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Eye on Psi Chi: Winter 2011

Eye on Psi Chi

Winter 2011 | Volume 15 | Issue 2


Collaboration: Why Our Exclusive Honor Society Should Be Inclusive

Merry J. Sleigh, PhD,
Winthrop University (SC)

Michael D. Hall, PhD,
Psi Chi President,
James Madison Univesrity (VA)

View this issue in Digital and PDF formats.

At the Southeastern Psychological Association (SEPA) conference this year, we had the privilege of sharing lunch and conversation with faculty advisors from Psi Chi chapters across the region. One advisor raised the following fundamental question about Psi Chi’s role in relation to other departmental student organizations, such as Psychology Club: "Is it appropriate for Psi Chi to offer joint events with other student groups, or is the chapter’s responsibility to focus on its members?” As the conversation continued, we realized that many of us had considered this issue, collaborated with other groups, and reaped the rewards.

In this article we share with you a few reasons why such collaboration can be very useful from the perspective of faculty advisors who have seen firsthand the effect of its presence and absence. Many of the presented ideas became apparent from our collective conversation at the regional meeting. These are all considered fundamental reasons, and thus are deliberately not presented in a prioritized order. A few suggestions also will be provided regarding how to increase collaboration and inclusiveness within individual Psi Chi chapters.

Reasons to Be Inclusive

To advance the science of psychology. The purpose of Psi Chi is ". . . to encourage, stimulate, and maintain excellence in scholarship of the individual members in all fields, particularly in psychology, and to advance the science of psychology” (Psi Chi, n.d., para, 1; see One method of meeting Psi Chi’s purpose is to help advance psychology by promoting it as a discipline through education. While being a top scholar may represent the first step in conveying a passion for psychology, the next is to become an ambassador and educator in order to continue the transmission of knowledge to others. One relatively straightforward way in which chapters can begin to collectively approach this goal is to create educational events, such as research symposiums, guest speakers, or field trips. Chapters may recognize special dates related to the field, such as Mental Illness Awareness Week (October) or Brain Awareness Week (March), or collaborate with agencies, such as the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) or Teaching of Psychology in Secondary Schools (TOPSS), to sponsor educational sessions. It is helpful to remember that educational activities also can be entertaining. For example, some Psi Chi chapters use Freud’s birthday (May 6) as an opportunity to celebrate advances in the field of psychology (for an extensive list of ideas solicited from active chapters, see Chapters can even initiate effective peer tutoring programs. Not only are such programs in keeping with recent evidence for the educational benefits of student-student teaching, but they appear to benefit knowledge of the subject by the tutor while providing valuable additional resources for faculty instructors. For a summary of these benefits, along with recommendations on how a Psi Chi-based tutoring program could be effectively established, see Brewster (2007).

Another way that chapter members can promote the discipline is to support their individual department’s efforts to advance the science of psychology. Common methods of meeting this responsibility include active attendance by members at department functions, helping to implement departmental programs, and working closely with Psychology Club. Similarly, chapters should stay informed about psychology-related events in the local community or at nearby institutions in order to advertise and support them. For example, Psi Chi and Psi Beta (the National Honor Society in Psychology for Community and Junior Colleges) chapter officers in a particular geographic area can keep one another informed of their events, thereby sharing ideas while expanding participation in those events.

Psi Chi members should strive to educate both the academic and broader public community about the contributions of psychology, and the primary way to do so is to make the information widely available. Thus, chapters should invite as many people as possible to educational events that promote and raise awareness of our field, a task that is facilitated by collaboration among Psi Chi, Psychology Club, the department, local agencies, and nearby institutions.

