Reaching and Retaining Student Technology Club Members

During my venture back into education, I have made it a mission to try and stimulate student interest in professional and technology clubs on campus. One of those clubs is AITP (Association of Information Technology Professionals). I wrote this article for the AITP National website last semester.

Why do student AITP chapters have such a difficult time being viable?   I have observed several factors that contribute to disappointing performance.  Turnover is the first obvious issue that comes to mind. Apathy and negativity from students and faculty are two sentiments that choke a struggling chapter into submission. Lack of support from a professional chapter reduces interest in the student chapter’s value.

So how does a student officer or faculty advisor address these issues?

Turnover is a problem because motivated student members have the audacity to graduate after a few years of participation and leave.  If the graduates stay within the local community, there is the likelihood they will have an interest in perpetuating the legacy of the student organization.  A professional chapter with strong ties to a student organization will encourage graduating students to continue their affiliation with the professional organization.

Apathy and negativity only perpetuate the failing interest in a student technology organization.  University faculty membership in a technology organization helps them maintain a connection with what skills and knowledge the business community is seeking.  Faculty members networking with business professionals also enhance their “real world” experiences which can translate into educational analogies for their classrooms and fodder for their publication requirements.

It is in the best interest of the local business community to have access to a continuous stream of graduates with new technology skills to employ and grow their enterprises.  Encouragement from business owners for participation in a professional technology organization benefits them by helping them stay ahead of the competition through the use of new technologies.  Professional technology organizations also have a stronger voice in recommendations to university’s technology curriculum, especially when university faculties are part of the professional membership.

With all these things working against them, what is the likelihood that these contributing factors can come together to form the nucleus of a student organization that can thrive in a university environment?

One important ingredient is dynamic leadership.  A chapter president who lacks commitment can kill any momentum previous years have accumulated.  Faculty advisors who fail to glisten with enthusiasm for technology may not only foreshadow doom for the student organization but may dim the vibrancy of the entire university degree program.  Business organizations without a resource for new technology professionals may see hiring costs escalate and profits reduced by intense competition from those who have embraced these technologies.

Last year, it was very frustrating to hear the responses received from our last membership drive.

“I just don’t have time for it.”

“I don’t see any value in it.”

“I’m too busy.”

Time and value, the demands of surviving a semester of homework, distractions by other activities, lack of discipline, and poor vision of life after college, all of these seem to describe the typical college student. Can these challenges be overcome by a proactive chapter president and an enthusiastic, willing group of officers? Will the credo “if you build it and they will come” prove true?  Can a student chapter be more organized?  Can students learn to make more effective use of their time?  Can officers be better at setting and following-through on goals?  Can the chapter officers be better at communicating the value of membership?  All of these skills will serve the student well in their professional careers.  Yet most students still want to know, how membership can lead to more fun, better grades and more purposeful “down time”?

As a leader, you can:

  • Tell them about the benefit of networking and contacts
  • Speak to them about the value of membership experiences
  • Inform them of the opportunities to create a successful future
  • Bring in interesting speakers and employers seeking technology talent
  • Organize interesting field trips to expand the potential career paths
  • Sponsor social events to support relationship-building

…but without the fun, as one of my favorite professor’s says “the floggings will continue until moral improves.”

One way to have more fun is to be better organized.  Get the details of maintaining the chapter “proceduralized” so that the process of having fun can begin immediately.  I have tried, in my time as an AITP Student Chapter officer, to leave a trail of breadcrumbs, an easy to follow recipe.  It is not enough for a student officer to know a list of things that must be done as a matter of procedure.  We are taught that goals are SMART (Specific, Measurable, Agreed Upon, Realistic and Time-Framed).  Therefore, each chapter officer must know the moment they accept the role of leadership the list of tasks they are responsible for when they are due and how to do them.  Perhaps it is important to distinguish the differences between a participant and a leader.  Isn’t reading the Student Chapter Handbook sufficient?

…obviously, NOT.

Last summer as Secretary of our chapter and the driving force behind trying to pull our student chapter out of a death-spiral-nose-dive, I asked that officers and faculty meet a few times during the summer months to plan for the fall activities.  It was a modest success.  We had several excellent program speakers for both the fall and spring, and a new kindled interest in our chapter that I hope will engage student membership acceleration.  Unless we are prepared for the fall, our chances of attracting new members and promoting technology as a career choice are significantly hindered.  Last summer officers and faculty met face-to-face.  This summer, as chapter President, I am trying an experiment for us to conduct virtual officer meetings using our schools Blackboard service.

Most universities require student organizations to register with a certain school department in order to be recognized. Our university also conducts a RSO (Registered Student Organizations) Fair every fall.  This is a great opportunity for the AITP chapter to reach out to in-coming students about the values and benefits and fun of membership (remember, you are competing with those cavalier Greek fraternities, at least be more interesting than the chess club).

The student chapter should sponsor fun social events.  Social events can welcome memberships from other degree programs that have an interest in technology.  This fall our chapter will have a Monopoly Game Night to coincide with our RSO Fair.  Other social events will occur each month.

In closing, to other current and future student chapter officers I say, leave a legacy so the next set of officers doesn’t have to re-invent the wheel.  Don’t expect the career of your dreams to come and get you… Go Get It.  It can start with developing professional skills required in creating and/or continuing a robust, effective student AITP chapter.

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