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In The Zone - Regional SPS Highlights

Zone 11 Meeting:

Iowa, Minnesota, Nebraska, North Dakota, and South Dakota 
Top five recommendations for SPS chapters everywhere


Lisa McDonald, Associate Zone Councilor, Zone 11 Class Of 2017, Coe College in Cedar Rapids, IA

Coe College

Running an SPS chapter can feel like a very lonely task when the next closest chapter is hours away. This is the case for many of the chapters located in the Midwest SPS zones. Yet at least once a year these various chapters get to come together to share the hard work they’ve accomplished and spread successful ideas throughout the zone. This is exactly what happened for Zone 11 in March when the all-zone meeting occurred. Though small in terms of turnout, the opportunity for collaboration generated some really insightful recommendations for common concerns affecting SPS chapters everywhere. A list was created from all the ideas discussed, and it was narrowed down to these five tips. We hope you find them as helpful as we did.

#1 Recruiting and retaining members

Every chapter wants to boost its membership. One way the South Dakota School of Mines and Technology (SDSM&T) does this is by holding their first SPS meeting of the semester during Advisor’s Week, when freshmen come to meet with their advisors. This allows their chapter advisor to encourage freshmen to attend the meeting, and hopefully gain new members.

SPS members from the University of South Dakota (USD) and Coe College said they also advertise SPS during introductory physics courses, such as general physics and astronomy. You don’t have to be a physics major to join SPS (did you know that?), and many nonscience majors take these classes to fulfill general education requirements. By advertising in these introductory courses, it provides the chance to involve more nonscience majors with SPS.

To retain members, SDSM&T runs a system where their involvement earns members points. They plan to allow those points to be exchanged for perks, such as money to attend a conference. While Coe does not have a point system, they also use conferences as a way to retain members. Newer members are given assistance to attend conferences at which older members are presenting, to learn the format of a conference and develop a goal that they, too, can strive for.

#2 Energizing your fundraising

Fundraising is critical to a chapter’s survival. Every chapter that attended our Zone 11 meeting said it does campus fundraising by reaching out to university organizations such as Student Senate for a budget. Departments can also help fund club activities such as small, student-led projects selected during the beginning of the semester. Even if your university or department is small and cannot afford to support the chapter, the SPS National Office has many funding opportunities. These include starter kits, for example, Science Outreach Catalyst Kits (SOCKs), and awards for Student Reporters, Travel Awards, and Chapter Research. See the SPS National website for details:

Internal chapter fundraising can also be effective. All chapters said they run a student lounge snack bar selling pop and candy bars. Coe has a student contest to design a T-shirt every year; shirts are then sold to students, faculty, and alumni. Coe’s chapter uses its funds to sponsor membership fees for SPS National. Helping students pay for half the membership fee encourages more people to join, and once a student joins it commonly increases their involvement.

SPSers visit the Sanford Underground Research Facility. Photo courtesy of Lisa McDonald.

#3 Boosting your public image

Some of us use Facebook for our chapters. Some use Twitter. SDSM&T and Coe both use their university’s websites to announce events, and Coe also has its own SPS website linked to from the university site. Each technique is effective in its own right, and other chapters are encouraged to experiment to find what works best for them. Coe also has an SPS member working as a news editor for the college paper. Encouraging someone to join the college paper not only provides publicity but gives that student a chance to improve their writing skills.

Don’t neglect traditional promotional tools either. Posters work well to announce events. Some common areas also have television screens that can be hired to run advertisements to promote chapter events as well.

#4 Improving your public relations

 Connecting with your university’s public relations office can help with access to venues for advertising on campus. Press officers can also help connect the chapter with the greater community by creating press releases to run in the city’s media on events the chapter is hosting. Coe and SDSM&T have both used this to their advantage, and SDSM&T especially encourages reaching out for help from this office due to the success they’ve had with collaborations.

Coe’s members volunteer as tutors for local high school students taking advanced physics classes, which connects the chapter to the community and helps to bring potential new students to Coe. SDSM&T members also volunteer in the community, for example, by weatherizing homes. USD hosted a science fair for local high school students which brought in over a hundred attendees.

#5 Strengthening your outreach

We suggest new chapters without a large community presence plan outreach events for middle schoolers. Unlike younger students, they can appreciate the extent of science in society, and unlike older students, they often do not have set plans for future careers. SDSM&T and Coe both host physics conferences, known as Mines Day and Iowa Glass Conference, respectively. These conferences provide not only media attention in the community, but they also give members a chance to network with physicists from the larger science community.

Looking for outreach demo ideas? Here is a short list: Magdeburg hemispheres, slinky wave demonstration, nitrogen ice cream, dry-ice root beer, two forks and a quarter demonstrating center of gravity, magnetic levitation with a copper plate, phantom crystals, infinity mirrors, and UFO balls.

We felt these suggestions would help everyone strengthen their individual chapters throughout our zone. We hope they can help you as well. And we hope to see you at PhysCon! //

 Zone meeting attendees pause for a group photo at their  Saturday dinner.

SPSers take a tour of SDSM&T's particle astrophysics  research center.

Visitors take a break from science to enjoy the view.  Photos courtesy of Lisa McDonald

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