COUNSELING CENTER

UNIVERSITY OF MARYLAND

COLLEGE PARK, MARYLAND

 

 

WHAT'S IN A VOLUNTEER EXPERIENCE?

A SURVEY OF POSITIVE AND NEGATIVE

STAMP UNION PROGRAM COUNCIL (SUPC) EXPERIENCES

 

Victoria J. Belanger, Marsha A. Guenzler)

and William E. Sedlacek

 

Research Report No. 3-92

 

This research project was supported by the Stamp Student Union and the Counseling Center, University of Maryland, College Park. The authors wish to thank members of the Stamp Union Program Council (SUPC) for participating in the study. Computer time was provided by the Computer Science Center, University of Maryland, College Park.


COUNSELING CENTER

UNIVERSITY OF MARYLAND

COLLEGE PARK, MARYLAND

 

WHAT'S IN A VOLUNTEER EXPERIENCE?

A SURVEY OF POSITIVE AND NEGATIVE

STAMP UNION PROGRAM COUNCIL (SUPC) EXPERIENCES

Victoria J. Balenger, Marsha A. Guenzler, and William E. Sedlacek

Research Report No. 3-92

 

Summary

 

Seventy-five SUPC members completed a checklist of SUPC experiences (Balenger, Sedlacek, & Guenzler, 1989) had been expanded to include examples of positive and negative "critical incidents" (Flanagan, 1954) generated by members at an SUPC retreat. Members designated which experiences they considered to be particularly positive or negative.

 

Experiences most often identified as positive included the affiliative experiences of "making new friends" and "feeling `involved' on campus", as well as the leadership-oriented experiences of "becoming more assertive" and "getting leadership experience". Other experiences often cited as positive were "attending a retreat", "being part of a successful programming effort", and "getting praise or recognition for my work".

 

The most often identified negative experience was "balancing schoolwork with SUPC involvement". Other negative experiences included: "receiving negative feedback"; dealing with Union and SUPC policies and procedures; "doing more than my share"; and "feeling that I did not fit in".

 

Implications for student affairs professionals who work with the Stamp Union Program Council are discussed.


What's in a Volunteer Experience?

 

Survey of Positive and Negative Program Board Experiences

 

Those concerned with volunteer recruitment and retention recognize the importance of structuring the volunteer experience so that it fits with the needs and expectations of the volunteers, whatever they may be (Henderson, 1980; Phillips, 1982). Empirical research offers a potentially useful means of understanding these needs and expectations, however, the results of studies that focus on general motivations or rewards associated with volunteering may be difficult to apply. For example, Fitch (1987) categorized the motivations of students who volunteered in the community as both altruistic and egoistic. Sergent and Sedlacek (1990) found that volunteers in different campus organizations had different Holland types (Holland, 1985) and motivational needs, as measured by the Adjective Checklist (bough & Heilbrun, 1983). While such theoretical studies clarify motivational needs for volunteering, "practical" or applied research also is needed to bridge the gap between these needs and the actual volunteer experience.

 

In terms translating research into practice, student affairs professionals who coordinate volunteers must be cautious about applying research findings that relate to volunteers in organizations different from their own. One of the most important implications of Sergent and Sedlacek's (1990) study was that research on volunteer motivations may not generalize across students within different campus organizations. The major purpose of this

 


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study was to learn more about the experience of students who volunteer for the Stamp Union Program Council, an organization that provides social, cultural, recreational, and educational programming for the University of Maryland campus community.

 

In an earlier study of SUPC members that attempted to link motivational needs with program board activities, it was found that students most valued volunteer activities directly related to the mission of the program board, such as serving program attendees, and affiliative experiences such as making new friends and being "involved" on campus (Balenger, Sedlacek, & Guenzler, 1989?. Thus, this study provided information about which specific activities and experiences were the most reinforcing for student union program board members.

 

This study represents an attempt to build upon the earlier research by identifying specific activities and experiences that significantly affect the overall quality of the volunteer experience for SUPC members. In addition to documenting the proportion of members that had had various experiences in SUPC, relationships

between specific volunteer experiences and the variables of gender and leadership status in the organization were also explored.

 

Method

 

Seventy-five students attending regularly scheduled committee meetings completed a revised version of a "volunteer activities checklist" developed by Balenger, Sedlacek, and Guenzler (1989?. Participation was voluntary, and all responses were anonymous and confidential. Although SUPC had 160 official members for the spring

 


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semester, 1991 (M. Ellis, Coordinator of Student Programs, personal communication, July 5, 1991), this does not account for those who quit or became inactive during the semester. Estimates by committee chairs near the end of the semester suggested that there were actually about 110 active SUPC members who regularly attended committee meetings. Thus, this sample comprised about 68% of the active membership of SUPC. The timing of the study (at end of spring semester) negatively affected the response rate, because committee meeting attendance drops during the period when final exams are pending.

