SPS 101: (Re) Starting Your SPS Chapter

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SPS 101: (Re) Starting Your SPS Chapter


Kayla Stephens, Assistant Director, SPS and Mikayla Cleaver, Programs Coordinator, SPS

Since the spring of 2020, the dynamic of many SPS chapters has changed—some chapters are trying to rebuild the community they once had, while others don’t have an active chapter at all anymore. As physics students reconvene on campus this fall, it’s time to connect with SPS Headquarters, find that new normal, and (re) establish your physics and astronomy club. Whether you’re looking to revitalize your SPS chapter or create one, here are some steps to guide you in the right direction. It’s time to get involved, be creative, and (re) start something amazing!

Step 1: Find out if you have an SPS chapter—if you don’t, charter one!

If you have a chapter, it’s time to get involved, recruit members, and plan some engaging events! If you don’t know whether you have an official SPS chapter, reach out to SPS Headquarters at sps [at] aip.org and your physics department. You may have an official chapter that has gone quiet. In that case, take on a leadership role and revive it by following the steps below. If you don’t have an official chapter, you can charter one this semester. Visit spsnational.org/about/governance/chapters/starting-new-chapter for information on how to submit a petition and create chapter bylaws.

Step 2: Recruit Members

A tried-and-true way to garner interest in your chapter is to sign up for your school’s activity or club fair. This is also a great way to engage students who may not be physics or astronomy majors! Other ways to grow interest in SPS include holding tutoring events, movie nights, or pizza parties in your physics and astronomy student lounge, doing cool science demos on campus, and visiting intro physics and astronomy classes to meet first-year students. Be sure to add everyone’s email address to your club’s listserv, and keep people up to date on chapter meetings and events throughout the semester!

Step 3: Connect with Your AZC, ZC, and Zone

SPS chapters are divided into 18 geographic regions, also known as zones. To make the most of SPS, know which zone your chapter resides in and connect with your zone representatives. Each zone has an elected student associate zone councilor (AZC) and faculty member zone councilor (ZC) on the SPS National Council. They represent the voice of physics and astronomy students, faculty, and departments in your zone. They also serve as a resource for you regarding SPS scholarships, awards, internship opportunities and deadlines, and much more. Find your zone at spsnational.org/about/governance/zones, and learn who your AZC and ZC reps are at spsnational.org/about/governance/national-council—invite them to speak at a chapter meeting or event!

Each zone traditionally holds one or two annual meetings. Make plans now to attend yours! These meetings bring together SPS chapters within a geographic region for professional development and community building among like-minded physics students. They are a fun and effective way for undergraduates to meet other students, present their research, and interact with practicing scientists. For a list of upcoming zone meetings, visit spsnational.org/meetings/2022-23-zone-meetings.

Step 4: Plan AND Host Events

Now that you’ve been in contact with your AZC and ZC and with SPS Headquarters, it’s time to plan some fun events! What kind of events? A great place to start is with informal gatherings for your school’s physics and astronomy students. Movie nights, game nights, and pizza dinners are the perfect environment for your chapter members to get to know one another, connect with newer physics majors, and just have fun together! If you’re hosting a game night, consider Physics Jeopardy!—available on SPS’s website at spsnational.org/programs/outreach/physics-jeopardy.

If your chapter is ready to host a larger function, consider a community outreach event. Pumpkin drops and launches are fun fall activities—you can even have teams decorate their pumpkin. Want to travel to a conference or lab? Host a fundraiser by selling donuts or slices of pizza in the student union to raise money for chapter travel. You might also consider inviting SPS or Sigma Pi Sigma alumni to give virtual or in-person talks on careers, life, or anything of interest to your members. To get contact information for your school’s Sigma Pi Sigma alumni, talk to your advisor or email sigmapisigma [at] aip.org.

 Physics and astronomy students showcase their  SPS chapter at the 2019 Physics Congress. Photos courtesy of SPS. Step 5: Submit a Chapter Report

The end of the academic year is the time to reflect on your chapter’s accomplishments and showcase them in a report for SPS Headquarters. No matter how big or small your events were, it all matters. Submitting a chapter report gives SPS Headquarters an opportunity to learn about you and how we can better support you. Additionally, this is a great opportunity to share your best practices with other chapters, provide guidance for future SPS members in your chapter, determine strengths and areas for improvement, receive feedback from the SPS National Council, qualify for SPS Outstanding Chapter Awards, and much more!

For chapter report templates, visit spsnational.org/resources/chapters/annual-chapter-reports.

More SPS Chapter Activity Ideas

Looking for other activities to do as an SPS chapter? You could:

  • Visit a lab, observatory, or grad school.
  • Attend a professional physics or astronomy conference with funding from an SPS Reporter Award (spsnational.org/awards/reporter) or SPS Travel Award (spsnational.org/awards/travel).
  • Do research together and present it at a poster session, or host a poster session to share individual research. SPS offers funding for chapter research projects. For details, see spsnational.org/awards/chapter-research.
  • Reach out to your community. SPS offers funding for chapter outreach events and initiatives. For details, see spsnational.org/awards/chapter-awards.
  • Write an article for The SPS Observer about a cool chapter event or research your members did together. Email SPS-programs [at] aip.org to share your idea!

Tips for a Great First Meeting

  • Offer food and snacks—nobody can resist free pizza!
  • Start with an interactive activity, like a bridge-building competition.
  • Have an agenda going into the meeting and share it with those attending.
  • Discuss the benefits of being an SPS member and being part of the chapter.
  • Discuss potential goals for the chapter (include potential new members in the discussion and make sure everyone is heard).
  • Get everyone’s contact information, if you don’t have it already!
  • Discuss officer positions and elections, if you haven’t had them yet.

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