To provide career information. An important element in advancing the science of psychology is recruiting top minds to the field and offering them a realistic preview of career options. Psychology is a broad field with many subdisciplines. As a result, many psychology majors remain unaware of the range of careers available to them, especially in departments where specialized courses (e.g., school psychology, industrial/organizational psychology, human factors/ergonomics, and health psychology) are not routinely taught. Psi Chi chapters can organize alumni panels, guest speakers, career forums, résumé and graduate school preparation workshops, GRE classes, and career fairs. Such events will serve Psi Chi members, but can simultaneously target students who may have been unaware of their options within psychology, or even those who may not have previously considered a career in psychology.

An ideal way to reach a campus-wide audience is to work closely with other departmental and campus organizations, including Psychology Club, Career Services, and honor societies in related fields. Groups can work together to pinpoint areas of need, identify discipline overlap, locate experts, and advertise events—thus benefiting from a shared knowledge base (and potentially shared costs). For example, students from all areas of study might welcome a session on interview tips or employers’ perceptions of Facebook use. Specific departments could work jointly to highlight careers that cross domains, such as biology and psychology programs hosting a neuroscientist or, alternatively, business and psychology students being brought together to learn about human resource jobs. Both the individual and the field benefit when a bright student finds his/her niche.

To foster an atmosphere of collegiality and respect for diversity. By seeking other groups that share their concerns in order to implement an educational event or service project, Psi Chi chapters effectively model collegiality through collaboration. Possible examples of such projects include working with National Head Start Association that could bring together students in psychology, education, social work, Greek life, and campus ministries. Alternatively, psychology and English departments might sponsor a poetry reading night, inviting participants from local therapeutic support groups to share their original or favorite works. Such uniting activities will help Psi Chi members meet and collaborate with students they may not otherwise encounter on campus and in the process gain a greater appreciation of differing perspectives.

As important as collegiality is, Psi Chi’s purpose goes beyond respectful interaction. Psi Chi also has a mission to recognize and foster the contributions that diversity makes to the science and practice of psychology (Psi Chi, n.d.; see Yet, at least as of the 1997-98 academic year, surveys of Psi Chi chapters indicated an underrepresentation of men and ethnic minorities as members; in fact, authors of this survey research indicated that this underrepresentation of particular groups would need to be addressed in order for Psi Chi to meet its stated mission (Titus & Buxman, 1999). To this end, Psi Chi chapters have an obligation to reach out and connect with students across its campus in order to demonstrate seriousness about including all qualified students in the organization. As a starting point, chapter officers or faculty advisors should ensure that information about Psi Chi membership is reaching all types of students, perhaps even personally inviting qualified applicants from underrepresented populations to join. Chapters also can show their commitment to underrepresented populations through organizing events with a diversity focus (e.g., a seminar on cross-cultural psychology perspectives, students sharing their experience with study-abroad opportunities, or possibly a bulletin board highlighting career achievements of African-American or female psychologists) or fundraising efforts to help establish a scholarship for a minority student in need of support. It’s only when the diversity of the population is reflected in the organization that Psi Chi will achieve the diversity-related aspects of the organization’s mission.

To recruit new Psi Chi members. One of the goals of Psi Chi is to recognize academic excellence by offering membership to top scholars (see The more visible and active a Psi Chi chapter is, the more likely students are to recognize the requirements and benefits of membership. The words "Psi Chi” are meaningless to a naïve listener, other than perhaps being recognized as letters of the Greek alphabet. Extensive surveying of Psi Chi chapters has repeatedly demonstrated that lack of knowledge about Psi Chi is cited by students as one of the two most common reasons for not joining the organization (see Spencer, Reyes, Sheel, & McFarland, 2001; also see Nelson, Domenech Rodríguez, & Yardley, 2006). Chapter advisors have personally seen the effects of this lack of knowledge in instances of students assuming that Psi Chi was "one of those elitist honor societies” that "just represents a stamp on a transcript,” rather than a group working to better prepare students for their chosen profession. Students also have frequently indicated to advisors just after joining Psi Chi that they were unaware of the numerous opportunities (e.g., various awards for research) that came with membership.

