Cover Story: Extra Credit
Invest in your Student chapter
Being a Student NEA member provides countless rewards—professional development, the opportunity to attend national conferences, and access to the talents and knowledge of 3.2 million other educators.
Being actively involved in a campus chapter takes serious dedication!
Balancing your coursework and field experiences with being a mover and shaker in your chapter isn’t easy, especially when it seems like everyone else is “too busy” to lend a hand.
Working to create a healthy chapter—whether your current membership is 8 or 800—means getting people to attend meetings and community service events, raising enough money to fund your activities, and recruiting new members to keep your chapter growing.
Fortunately, your fellow Student members can help you navigate these dilemmas by sharing their secrets for keeping your chapter on track.
Can We Talk?
“The key to having a thriving chapter is to have good communication,” says Cynthia Gutierrez, president of the Student chapter at California State University, Fullerton (pictured, at left).
No one can run the show alone. So successful chapter presidents like Gutierrez and the University of Florida ’s Erica Walker meet regularly with their fellow officers to stay up-to-date on chapter business and to collaborate on upcoming events.
“We communicate a lot,” says Walker, a master’s student at UF. “We use e-mail. We eat dinner together. I think that is key to any organization’s success. If we weren’t so close, I don’t know if everything would get done.”
In addition to talking regularly, the UF officers maintain notebooks full of chapter information, including membership forms, key campus and community contacts, and specific details related to their individual offices. This keeps the group organized, Walker adds, and provides a tangible record officers can pass along to their successors.
At Kennesaw State University in Georgia, chapter officers reconnect each year at an all-day planning retreat in August before the new school year officially begins, says Michael Sawyer, chapter president.
During the retreat, the officer team plans the chapter’s yearly events and meets with representatives from the group’s community partners.
The retreat also provides a time when new officers can ask questions and old officers can share important information about their positions. Frequent communication between the officers and the group’s faculty adviser also keeps the chapter strong, Sawyer adds.
But officers need to communicate regularly with their general membership as well, says Gutierrez. Members “need to be informed of what is going on [in the chapter] and hopefully then they will take the initiative and get involved more,” she says. “Have a one-on-one conversation with them. Get to know them and most likely they will participate.”
Sawyer at KSU admits keeping members informed can be challenging. With nearly 900 members in his chapter, talking with everyone individually isn’t possible. So Sawyer relies on a group e-mail list and chapter Web site provided by KSU.
At the University of Florida, the Student chapter supplements its Web site with a group listserv created through Yahoo, which allows multiple officers to access and manage the group’s free e-mail account, Walker says.
“We get a lot of e-mails from people who find us through our Web site,” she says.
But if you want even more online resources, then Student members suggest using Facebook, an online community for college students.
Through the Facebook site, students can create discussion rooms for their chapters, e-mail members, send reminders about meetings and events, post pictures and information, and even connect with other university students registered with the service. (The NEA Student Program also maintains a community group on Facebook. To join, visit www.facebook.com.)
“The Internet is a great tool,” says Laura Lott, a Facebook user and chapter president at the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa. “It’s been great for getting everybody to hear about us. I feel like I have been able to talk to people through the Internet site that I wouldn’t have been able to otherwise.”
Get the Word Out
But while e-mail and the Internet can help you connect with current and potential members, student leaders agree you can’t underestimate the power of word of mouth.
“You kind of have to be aggressive to get your name out there,” says Lott, an aspiring language arts teacher. “I can’t even count how many organizations are on campus and we’re not just recruiting for our organization. We’re recruiting for our field. We need more educators. ”
In addition to sending e-mails, advertising in the campus newspaper, and posting flyers around campus, Lott says she talks to everyone about joining the Student Alabama Education Association. “We just talk it up as much as possible,” she says.
Campus organization fairs provide another great opportunity to introduce your chapter to your campus and connect with potential members. Walker ’s chapter at the University of Florida, for instance, recruited 70 new members at her school’s fair last year. Meanwhile, Lott uses her campus fair to target underclassmen.
“Most of the people who come to that are freshmen,” Lott says. “A lot of freshmen said they didn’t even know we existed, so it got the word out. Now when they get into their education classes, they will know we are here.”
Involving underclassmen members is crucial to sustaining your chapter, says Walker. The chapter at the University of Florida not only recruits underclassmen, but also lets them serve as officers. Many underclassmen remain officers as juniors and seniors too, so the chapter rarely has an entirely new board, she adds.
“We’re really into getting those people involved and keeping them involved because . . . they will be the ones to take my position next year,” Walker says.
Sophomore Kali Davis, treasurer at UF, agrees. “Because I’m one of the younger ones and I am involved, I could be here for a full two years and keep things going, rather than have a new person come in.
