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Eye on Psi Chi: Spring 2009

Eye on Psi Chi

Spring 2009 | Volume 13 | Number 3


Leadership in Community: Ideas for Strengthening Your Chapter From the 2009 National Leadership Conference

Kenneth A. Weaver, PhD, Emporia State University (KS), Katherine W. Marsland, PhD, Southern Connecticut State University, and Susan Krauss Whitbourne, PhD, University of Massachusetts Amherst

View this issue as a PDF.

One of the sessions at the 2009 National Leadership Conference divided participants into groups of four, representing chapter Executive Councils. All groups generated solutions to three different scenarios of chapters experiencing distress; each group specialized in one of the cases. The cases and solutions are presented along with a conclusion urging Psi Chi officers and advisors to take advantage of the many resources offered through and the National Office.

Following a successful inaugural conference in 2007 (Mathie, 2006, 2008), the second National Leadership Conference (NLC) was held in January in Nashville, TN. The theme of the conference was "Leadership in Community;” consistent with this theme, invited speakers (Drs. Betty Siegel and Alice Eagly) gave keynote addresses on the topic of leadership skills (Purkey & Siegel, 2002; Eagly & Carli, 2007). The majority of the NLC was spent in action-oriented discussion and writing sessions designed not only to build leadership skills but also to give participants the opportunity to develop plans for addressing a set of problems. Three case studies depicting chapters in distress were presented to teams of four participants, working as a chapter’s "Executive Council” to generate and evaluate solutions. Building on the action orientation of the NLC, other sessions included a team-building scavenger hunt at the Country Music Hall of Fame, and a workshop on preparing and formulating action plans in which chapter presidents and advisors devised methods of accomplishing chapter goals. The case studies were developed using a bottom-up approach in which participants were asked, prior to attending the NLC, to list the top three concerns in their chapters. We consolidated those concerns across chapters to create the three cases. The design of the problem-solving sessions at the NLC allowed participants to generate ideas for each of the three cases during the conference, but to become "experts” on one, randomly assigned, case for their group. The cases (which we labeled P, S, and I) and the solutions generated by the participants are presented here. The names of the participants working on each case appear at the end of each case. alt

Case P: Smoothing the Transition to Jump-Start an Idle Chapter

Each year when a new set of officers starts a new term, the chapter takes a long time to start functioning effectively. The new officers do not understand their roles as there is little training that occurs. It is common that the officers become frustrated, and as a result, they are not effective in working together to lead the chapter, and the commitment to the chapter weakens. The chapter advisor claims to be too busy to provide the necessary guidance and mentoring to "fix” the chapter. Communication between outgoing and incoming officers, among officers, between officers and chapter advisor, between officers and members, and among members is poor. Because chapter leadership is not functioning effectively, the activity of the chapter, and its visibility in the department and across the institution, is low. The chapter usually holds only one induction each year of only one to five new members. For last spring’s induction, the new member cards, certificates, and pins were misplaced. The training of new officers, the continuity between outgoing and incoming officers, and the communication within the chapter needs substantial work.

Solution: Focus on Leadership Transition, Involve the Chapter Advisor, and Improve Overall Communication

Leadership transition.Every leadership position including faculty advisor should have a list of responsibilities so chapter leaders understand the expectations of their position. Incorporating these responsibilities into the chapter bylaws ensures stability across changes in officers and advisors. Electing new officers as early as possible extends the overlap between outgoing and incoming officers, thereby providing more opportunities for training the officers-elect. Transferring information to new officers through chapter notebooks works well, but folders on a computer network or a wiki are more easily updated with the additional advantage of providing electronic copies of letters, fundraising forms, and other chapter communications. New and old officers can meet to review responsibilities and answer questions, perhaps during a dinner. Such a meeting also eases transitions and ensures new officers’ effectiveness early in their terms. Having former officers accessible for questions can also provide useful support for the chapter.

Chapter advisor involvement. If the advisor has lost enthusiasm, the officers should approach the department chair to find a new advisor. If the advisor has lost interest because officers have not taken responsibility for running their chapter, a revitalized Executive Council may inspire the advisor again to have an active role in the chapter. If the advisor has become less involved due to a devaluing of the position of Psi Chi advisor in the department, the advisor may consider developing more chapter activities that will enhance the role of advisor. For example, if the advisor brings a well-known speaker to campus, the department faculty may improve their estimation of the chapter’s importance.