As Psi Chi members, we need to distribute information about the organization in order to attract those who qualify. Chapters can request brochures and posters to promote Psi Chi on its campus from the Central Office at Early awareness of Psi Chi may even serve as an incentive for young students to work toward in their studies. The more students know about Psi Chi, the more that honor will be associated with membership. Talking to student organizations, such as Psychology Club, about Psi Chi is critical to guarantee that many of the motivated students who are interested in psychology are well informed about our Society and the benefits of membership.

To identify and develop student leaders. Collaboration can similarly be used to recruit outstanding officers. Psi Chi chapters are student-led, and thus, much of the success of the chapter depends on the effectiveness of its student officers. Leaders are so critical to Psi Chi that one of its missions is to promote ethical and socially responsible leaders (Psi Chi, n.d.; see Toward this end, the organization has sponsored a leadership conference and awards, and continues to support/fund collaborative efforts with Psi Beta. In keeping with this mission, chapters should identify and develop student leaders as early as possible.

Psychology Club, because of its more inclusive membership policies, is an excellent recruitment opportunity and training ground for young leaders who may not yet qualify for Psi Chi membership. (Often it is only one or two tenths of a point in a student’s GPA, or not enough accumulated credits in psychology courses, that represents the difference between qualifying, and not qualifying, for Psi Chi). Collaboration allows officers from both groups to work alongside one another, scaffolding one another’s performance, as well as nurturing each other’s individual strengths. In so doing, chapters oft en are using Psychology Club to train future Psi Chi officers— officers that begin their tenure with greater leadership skills and awareness of chapter issues than would have been possible in the absence of cross-group collaboration.

Similar opportunities exist through integrating some Psi Chi chapter activities with local chapters for Psi Beta. Psi Beta officers represent valuable sources of potential future leadership for Psi Chi. Yet, upon transferring to a new institution, it is often a semester or more before these leaders could even apply for membership in a Psi Chi chapter. Inclusiveness creates an opportunity for such individuals to immediately get involved and actively support Psi Chi initiatives (a benefit to these future members), and given their earlier leadership experience, to strengthen the work of the chapter as a result. This issue is deemed important enough that the leadership of both organizations recently met to discuss ways in which they could most effectively collaborate, with an emphasis on fostering the cooperative efforts of local Psi Chi and Psi Beta chapters.

To encourage faculty involvement. Each Psi Chi chapter exists under the guidance of at least one faculty advisor. Although faculty advisors are critical to the success of the chapter, these advisors cannot meet the needs of every Psi Chi member. For example, like all students, Psi Chi members can benefit from individual mentorship, which means they need to interact with a variety of faculty members to forge those special connections. At a minimum, crossgroup collaboration will get the faculty advisors of both groups involved; optimally, the joining of diverse campus elements will stimulate interest from more diverse faculty. Once faculty have a positive experience, it is likely that they will continue their participation and support. These faculty members then become available to Psi Chi members and bring their own ideas to the planning table. Faculty involvement also sends a clear message to all psychology students—that Psi Chi and its members are valued by the department. This message represents a strong recruitment tool for future members, as well as a show of respect for current members.

To maximize service outreach and learning. Psi Chi chapters are encouraged to serve their members as well as the community at large. In fact, chapter participation in a service project is a requirement for the Model Chapter Award ( Cross-group collaboration enhances service in several ways. First, it is generally the case that the more people who participate, the more service can be accomplished. Joining forces with other groups may be an especially good way for small chapters with few members to make a big impact. Furthermore, more participants means more opportunities for members to network, make friends, and encounter new experiences. Psi Chi service also can benefit from other groups’ ideas. Many chapters desire to serve their community, but they are not sure where particular needs may lie or how to get started. Other campus groups may be able to incorporate a chapter into an existing outreach, identify areas of unmet needs, or share wisdom gained through experience.

How Can Chapters Be Inclusive?

