officers, increased membership, fundraising, and developing a regular presence in the department. The rest of my discussion will be limited to the methods used to achieve those goals.
In order to achieve my first goal of more officers, I advertised in the department with posters that Psi Chi would be holding officer elections. The meeting was a dismal failure with only one person present, who wasn't even a member. This outcome was very distressing to me as I had little interest in heading a group of people alone. To get things rolling, I found a member who was willing to serve and installed her as vice president. With an additional officer to work with me, our focus temporarily shifted to increasing membership applications in time for fall quarter inductions. We spoke to several classes that were tailored to psychology students who had already become majors or who were in the process of declaring their majors. This tactic was successful as we generated 21 new members that quarter. The induction ceremony also served as an election meeting which led to the election of eight new officers. I believe that "more is better" with officers, so we had some co-officers as well as a webmaster, publicist, and activities coordinator. We were ready to achieve the last two goals as well as to work on additional goals that had been developed in chapter meetings.
Fundraising is absolutely essential to a vital chapter. We were fortunate to have had the previous year's officers focus attention on making money. They had tried a number of projects, one of which I thought was worth continuing, a book sale. Through book collections in the department, we had collected a large inventory of used texts, novels, etc. These were sold at three quarterly sales which were very successful with total revenues exceeding $600. Additionally, Psi Chi merchandise was advertised on a newly established Psi Chi bulletin
board to increase both sales and visibility. Since then, the chapter bank account has grown larger, increasing options for activities and events that require financial support.
The final goal of developing a presence in the department was more difficult to achieve fully, but progress was made. Our department did not have any formal student representation opportunities. To establish our chapter's credibility, we held regularly scheduled meetings; used identifiable postings and announcements; established a bulletin board for Psi Chi's exclusive use; sponsored talks, presentations, and discussions; developed a Web page (www.wwu.edu/~PSICHI/psichi. html); and adopted a highway as a community service project. All of these activities certainly functioned to make the chapter more visible and gave us a presence; however, what remains to be done is to capitalize on our newly established credibility to involve students in the process of departmental decision making (see article on page 19).
Last year was a very successful year for our Psi Chi chapter at Western Washington University. We were able to induct new members, raise funds, launch a Web site, and begin to establish a presence in our department. It is my hope that ailing chapters may be able to use this story as an inspiration that will boost them back to health. Good luck.
Spring 1997 issue of Eye on Psi Chi (Vol. 1, No. 3, pp. 28-30), published by Psi Chi, The National Honor Society in Psychology (Chattanooga, TN). Copyright, 1997, Psi Chi, The National Honor Society in Psychology. All rights reserved.