“I think that is how a lot of chapters lose their momentum, when you don’t have someone to keep things going.”
In fact, underclassmen members can become a chapter’s greatest asset because they usually have more time to devote to events and activities than upperclassmen, says Shannon Hollembeak, chapter president at Old Dominion University in Virginia. So each summer, the ODU chapter meets with incoming students during the university’s freshmen orientation.
“We really encourage underclassmen to join and participate in SVEA [the Student Virginia Education Association],” Hollembeak says. “Often times, they are the most tenacious and dedicated because they don’t have the responsibilities of student teaching and practicum.”
Friends in High Places
Building a strong relationship between your chapter and your department or college of education will help you connect with prospective members and increase your chapter’s visibility on campus. It certainly worked at ODU, says Hollembeak.
Students admitted to ODU’s Darden College of Education receive an acceptance letter that includes information about SVEA, says Hollembeak. Likewise, the university lets Hollembeak’s chapter talk with education majors during their student teacher orientation. Meanwhile, professors distribute chapter information to their students and even invite SVEA members to speak with their classes.
In return, ODU’s Student chapter keeps members updated on information the college needs to disseminate, such as changes in graduation requirements or study abroad opportunities, Hollembeak says.
At the University of Florida, Student members worked with their college of education to obtain names and contact information for newly accepted education students, who the group then invited to a chapter meet-and-greet event, says Walker. The college of education also distributes a weekly e-mail update to all students and lets the Student chapter include important announcements, she adds.
Connecting with other student groups on campus and with community organizations also raises your chapter profile and can even provide extra resources and manpower for events, says Sawyer at KSU.
“It’s a networking thing,” he says. “You know more people around campus who can help you in the long run.”
At KSU, the Student chapter has partnered with campus chapters of Phi Delta Kappa and the National Association of Multicultural Education, for instance, to co-sponsor fundraisers and professional development events.
The group also collaborates with the local NEA teachers’ affiliate, the Cobb County Association of Educators, to present workshops for preservice teachers. Additionally, the Student chapter organizes the annual Diversity Exchange Project with Clark Atlanta University, a historically Black college in Georgia. Through the project, education students from both universities attend classes and observe campus life at the other institution, and then meet to discuss their experiences and the state of teacher education.
“Kennesaw is a very collaborative environment and places a high value on collaborative expertise, particularly in the college of education,” says Michael Ross, assistant professor of middle grades education and adviser to KSU’s Student chapter. “The more collaborative we are, the better it is for us and the better our funding is and the better we are looked upon by the university as a whole.”
At Aurora University-George Williams College in Wisconsin, which serves primarily nontraditional graduate students, the Student NEA chapter currently is the only student organization on campus, says Jenny Lathrop, chapter president. So the chapter has allowed students from other course programs, such as the college’s recreation administration program, to join.
“Students who are interested in working with kids in other ways have expressed interest in joining,” says Lathrop. “Maybe someday they will have their own organization, but for now we’re the only one, so it’s something they can be involved in.”
Student chapters also should partner with local businesses, which can provide even more resources for your chapter, including supplies for your community outreach events, support for fundraisers, and free food for meetings.
“A lot of organizations will find themselves short on money, and there are always ways to raise funds,” says Walker. “Don’t be afraid to go out and beg. That has helped us with a lot of fundraisers.”
Walker ’s chapter connected with local restaurants for food donations and even received free supplies from Lowe’s for workshops. Members also volunteer as baggers at the local grocery store, which allows them to accept tips and donations from customers.
Give ‘Em What They Want
Now that you’ve recruited some members, connected with some partners, and put your chapter on the campus map, how do you stay there? Simple—find out what your members need and give it to them.
“If you want to improve meeting attendance, don’t have meetings, have events,” says Chas Main, state Student organizer for Kentucky.
From 2003 to 2006, Kentucky increased its Student membership by more than 60 percent, more than any other state during that time. How did it happen? To start, all Kentucky colleges require prospective teachers to document some form of professional development to receive their certification, Main says.
So the Kentucky Education Association (KEA) worked with its Student leaders to develop a series of workshops on topics such as building parent-teacher partnerships, surviving student teaching, and setting up a classroom, which local chapters could then offer on their own campuses.
Each student who completed a workshop received a certificate she could add to her portfolio, but students had to join KEA to attend the sessions, so the events also acted as a recruitment tool, Main adds.
“Look around your campus and ask yourself, ‘What do all of my fellow students need that they aren’t getting anywhere else, and how can we offer that?’” says Main. “If you give people something they really need, something they really want, you’ve proven yourself to them and they will reward you with their membership and loyalty.”
