Transforming Portland State University’s NSSLHA Chapter

Portland State University’s NSSLHA chapter has transformed tremendously over the past several years, with a focus on implementing innovative changes to increase student participation and fundraising efforts.

Prior to taking over the role of chapter advisor in 2014, our chapter was a fully independent, student-run organization with a board of four students and 14 “active” chapter members—there was minimal faculty involvement. The chapter held a handful of events each year, but with minimal departmental interaction.

We needed change.

Restructuring Our Chapter

In 2015, our chapter became department-sponsored in order to provide more faculty connection and support. We initiated member dues to help finance events and our membership grew to 55.

With our growth in membership, we needed to expand our board in order to support an increase in events. In 2016, we added two new positions:

  • Fundraising Chair: If we wanted to expand our reach into the community and increase available scholarships, we’d need someone whose sole purpose was to focus on these goals.
  • Public Relations Position: A survey indicated that students weren’t attending events because they didn’t know about them. This student would ensure successful communication of events through email, fliers, OrgSync software, etc.

Including these 2 roles has become crucial to the success of our chapter. And having a board of 6 elected chapter members has significantly helped manage demands and the success of our events.

Increasing Student Involvement

To further grow our student participation, we implemented 3 achievement levels:

  • Platinum: Students who attend and volunteer above and beyond expectation
  • Gold: Students with average performance
  • Silver: Students who meet the minimum requirements

To engage our chapter members, we hold approximately 50 events a year:

  • Member-only activities
  • Scholarship fundraisers
  • Sporting events
  • Social events, including a NSSLHA celebration in June where members are recognized for their achievements throughout the year
  • Community speakers and fundraisers
  • Departmental events
  • Faculty seminars and sponsored events
Portland State University NSSLHA chapter members playing SLP bingo

The number of events planned by Portland State University’s NSSLHA Chapter has grown tremendously over the last 3 years due to the incredible commitment and efforts of the student board.

Positive Outcomes

The changes we made have:

  • Been imperative to building a space that provides opportunities for students, faculty, community, and professionals to connect.
  • Allowed us to increase the amount of scholarships we provide to students—both in number and award amounts.
  • Built a working relationship between the leadership team and faculty.

It’s been a lot of work, but a labor of love. We’re thrilled at the progress we’ve made so far, while also never losing sight of the future.

Ensuring a Smooth Transition

With each academic year comes more change—change in student leadership. Cohesive transitions from one board to the next is imperative in achieving consistent excellence each year.

To accomplish a smooth transition, we hold elections at the end of Winter term. Then, during the Spring semester, new board members shadow the current board member in their role. They also attend board meetings to discuss goals for the upcoming year and set action items to complete over the summer.

We hold a NSSLHA retreat in August to prepare for the start of the year and ensure all Fall term events are in order. By the start of the Fall term, all board members have a clear understanding of their roles and responsibilities so we can start strong and focus on member recruitment.

Training Strong Professionals

I believe NSSLHA—both at the chapter and national levels—can be sorely underutilized or perceived as a just way to bolster a grad application. But participating in NSSLHA is so much more than that. We want students to understand that participation in NSSLHA—whether through a chapter or National NSSLHA—directly corresponds with their growth as pre-professionals.

Our chapter is the first step in training students about professionalism, leadership, community engagement, and taking ownership of the issues that matter to our professions.

Thoughts for Our Future

As we move forward, this chapter can be really proud of the work they’ve done. We’ve set some lofty goals for next year, with an added Diversity Scholarship in the works, but we’re up for the challenge! Our students will continue to hone their leadership skills and make changes in protocols, where needed, to continue our success.

Building, growing, and sustaining a thriving NSSLHA chapter is a work in progress, but extremely rewarding. If your NSSLHA chapter isn’t performing at a level you’d like, I encourage you to re-evaluate your chapter’s structure, programming, and membership recruitment and engagement strategies. To the chapter advisors and student leaders involved—don’t underestimate the amazingly high expectations you can rise to!

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