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Everybody Loves an Open House

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.

The most important steps for ensuring Sigma Xi chapter vitality are a functioning President's Advisory Council and a Three-Year Plan. The most fun step is hosting an Open House.

Sigma Xi chapters that have organized "open house" activities have unfailingly reported great success in drawing many, many participants who would not usually attend a more traditional type of activity, such as a lecture or a poster session or even an installation banquet. The range of chapters documenting such success suggests that chapters of all types could and should include an open house in their stable of activities. It is important that the Sigma Xi chapter intimately join with a hosting institution in a mutually beneficial activity that has aspects of science and engineering, fun, companionship, camaraderie, informality, spontaneity, time flexibility, and educational opportunities featuring interactive explanations.

One of the chief benefits of an open house is that a varied group of attendees—typically running the gamut from trained scientists and engineers, family members, inquisitive high school students, local high school teachers, community leaders, interested college level students, research administrators, research collaborators to research competitors—gain exposure to science ideas and to the instruments or objects of research.

Suggestions gleaned from reports include: hold an open house once a year; invite and involve top managers of the host institution; alternate host institutions among colleges, universities, government laboratories and industrial laboratories to ensure a wide coverage of topics and hosts; invite local community leaders and residents; invite local media of all types; advertise widely in advance in all media but especially to the target audience; take photos of the event for use in publicizing appropriately the spotlighted researcher, the host institution and the chapter.

Open houses conducted over several years by the San Diego Chapter, my chapter, are listed here to illustrate possibilities and to spur the imagination of other chapter officers:

—San Diego State University: Saturday-evening barbecue and star party at a four-telescope observatory in mountains 60 kilometers from town;

—Hubbs-SeaWorld Research Institute: Resident researchers explained specimens and creatures in specialty tanks in a renowned facility not open to the general public;

—General Atomics Company: Tours in small groups around and under the D-III tokamak fusion research device, then through the control room, the data-analysis tables and the diagnostic instrument testing facility;

—Scripps Institution of Oceanography: Saturday picnic for families, then tours of underwater optical and electronic instrumentation;

—Advanced Fertility Institute of San Diego: Box dinners provided by host, then tours of in vitro fertilization research instruments and facilities;

—Veterans Administration Trauma Facility: Up-close explanations and demonstrations of latest MRI and CAT scanners for undertaking urgent and increasingly delicate restorations of massively injured body parts.

Open Houses work well on many intellectual levels with vastly different constituencies. With this short exposition as a spark, chapter officers are charged to conceive, plan and execute their own series. Open houses are fun!

"From the President" will appear in a new space in coming issues as we update the Sigma Xi newsletter and make room for new features, including messages from the Publisher and Editor.

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