The Student chapter at CSU Fullerton recently organized its own one-day professional development conference and nearly 250 people attended, says Gutierrez. The chapter opened the event to the entire campus, but offered a discounted registration fee to members, she says. The chapter also sponsors two scholarships, available to members exclusively.
“A member will only participate in the chapter’s events if he or she benefits from them and feels welcome to be there,” says Gutierrez.
Businesses such as Crayola also sponsor workshops for aspiring teachers, says Walker, who invited Crayola representatives to the UF campus last year for an event. The company supplied free lesson plans, samples of Crayola products, and even demonstrated how teachers could incorporate the tools into their classes, she says. The chapter did have to purchase a set of related workbooks, which were costly, Walker adds, but high attendance at the event offset the expense.
“We’re definitely looking forward to doing that one again,” she says.
Student chapters can contact their local teachers’ Association, state Association, and even NEA headquarters to find members and staff to speak to their chapters as well. Students can also contact neighboring school districts and invite the school superintendent, principals, or other administrators to meet with their members.
“We really try to make each meeting worth their time, because when you are a college student you’re either working or doing schoolwork,” says Lott in Alabama.
No matter how appealing an event may seem to chapter leaders, they still need to consider the time constraints and personal needs of their members when scheduling an activity.
For instance, at the University of Alabama meetings alternate between Monday and Thursday nights to accommodate class schedules. ODU’s chapter, meanwhile, schedules its meetings and events during the college’s activity hour, a time when classes don’t meet. And the Student chapter at AU-GWC in Wisconsin provides childcare during meetings so members with young children still can participate.
Finally, make sure you reward your members for their participation to encourage them to remain active.
At AU-GWC, students receive certificates for their portfolios for the workshops they attend. At ODU, members receive a stamp in their “SVEA Passport” every time they support or attend a chapter event. Students who accumulate the most stamps can attend the state Student conference, says Hollembeak. Members also can redeem stamps for T-shirts and other merchandise.
And when all else fails, remember that a free meal always attracts a crowd.
“I would say the number one way to make people come to anything is to give (them) food and some kind of tangible item they can take home,” says Walker.
Looking to get a new Student chapter up and running on your campus? Here are our top tips for getting started.
Find other students who share your interest. Talk to classmates and friends and work as a group to put your chapter together. This core group of students later can become your officer team.
Find a faculty adviser. Talk to your professors and find one who shares your passion for teaching and for creating a professional organization on your campus.
Get support. Talk to the dean of your college of education, your student government association, and other student leaders about the steps necessary to start a new campus organization.
Contact your state Student organizer. Find out how your chapter can become a Student affiliate of your state Association. If possible, have your state organizer or other Association representative meet with you, your adviser, and student team to plan your chapter’s next steps and develop a constitution.
Plan your first meeting. Select a time, date, and topic that will attract the largest crowd, then publicize your meeting extensively. Post flyers around campus. Advertise in the college newspaper. Ask professors to distribute flyers or announce your meeting in class.
Encourage classmates and friends to attend. Follow up with students who attend the meeting. Talk to them about the benefits of joining your chapter and find out how the organization can help them. Continue to promote your chapter to other students as well.
Plan future chapter activities. Set membership goals and plan a membership drive. Identify possible programs and meeting dates and develop a budget. Keep your goals realistic and have fun with your new chapter.
Work with your department or college of education to obtain contact information for all education majors, then invite those students to your meetings.
Promote your chapter at your college’s freshmen and new student orientation events.
Participate in your campus organization fair and talk with students about the benefits of joining your chapter.
Set up a table in the student union with information about the NEA Student Program.
Ask to speak about your chapter’s upcoming events in your classes. See if your professors will offer extra credit to students who attend.
Reach out to students with other majors who may not have their own professional organizations.
Everyone’s busy, but you can help sustain your student chapter in ways big and small.
Speak up. Let your leaders know what you need and offer your ideas for improving how your chapter does its work. Answer surveys, respond to e-mails, and speak to the issues that matter to you.
Show up. Your attendance at chapter meetings and events keeps them more interesting and creates opportunities for you to meet new people in your field.
Read up. Be aware of what’s going on in the field and how local, state, and national politics are affecting public education. You’ll feel more prepared to talk to your colleagues and ask the right questions when you’re well-informed.
Talk it up. For all our high-tech strategies, word of mouth may still be the best publicity. Bring a friend to your next meeting. Let them know about the benefits of student membership. Help spread the word about your chapter’s successes.
Back it up. Be willing to pitch in when help is needed on projects. Are stuffing envelopes and getting T-shirts printed valuable contributions to the cause? You better believe it!