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Vital Sigma Xi Chapters

Sigma Xi fosters research excellence in many ways, not least through local chapters. Astute readers, members or not, may recognize ideas presented here that are transferable and operational in their Sigma Xi chapters or any other organization working for the greater good.

Sigma Xi's 500-plus chapters vary widely in their location, host institution, membership, operating philosophy, leadership, vitality, influence and success. Most are vibrant and perform well in providing a venue for "companions in zealous research" and programs for "enhancing the research enterprise," the motto and the goal of Sigma Xi. However, some general observations and suggestions can be made.

President's Advisory Council. Successful chapters establish a process of recruiting active members and educating them in the philosophy and programs adopted by the chapter and then promoting them into leadership positions. Less successful chapters search continuously for the next one-year president. One way to provide continuity is to form a President's Advisory Council made up of the elected officers plus committee chairs and any active or retired member or enthusiastic nonmember able to attend program-planning sessions, where advice and opinions are solicited with the strict promise that no one will be coerced into unwanted obligations. The next officers can be recruited from this pool of 10 to 15 informed and relaxed participants.

Officer terms—not one year! Most chapters follow the outdated practice of searching for, enticing and electing a new president, if not a complete slate of officers, each year. Arguably easier in the long run is the practice of electing a president every two years and encouraging multiple reelections. After a year of "learning the ropes," the second and subsequent years are manageable and even fun. Treasurers and secretaries should be encouraged to be elected for an indefinite term, with four to eight years as a fruitful service period.

Past presidents' insights. Why waste experience? Consider gathering all chapter presidents every four years for a relaxing lunch and efficiently orchestrated discussion of past successes—and failures—with the idea of providing considered and tested advice to present officers and the President's Advisory Council. Results are invariably wonderful.

Retired members are productive members. Recently and not-so-recently retired members are excellent prospects for positions of influence and leadership in a chapter. Some resist invitations, but those who accept service to science in the chapter can sometimes bring to bear a more flexible schedule and a wealth of experience and contacts.

Critical mass—say 40. Active membership in Sigma Xi chapters varies from the minimum—18—to more than 600 at the large university or area chapters. Keeping programs viable with a too-small functioning group is difficult and frustrating. Small chapters must aggressively pursue a critical mass for their institution and situation, a number probably around 40. When this seems impossible to achieve, consolidation for viability and vitality with another chapter across town or across the state is recommended. Sigma Xi's staff can assist with both building membership and consolidating chapters.

Discover 40- and 50-year members. Any Sigma Xi member who has paid dues for 40 or 50 years deserves to be acknowledged by the chapter as a guest at a function. Imagine the positive impression created when a 50-year member describes her career triumphs in a four-minute response to a plaque presentation before, for example, six science-fair winners and their parents and teachers at a Sigma Xi presentation ceremony.

Involve the host. Chapters can only benefit from assiduous cultivation of a positive two-way relationship with their host institution. The corporation research director, university vice president for research or college dean of sciences is probably providing administrative support, mailing privileges or no-cost function space to the chapter. The chapter should reciprocate, adding value to the host institution by being cognizant of its needs and identifying ways for the chapter to help satisfy those needs to the mutual benefit of all parties.

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