If a chapter is in transition between advisors, the officers should meet with the department chair to discuss how to fill this vacancy. Officers might want to interview prospective advisors and review their availability to devote time to Psi Chi. If a chapter has an advisor, adding a coadvisor may provide important support for the advisor. After an advisor has been voted in by the chapter, a formative annual evaluation of the advisor by the membership can provide the advisor with useful information for ongoing professional development; however, evaluate with caution, as chapter advisors are volunteering as part of their service to the department. Chapter leadership—both students and advisor(s)—should meet regularly with the department chair so the chair is aware of the chapter’s goals and needs and is available if the chapter experiences a problem.

As officer-advisor relationships strengthen, the Executive Council may consider creating leadership contracts for officers and advisors that clearly define responsibilities and expectations. These contracts ensure accountability and build a foundation for a model chapter.

Overall communication. Communication is key to member recruitment, participation, chapter health, and visibility. Facebook, Blackboard, chapter web pages, blogs, email, campus newspaper, department newsletter, alumni publications, and flyers are important tools for alerting members, the department, and other constituencies about chapter meetings and activities. Faculty can announce activities in class and encourage students to participate. provides an online forum for officers and members to schedule meetings and other events.

Officers demonstrate good leadership principles and motivate their members by projecting a positive image of the chapter, working with members to develop engaging activities, involving members, skillfully running chapter meetings even when controversial topics are discussed, and giving members opportunities to demonstrate their leadership potential. Students want to be part of a vital organization that makes its members feel valued and important.

Participants in Case P. Tracy Adams, Michelle Alfaro, Casey Anderson, Russell Brandon, Daniel Corts, Sue Dutch, Veronica Geretz, Krista Gray, Shelia Kennison, Maria Lavooy, Melinda Leonard, Steven Lloyd, Chelli Lowe, Jillian O’Rourke, Shana Pitler, Stephen Quesada, Chuck Robertson, David Rozek, Tatiana Rugel, Melinda Schuricht, Marelin Vergara, Jessica Ware, Melissa Warstadt, Deborah Wilson

Case S: Building a Healthy and Vital Chapter

The chapter has struggled for the past three years finding the right mix of several variables to have a strong, healthy chapter. The issues facing the chapter are:

  1. Sparse involvement of members in meetings and events;
  2. Lack of committee structure which results in officers bearing most of the responsibility for doing the work of the chapter;
  3. Difficulty getting members to run for office;
  4. Being unable to recruit new members
  5. Having no funds to pay for activities due to lack of fund-raising
  6. Lack of support by faculty in the department

The chapter officers and advisor are working on a bold 5-year plan with two goals. The first goal is becoming a Psi Chi Model Chapter, and the second goal is applying for a Regional Chapter Award. They hope to achieve these goals by strengthening member involvement and devising fundraising activities.

Solution: Focus on Strategic Planning, Member Recruitment and Participation, Faculty Support, and Fundraising

Strategic Planning. Chapter S has difficulty recruiting new members, cultivating active involvement among current members and faculty, and obtaining funding to support programming. To address these challenges, the chapter leadership and advisor have decided to develop the 5-Year Strategic Plan. Participants agreed that strategic planning was wise and recommended that the chapter use the criteria for the Model and Regional Chapter Awards to guide their planning process so that the chapter would be eligible for a Model Chapter Award in the second year and would be prepared to apply for the Regional Chapter Award in the fourth year. Participants recommended that the chapter use the Chapter Handbook and Officer Handbook to help identify specific roles and responsibilities which will be reflected in the planning process. In addition, the chapter should develop a comprehensive calendar for years 1–5, including monthly goals and deadlines. To address concerns specific to member recruitment and participation, faculty support, and fundraising, participants recommended the following strategies.

Member recruitment and participation. Active membership is the life-blood of a successful chapter. However, this is a problem because in many Psi Chi chapters, members graduate soon after joining. To avoid this problem, the chapter should focus recruitment on sophomores and juniors and even reach out to first-year students who plan to become psychology majors or minors. Chapter leaders could visit classrooms early in the semester to describe Psi Chi and distribute a schedule of meetings and events. In addition, flyers and posters should be posted in highly visible locations. The chapter might also consider emailing information to all psychology majors and minors about the chapter’s eligibility requirements. Alternatively, the faculty advisor might obtain a list of all students who meet the GPA criteria and send those students a more targeted email regarding the benefits of Psi Chi membership. Another successful strategy is to hold an open-house luncheon each semester.

