Do you love the connection made at national and regional Women in Student Affairs (WISA) events? Are you yearning for more supportive connections on your own campus? Follow the lead of many WISA members and create a local chapter of WISA at your institution. Creating a local group is a phenomenal way to bring a low-cost, high-impact professional development and networking opportunity to women throughout your campus.
Ohio University staff recently formed a WISA group on our campus after learning about DePaul University’s Women’s Network and attending the WISA Drive-In at The Ohio State University in June 2011. WISA at Ohio University began in fall 2011, and has since grown to include a variety of subgroups. We have a membership of nearly thirty women, including graduate assistants, professional staff, the Assistant Dean of Students and a variety of Divisional leaders. In addition to local membership, several of our members are part of the WISA Knowledge Community (KC) through NASPA. After attending the WISA KC meeting in Phoenix this March, we were inspired to help spread the word about local WISA groups. We are here to help you determine whether your campus would benefit from a WISA group and how to get started.
Who can WISA serve on campus?
ALL women in your Division could benefit from WISA including graduate students, administrative staff, and classified staff. You can also include women throughout the institution based on the needs and dynamic of your group. There are no boundaries here; consider faculty, executive staff, and student employees. Everyone’s voice can benefit the group.
What would a local WISA group do?
WISA provides multiple functions to your institution and staff. A local WISA group can offer networking opportunities to help colleagues in the Division of Student Affairs understand what other women do on campus such as how they earned their current position, and how they plan to continue their development (personally and professionally). The group can pursue professional development opportunities of interest to members. Examples include preparation for graduate study or a professional book club. You could create a mentor/mentee program as part of WISA on your campus. Programs such as this connect women of different experiential levels or in different departments to help us understand and celebrate different experiences.
What is needed to create a group?
A key element to consider as you start building your group is whether you have support from upper administration. Will your group meeting during “business” hours? Will you need any funding to exist as a formal group (for meeting space, books, etc.)? It is wonderful to have the support of your campus leaders, but it is still possible to form a group without major investment from these folks—check out the “Other Ideas” section below for alternative format ideas.
After you have support of campus leadership, you will need a way to reach out to your (potential) members. How can you communicate quickly and efficiently with all members? Our local group benefited from an email listserv, but other potential options may exist on your campus such as Blackboard or another Learning Management System (LMS), Chat, Facebook, etc. You know your campus and its communication culture better than anyone. Those initial invitations and informational messages are critical to the early success of the group. This will help you determine the interest in your division for a WISA group.
All you need now is a place to meet! Depending on group size, you could meet in your student union (like we do), over lunch, at someone’s home (we do that for book clubs), or off campus at a nearby location.
Who could be included in your group?
Consider inviting all women in your Division of Student Affairs including hourly or classified staff, professional staff, and graduate students. Other invites could be extended to any colleagues (not only women) in other parts of the institution (e.g. Faculty, executive staff, collaborative offices).
Recommended Formation Process:
Put out a call for interest to all women in the Division of Student Affairs. This is where your communication methods come in handy! Determine a way to identify interest in this group and then a way to invite potential members to a first meeting. Identify facilitators for the initial meeting to introduce attendees and facilitate a discussion about WISA and the needs of your local group. The first meeting is the right time to determine the group’s desire for regular meetings, small groups, a book club, mentoring, service projects, or anything else you can dream up.
Steps to Maintaining a Successful Group
To create and sustain a thriving WISA group on your campus, identify your local group’s mission. What is your emphasis? What do the women in your group need? How will you hold your group and its members accountable to this mission? We recommend reviewing the mission annually to determine whether the local WISA group is meeting members’ needs. The authors of this blog have a mission starter kit to help you create a mission for your group. More information can be found at the end of this post.
In addition to developing a mission, you need to determine the scope of the group. Will meetings occur during work hours? Where will meetings be held? Are all staff able to participate who wish to do so (e.g. classified and hourly staff and graduate students)?
Once your group begins meeting, identify formal or informal leaders to maintain structure of the group. This could be a rotating responsibility, or whatever works best for your WISA group! These leaders will help schedule meetings, recruit new members, and facilitate meetings. Maintain open communication with members between meetings to provide updates and collect suggestions. You want to make it easy for any member to contact others in the group. Finally, meet regularly with your WISA group. Whether through formal meetings, small group projects, or service; frequent connection with group members is critical to fulfilling the mission of any WISA group.
Local WISA groups can grow as large as desired. Your group could develop learning outcomes for group membership. The group may want to gather member feedback annually to determine how WISA should change or continue in the future. We recommend assessing the group’s mission annually as well, to ensure the group is still served by the mission and reflecting its purpose.
If time or funding limit your ability to meet, consider technological alternatives and social media platforms. Your group could be facilitated many different ways, such as through Google Meet-ups, or by holding ongoing Twitter conversations. You could also develop a Facebook group where members can interact and share thoughts, news, or even photos.
It only takes one person to bring this opportunity to your campus. If you have any interest in developing a local WISA group, consider talking with other women in your division to get something rolling. If you ever need outside help, contact any of us at Ohio University or any member of the KC for the WISA support that is available to us!
Want more resources? We have email templates, our mission statement development process, and sample documents that could help your WISA group form and pursue new initiatives. Please feel free to contact us, and we will share information to help with your WISA group. If we don’t have something you need, we are happy to help you create it! Whether at the national, regional, or campus level, WISA is a dynamic group of empowered women ready to make change, support colleagues, and be the best individuals we can be to serve our institutions and communities. Resources include:
- Mission start-up guide
- Introductory emails
- Book club invitation
- Member survey assessing WISA on campus
- Special guest attendance message to members
- Meeting message highlighting service opportunities
Theresa Graves, Office Administrator, Office of the Vice President for Student Affairs, firstname.lastname@example.org
Lindsey Marx, Residential Coordinator, Residential Housing, Ohio University, email@example.com
Megan Vogel, Special Assistant to the Vice President for Student Affairs, Ohio University, firstname.lastname@example.org
A special thank you to Ohio University WISA members: Shirley Acquah, Samantha Baker, Caitlin Barnhardt, Becky Conrad Davenport, Tracy Crabtree, Kristen Barngrover, Holly Davis, Marissa Dienstag, Kirsten Economy, Holly Elliot, Erin Edwards, Angel Flowers, Julie French, Dr. Jenny Hall-Jones, Barb Harrison, Amanda Hobson, Kristine Hoke, Larissa Keiser, Jennifer Maskiell, Dr. Patti McSteen, Allison Mears, Danielle Oldfield, Sarah Pankratz, Erin Perdue, Judy Piercy, Rachel Radosevic, Chris Reghetti-Feyler, Erica Schwartz, Christine Sheets, Sarah Steenrod, Cimmeron Taylor, Heather Thomas, Li Teng, Kellea Tibbs, Melissa Toretch, Leah Ward, Kristina Washington, Jessica White, Alison Woodworth, Jenni Young