Editor’s Note: This post was written and submitted by 2016-17 International President Andrew Porter.
I recently had a conversation with Beonckia McManus, a member of the Alpha Nu Omega Chapter at Harrisburg Area Community College in Pennsylvania. She wanted to improve member involvement in her chapter.
Beonckia and I brainstormed a little, and I gave her advice based on my experiences as a member, chapter officer and international officer, but I recognized that any advice I gave would be limited to only what I know.
This is a common concern, and one that I’ve heard before. At every leadership position in Phi Theta Kappa, the same overarching goal exists: improve the overall experience for Phi Theta Kappans. One of the best ways to reach this goal is to focus on improving membership engagement in local chapters.
Each chapter is unique — they each have different ways of doing things, and they each offer different opportunities. As members with first-hand experience, we all bring something to the discussion on how best to achieve greater member involvement. I’m going to share some ideas on this, but first I think we need to talk about why member participation even matters.
Actually, it doesn’t just “matter.” I’d argue that member participation is critical to the success of Phi Theta Kappa and, specifically, to each and every one of us.
I’ll use the analogy that our President and CEO Dr. Lynn Tincher-Ladner uses of comparing Phi Theta Kappa to a gym membership — you get out of it what you put into it. As members, we decide how much we want to put into our membership and therefore how much we will get out of it. As student leaders in Phi Theta Kappa, we have a responsibility to make known the many opportunities Phi Theta Kappa has to offer as well as to encourage members to take part.
Since my term in office began, I’ve had many conversations with fellow members about issues they face in their chapters or regions. When addressing the issues faced by members, I give the advice I’ve gleaned from my experience, but I know that there is much that I do not know (nod to Socrates).
The way I see it, there are similar struggles — like member participation — each chapter faces; however, chapter leaders often have to reinvent the wheel individually and are not able to tap into the collective knowledge we share in Phi Theta Kappa. I hope this article serves as a resource of ideas from the community, and I hope you’ll reference it when you’re trying to solve problems.
My personal take on solving this problem stems from three critical facets of leadership: communication, motivation and determination. First and foremost, communication must be effectively utilized so that members are aware of opportunities. Second, leaders must be able to motivate members to take part in these opportunities.
Side note: leaders are not only the people who have titles; leaders are people who bring change into effect. Leaders can motivate other members by making known the rewarding aspects of participation, e.g. learning a skill, giving back to the community, or simply having a fun and engaging time with friends.
Third, and definitely most importantly for lasting effect, members must have long-term determination for them to get the most out of these opportunities. Just as with a gym membership, the opportunities Phi Theta Kappa offers benefit us most when we repeatedly apply ourselves in whatever aspect we choose.
Now, back to Beonckia’s challenge. I knew I couldn’t help her alone, so I posted this question to Facebook and asked for feedback from our community. Here are some of the great responses I received.
Andrew Matthew Edwards, from the New York Region, suggested we “allow members to be involved in the College Project/Honors in Action Project as much as possible.” Andrew also made excellent points about encouraging members to be involved in induction ceremonies, and to get them involved with your community by giving back through service.
To add to this, by making events fun, members will want to attend. Karma Pfeiffer of the Florida Region and Brenda Morris of the Texas Region touched on something essential for retaining participation by emphasizing the importance of fun.
Keione Mellon of the Mississippi/Louisiana Region, Brenda Morris of the Texas Region, and Michael Kerns of the Middle States Region all spoke to the importance of reaching out to incoming freshman and encouraging them to take an active role in their chapter. Reaching out to incoming students can be life changing for them and may find people who can invest in their chapter and lead.
Wesley Kiper, from the Kentucky Region, supported “setting goals for participation and reaching out to all members to see what they can do, even if it is small.” I agree with Wesley.
Sheena McPeek, from the Colorado/Wyoming Region, brought up an excellent point when she spoke about providing “alumni resources and (allowing) alumni to assist with the chapter and be role models.”
Brittany Shoemaker, from the Texas Region, spoke about increasing member involvement through awareness and brought up the crucial point of sharing our personal stories and what Phi Theta Kappa means to us.
Dr. Molly Clark Harris, also from the Texas Region, reminded us to concentrate always on making the events both meaningful and full of purpose.
Aynesley Arthur, from the Middle States Region, listed some great ideas including getting involved with other campus clubs and organizations and focusing on communication as the key to success. Aynesley also described the importance of simply making it fun by having times where the whole purpose is to enjoy each other’s company. Find out what your chapter members are interested in, and then move forward to engage those interests.
Don Koch, from the Middle States Region, added, “We need employers to stress the importance to their organizations how important student involvement in an honor society is.” Don also spoke to the importance of branding Phi Theta Kappa: “As technology has changed the way students interact with each other, we as an honor society may have to adapt to the changes in how the students see the value of being involved in our honor society.”
There are a lot of great ideas here. Thank you to those who spoke up to help a fellow member. I’d like to encourage us to do this more often. Being a mentor (whether formally or informally) will help our Society grow quantitatively and qualitatively. I hope you join me in the challenge to have a greater impact on our Society, our fellow members, and our world.
Proud member of Phi Theta Kappa