Once members join, the next issue is to provide incentives for them to become active members. A point system for active membership can be instituted in which activities earn members points toward specific benefits (e.g., eligibility for travel funding to conferences, leadership roles, etc.). The contributions of active members can be recognized by awarding certificates of achievement in areas such as fundraising, service, and programming at the end of each semester or at the chapter’s induction ceremony. Providing members with a voice in program planning is a third approach. Toward this end, the chapter should consider surveying members at least once per year regarding convenient meeting times and programming ideas such as speakers and events. Information about obstacles to participation such as class schedules, job responsibilities, and other impediments should also be sought. Sample surveys are available on the Psi Chi website.

Faculty support. The chapter needs to publicize its work throughout the department so faculty begin to perceive the chapter’s activities as enhancing the department as a whole. The chapter advisor should facilitate the chapter’s efforts to educate the faculty about Psi Chi and cultivate their support. A first step would be to create a document, describing Psi Chi and emphasizing the benefits of Psi Chi membership and activities for both students and faculty (a list of these can be found on the Psi Chi website). Officers should meet with faculty individually to discuss ways in which Psi Chi can help them achieve their research and teaching goals such as by providing tutoring services for students in introductory level courses, and funding opportunities for promising undergraduate research assistants. The chapter should request information about Psi Chi be included in the department newsletter or website on a regular basis. The chapter should also identify which faculty are Psi Chi members. Current Psi Chi members should be acknowledged at the chapter’s inductions and faculty who are not members should be invited to join and participate in the chapter’s induction ceremony. Honorary memberships may also be offered to these faculty. The chapter might also consider developing annual awards for research and mentorship, which would be presented at the chapter’s induction ceremony or at an annual faculty appreciation luncheon sponsored by the chapter. Finally, the chapter should publish chapter news in Eye on Psi Chi which can then be made available to the department faculty. Officers should also send chapter activities to the campus publicity department particularly when these involve notable speakers or fundraising events.

Fundraising. Effective fundraising will provide the chapter with the resources necessary to achieve its goals and should be pursued at both institutional and grassroots levels. The chapter should determine whether it is eligible for institutional funding through the student government, student activities fees, or special funds available to academic organizations. This can be accomplished by meeting with administrators in Student Life and Academic Affairs. Such meetings can not only highlight the benefits of Psi Chi to students and to the institution but may lead to opportunities to receive institutional funds if those were not available before.

Grassroots fundraising is also important both to raise money and to raise awareness of the chapter. Fundraising projects can also cultivate active support among faculty and students. NLC participants recommended that the chapter engage in fundraising on an on-going basis, preferably weekly, and hold at least one special fundraising event per semester. Such an approach is likely to be more successful than the high effort/low yield strategies such as bake sales or car washes that many chapters have tried with minimal success. For example, the chapter may consider establishing a coffee and baked goods table selling morning refreshments on a regular basis. A similar strategy would be a weekly "Slice for Psi Chi” pizza sale during lunch hours. Members can use these opportunities to solicit additional donations and distribute information about membership and programming. On-going events enable members to build fundraising events into their weekly schedules. This, in turn, is likely to increase active participation among members.

Having established on-going fundraising events, the chapter might also consider punctuating each semester with a special fundraising event, ideally one that has the potential to become a tradition in the department (Weaver, 2008). For example, participants from one chapter hold a "Pie for Psi Chi” event each spring. Faculty, staff, and students are invited to compete for "best pie” with votes solicited through small monetary contributions in a jar next to each pie based on its appearance. The pie that raises the most money wins, and all participants then can enjoy a pie-eating party. Events such as this can serve multiple purposes beyond fundraising, including a potentially powerful community-building function if they become "traditions” that members of the department look forward to annually.

Participants in Case S

Danela Balentin, Kristin Beals, Alicia Bowman, Amy Bucher, Cindy Bukach, Bonnie Burgette, Chelsea Derlan, Rebecca Frazier, Elizabeth Grandfield, Aaron Haas, Deborah Harris-O’Brien, Jordan Hoffman, Linda Jones, Mark Krause, Nzinga Lawrence, Francesca Lopez, Julie McIntyre, Daniel McNeil, Lucy Messerschmidt, Brad Parise, Mary Petrosko, Amy Whitcomb, Courtney Winterbottom, Jason Young

Copyright 2009 (Vol. 13, Iss. 3) Psi Chi, the International Honor Society in Psychology

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