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The Chapter Lifecycle: A Leadership Primer for New Officers

By Jason Hamman

For many students the months of May and June signal the end of a long school year, but for newly elected Student Chapter Officers it is just the beginning. The tasks ahead of them may feel daunting at first, but with supportive Chapter Members and a few tips, new officers will find the transition to be relatively easy.

It would be convenient if each term in office spanned only a single school year but, in reality, most officers are elected shortly after the new (calendar) year. As a result, no single set of officers has true "ownership" over each school year but instead shares it. This transition can create problems for the chapter as new officers must learn how to get things accomplished within their university and the Society structure. Fortunately, resourceful students have discovered a way to avoid these inconsistent transitions in leadership while also training incoming officers.

Increasingly, incumbent officers remain active in Chapter governance beyond the end of their terms to mentor the incoming officers. This is an excellent way to familiarize new officers with the ins and outs of running meetings, organizing events, and planning for the future (particularly if the Chapter is composed mainly of undergraduate students).

Similar to the business world, there are some easy tips that will make this transition easier:

  1. Maintain a shared Chapter Officer e-mail address
  2. Keep Chapter records and files stored in a central location
  3. Be organized; if you can't find it, neither can anyone else

Following these three suggestions will help to create a "virtual workspace" where past e-mail communiqué and vital files can be easily found and accessed. This prevents last year's financial records or valuable leads on new speakers and sponsors from being lost.

Additionally, it helps to schedule a meeting with all outgoing officers to discuss what they thought worked well during the year and what could be improved. Their feedback will help shape your ideas about how to run the Chapter and what activities may be the most successful in the new school year.

End of the School Year
The end of the school year is arguably the most hectic. Exams are looming and, to make matters worse, you will probably be moving in the next month or two-you just don't know where yet.

If you or other chapter members are in this situation: STOP; take a breath, and rather than checking your email for the eighth time today, make a list of things you would like the Chapter to accomplish in the next 6 months (if you're going to procrastinate you may as well do something productive). Commit to preparing for the two most important goals during the summer; keep in contact with the other officers, and divide planning responsibilities.

Starting the new school year with a membership drive and one or two well-planned events is a great way to encourage new students to join and old members to become more active. Most schools have a campus or department-wide "club day" or similar event to introduce new students to the campus. SPIE has promotional materials available for these events, including posters, membership brochures, and downloadable videos. (These items are free but can take up to 4-6 weeks to arrive; send material requests to students@SPIE.org).

Some good beginning of the year activities include:

  • Membership drives
  • Informal lectures with a popular department professor
  • A Student lecture series
  • Tours of optics industry facilities

Visit the Chapter Management page for even more event ideas and to view past Chapter Reports.

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