A core feature of a Castleton education is community engagement. In the Department of Psychological Science this is not just something we encourage and facilitate for our students, this is a fundamental component of our professional lives as engaged scholars and practitioners. Dr. Shannon Newell recently returned from a weekend representing Vermont and our great university at a conference for School Psychologists. Here she writes about why she does this important work.
I just spent my entire weekend away from my family, sitting in meetings for 10 hours, tired and sore from sitting so long. My husband asked “are you getting paid for this work?” and of course my answer was no. “Why are you doing it?” he asked. Good question. I volunteer as a leader in my state and national organizations because this is part of my identity, it is who I am, and I get so much from my leadership and volunteering. Are you involved in leadership in some capacity? Why or why not?
There are so many benefits to volunteering and here are just a few:
- It makes me better at what I do. Volunteering keeps me up to date on the latest initiatives (federal and state laws), current trends, concerns (did you know there are 17 different types of school psychology shortages?), as well as issues that may arise in the near future.
- Networking. I have met so many interesting people within my state (state presidents, secretary of education, people within the agency of education who develop guidance and regulation) and across the nation, including organization presidents, authors of textbooks – yup I had dinner the other night with a key author in our program, publishers of information critical to practice in our field, and most importantly, other practitioners and educators with whom I can collaborate, share ideas, and gain expertise from colleagues. By the way, did I mention I get to socialize with some of the most influential people in our field?
- Influence. Being involved in state and national leadership allows me to have a voice. I provide input regarding what topics we should cover during our state conference and I get to vote on what I think is important. At the national level, I get to inform policies and procedures and have a say about what is important and how it should be addressed.
- Greater opportunities. I learn so much about various committees, work groups and different task force groups (like graduate student preparation or social justice reform) that provide me more opportunities to get involved. I wouldn’t know these opportunities existed if I wasn’t involved in leadership.
- It’s fun and it feels good. I enjoy hearing what others are doing across the state and the country, what their concerns are, and how we can address them together. We’re a fun group. It’s not all work. After those long days of meetings we go out, we socialize, we have fun. Where else can you make a joke related to your field and have people “get it?”
- I get to see how governance works. Not every organizational body works the same. They may follow different rules and/or expectations of its constituency. Being involved at the state and federal levels allows me to see how organizations work and which principles one should keep and which they should change or get rid of.
- Travel. Due to my responsibilities, I get to travel. I had a wonderful time exploring back roads as I headed to our state meeting a few weeks ago, and this weekend, I got to spend time in Bethesda, MD. My flight was paid for by the organization and I ate, and ate, and ate and foods were different than I get at home. Last year, I got to travel to New Orleans and the year before that, Disney World. In February of 2017, I get to head to San Antonio, TX and when I’m not in meetings, I plan to explore. What a nice balance of work and fun!
People in organizational leadership positions have often been leaders in other areas of their life or held previous positions in their organization. Personally, I felt the need to start somewhere. I can’t learn as much if I don’t get fully and actively involved. What do you want/hope to get out of being an active member of a club, athletic team, interest group, or organization? It doesn’t have to “be in your blood” in order to participate and make a difference. As some of my esteemed colleagues have said, “If you’re not at the table, you’re on the menu.” So my advice, get to the table, be seen, speak up when needed, advocate, and most of all, meet new people, make connections, and have fun!