 

While the original checklist measured activity preferences of SUPC members, the revised version assessed which SUPC experiences were identified by members as particularly positive or negative (see Appendix). The list of SUPC activities/experiences from the 1989 survey was expanded to include examples of positive and negative "critical incidents" (Flanagan, 1954) generated by members attending a 1989 retreat. Critical incidents are behavioral or experiential anecdotes that pertain to the most important aspects of an activity. Typically, respondents are asked to provide examples of positive and negative, or effective and ineffective, behaviors (Stano, 1983).

 

The revised checklist used in this study was checked for content validity by both the Coordinator for Student Programs of the Stamp Student Union and the President of SUPC. Descriptive statistics and chi square tests were used to analyze the data.


 

 

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Results

 

Participants were 56% male and 80'% White (see Table 1 for sample characteristics). (aver 90% of the sample in the age range of 18-22; the modal age was 19 (364). The majority had been involved with SUPC 1-2 semesters (43%) or 3-4 semesters (25%). Fifty-one percent of respondents reported that they had held a leadership

position in SUPC.

 

------------------------

 

Insert Table 1 about here.

 

------------------------

 

Chi square tests revealed that, generally, members who had been involved for longer (more than 2 semesters) and those who had held leadership positions in SUPC had had a wider range of volunteer experiences than other members. Because students who had been involved for longer were also significantly more likely to have held leadership positions, what accounted for the wider range of volunteer experiences cannot be determined. However, chi square tests found that student leaders were significantly more likely than non-leaders to have had five specific volunteer experiences that were not also significant for length of involvement (see Table 2).

 

Insert Table 2 about here.

 

 

 

Table 3 summarizes the SUPC experiences that were identified as having the most positive or negative impact on the overall

 

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quality of the volunteer experience. Tables 4 and 5 provide rank orderings of the experiences most often identified as positive and

 

negative, respectively.

----------------------------------

Insert Tables 3, 4, and 5 about here.

----------------------------------

 

Discussion

 

Regardless of length of membership, students who had held SUPS leadership positions were significantly more likely to have had five of the volunteer experiences on the checklist than were nonleaders. At least three of the experiences that student leaders had more often seem to be directly related to involvement as a leader: dealing with SUPC policies and procedures, dealing with Union policies and procedures, and making contacts with people who might help them in the future. Although it is possible that the significant differences occurred by chance, these findings suggest that involvement as a leader may expose students to a broader range of volunteer experiences than they might otherwise have. Additional research concerning what types of experiences are unique to student leaders versus other involved students would shed more light on this topic.

 

It is interesting to note that all respondents, regardless of leadership status or length of membership, were equally likely to have had three of the experiences identified by the highest


b percentage of SUPC members as positive: "making new friends" (i), "being part of a successful programming effort", and "feeling `involved' on campus". Leaders and non-leaders, old and new members, were also equally likely to have had one of the most often cited negative experiences, "feeling that I did not fit in" (ii). Thus, it seems that certain social or affiliative experiences are common to SUPC members regardless of level of involvement, and that these experiences tend to have strong positive or negative value for them.

 

While the affiliative experiences of "making new friends" (i) and "feeling `involved' on campus" (77%) were most often identified as positive, similar proportions of the sample also considered "becoming more assertive" and "getting leadership experience" to be very positive. This suggests that volunteers place a high value on the opportunity to affiliate, but also on learning to lead. Other experiences often rated as positive include "attending a retreat" (54%), "being part of a successful programming effort" (45%), and "getting praise or recognition for my work" (42%). While attending a retreat can be viewed in terms of both affiliation and leadership development, the latter two experiences seem to reflect a need for achievement (Atkinson, 1964; McClelland, 1962). People with a high need for achievement are motivated by a need for accomplishment brought about through their own efforts.

 

(i) The number who identified this as a positive experience exceeded the number who initially indicated they had had this experience.

(ii) The number who identified this as a negative experience exceeded the number who initially indicated they had had this experience.

 


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It is particularly interesting to note that only 26 respondents (35% of total sample) initially identified "making new friends" as one of their SUPC experiences. However, when asked to designate the five experiences that have been the most positive for them, 43 (57% of total sample) cited "making new friends". This suggests that participants did not consciously consider making new friends to be one of their volunteer experiences until they thought about what had been most positive about their SUPC involvement. Perhaps making new friends is more an outcome of volunteering than it is a purposeful activity or experience.

 

Likewise, two of the most often cited negative experiences, "doing more than my share" and "feeling that I did not fit in" were designated as negative by more SUPC members than those whom originally indicated they had had these experiences. Again, it was apparently not until people thought specifically about what had been negative for them as SUPC members that they became aware they had actually experienced these things.