There are two primary ways that Psi Chi chapters can become more inclusive. First, Psi Chi members should willingly look for situations in which they can support the work of others. Psi Chi members are often involved in many activities across campus. Leaders may want to spend time in chapter meetings asking members about their other affiliations and brainstorm about possible collaborative opportunities. If the chapter identifies an area for collaboration, these members often become excellent liaisons between groups, as well as increasing their leadership in Psi Chi. Allowing members to merge their personal interests with those of the honor society is a simple way for Psi Chi to benefit its members while simultaneously giving members the chance to serve their society.

The second way that Psi Chi can become more inclusive is to actively cultivate nonmember participation. As emphasized in this article, wide participation in Psi Chi events has the potential to benefit the chapter, members, department, campus, and community. After all, when useful scientific information is disseminated, our collective knowledge is advanced.

It is important to note that for collaboration to become a long-term pattern for any given chapter, it needs to be reinforced. Psi Chi chapters should willingly share credit, identifying and expressing appreciation to their partners whenever possible. For example, Psi Chi can use departmental newsletters, e-mail listservs, bulletin boards, Facebook groups, the school newspaper, and even the Eye on Psi Chi to showcase collaborative events. A grateful and generous attitude will hopefully encourage continued interaction between Psi Chi and a variety of other campus and local groups. Further reinforcement of collaborative efforts within the chapter could potentially be accomplished by doing something as simple as bestowing appropriate titles on members who serve in ad hoc leadership positions during collaboration with other groups, such as "Service Learning Team Leader” or "Psi Chi/ Residence Hall Liaison.”

Of course, there are times when it is not only appropriate, but necessary for Psi Chi members to gather as a group to specifically focus on chapter business. Examples of such times include voting through the Central Office, electing new officers, and planning the induction ceremony. We want to celebrate the achievements of our members, encouraging group identification and cohesion. At the same time, Psi Chi should avoid an elitist mentality that compromises its mission and alienates people that we work alongside and serve. The bottom line is that Psi Chi members should take advantage of the many privileges and benefits of membership, including frequent opportunities to collaborate with, support, encourage, and learn from others.


Brewster, J. (2007, Fall). Peer tutoring: A professional and service opportunity. Eye on Psi Chi, 12(1), 30.

Nelson, J. K., Domenech Rodríguez, M. & Yardley, J. (2006, Winter). An investigation of Psi Chi membership in Rocky Mountain Region chapters: Reasons for joining and perceptions of membership benefits. Eye on Psi Chi, 10(2), 40–41, 49–51. Retrieved from

Psi Chi (n.d.). Purpose & mission statements. Retrieved from

Spencer, T. D., Reyes, C. J., Sheel, L., & McFarland, T. (2001). Why don’t all eligible psychology students join Psi Chi? Psi Chi Journal of Undergraduate Research, 6(1), 37.

Titus, J. B., & Buxman, N. J. (1999). Is Psi Chi meeting its mission statement? Eye on Psi Chi, 3(3), 16–18. Retrieved from

Merry Sleigh received her PhD in developmental psychology from Virginia Tech in 1996. She first served as faculty advisor to Psi Chi at George Mason University (DC), where she received the Regional Faculty Advisor Award in 2003. Dr. Sleigh currently teaches at Winthrop University where she received the Psi Chi Regional Faculty Advisor Award in 2010. She serves as a reviewer for the Psi Chi Journal of Undergraduate Research and is actively involved in promoting opportunities for undergraduate research

Michael Hall earned his PhD in experimental psychology from Binghamton University, SUNY, and is currently an associate professor at James Madison University (JMU). Professor Hall is a former Western Regional Vice-President for Psi Chi. During that service, he received the 2002 Regional Faculty Advisor Award for his work with the University of Nevada Las Vegas chapter. In addition, he received the university’s highest teaching distinction. He currently serves as Society President, and as a proud faculty advisor of the JMU chapter.

Copyright 2011 (Volume 15, Issue 2) Psi Chi, the International Honor Society in Psychology

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