 

The most often identified negative experience was "balancing schoolwork with SUPC involvement" (67%). In addition to the two negative experiences described in the previous paragraph, participants also cited: "receiving negative feedback" (52%), dealing with Union policies and procedures (36%), and dealing with SUPC policies and procedures (35%). While it should be acknowledged that members consider these to be negative experiences, it is striking that many represent growth opportunities that may help these young adults learn to function more effectively in both the personal and professional realms. For example, members who learn to balance schoolwork with SUPC involvement may acquire valuable time management skills that will generalize to other areas of their lives. Those who learn to utilize negative feedback are likely to find that doing so will enhance both their personal and career development. Dealing with Union and SUPC policies and procedures, while it may be experienced as unpleasant, could prepare members to more effectively negotiate with other organizations in which they volunteer or work for pay.

 

Those who advise SUPC committees might try to "re-frame" certain experiences that are perceived as negative by members. For example, one can take opportunities to point out the skills members are developing in the course of their SUPC involvement. Training and development efforts (e.g., retreats) can focus on such topics as time management and utilizing feedback, so that members may feel more confident in meeting these challenges.

 

Two of the experiences identified as negative, "doing more than my share" and "feeling that I did riot fit in", seem amenable to interventions on both the individual and systemic levels. For example, members who are doing more than their share may be individuals with "responsibility issues" that might be addressed through a referral to the Counseling Center. Alternatively, they may be leaders on committees that have little sense of teamwork or initiative. In such cases, advisors can explore with their committees ways to help members feel more invested in the programs and events they undertake. As an example, it might emerge that


 

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members are reacting to a committee chair with an undemocratic leadership style by neglecting to do the tasks they are assigned.

 

There can be a lot of reasons why members might feel they do not fit in. When a member is very different from others in terms of values and lifestyle, he or she might feel uncomfortable as an SUPC member. Advisors who are sensitive to this might meet with the person individually to talk about how he or she relates to other members. If it appears that the person is having pervasive interpersonal problems, the advisor might make a referral to the Counseling Center, where one can get individual or group counseling around these issues. However, if the person is otherwise well adjusted (e.g., has an adequate support system outside of SUPC), the advisor might help him or her explore such alternatives as switching to a different committee or even leaving SUPC in favor of a volunteer opportunity that represents a better "fit". On a systemic level, advisors should be alert to ways in which the volunteer experience could be structured to help people feel they fit in. For example, if it becomes apparent that new members are feeling isolated, maybe a "buddy system" could be instituted to facilitate the transition for them. In situations where exclusive "cliques" have formed, advisors can invite their committees to discuss this trend in terms of why it has emerged and what effect it has on both those who are and those who are not included in the cliques.

 

Finally, in any volunteer organization on a predominantly White campus, it is possible that members of diverse racial and

 


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ethnic groups will not feel that they fit in. Advisors should make special efforts to be accessible to students who are members of minority groups, and should take the initiative in raising racial/cultural issues whenever it seems appropriate. If it ever becomes apparent that students of color are not comfortable in SUPC or as members of certain committees, there are many levels on which interventions can be made. Recruitment efforts can be directed toward achieving a more balanced racial composition in SUPC. Orientation and training efforts can be made around helping members develop greater sensitivity to issues of diversity.

 

On a more individual level, members who represent different racial/ethnic groups can be encouraged to take leadership roles and to "work within the system" (e.g., by advocating programs of interest to members of their racial/cultural groups) toward making SUPC more responsive to their needs. Those who feel a need for greater support around racial/cultural issues can be referred to the Counseling Center, the Office of Minority Student Affairs, or the Office of Human Resources.

 

Summary

 

This study was an attempt to explore various aspects of SUPC volunteer involvement: the frequency with which members had had specific experiences; the relationship of specific experiences to gender and leadership status; and which experiences were considered by members to be the most positive and most negative.

 

While gender did not significantly relate to the number of reported SUPC experiences, leadership status and length of time as

 


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an SUPC member did. Students who had held leadership positions in SUPC were significantly more likely than non-leaders to have had five of the volunteer experiences listed on the checklist. Additional research regarding the unique impact of leadership status on one's volunteer experience was suggested.

 

Pertaining to the quality of the volunteer experience, SUPC members seemed to most value affiliative and leadership-oriented experiences, and to feel most negative when their volunteer work seems to overtake them and becomes difficult to manage (i.e., balancing schoolwork with SUPC involvement; doing more than their share in SUPC).

 

Another important theme was the need to feel involved, accepted, and approved of by others. For example, participants felt positive about feeling "involved" on campus, attending a retreat, being part of a successful programming effort, and getting praise or recognition for their work. They felt negative about feeling they did not fit in and receiving negative feedback. A final negative theme pertained to dealing with Union and SUPC policies and procedures.

 

Advisors who work with SUPC members can make individual and group interventions toward maximizing the positive aspects and minimizing the negative aspects of the volunteer experience. Also, as it was noted earlier, certain negative experiences can be "re-framed" as positive in terms of the growth opportunities they offer.


 

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References

 

Atkinson, J.W. (1978). An introduction to motivation (2nd Ed.). New York: Van Nostrand.

 

Balenger, V.J., Sedlacek, W.E., & Guenzler, M.A. (1989). Volunteer activities and their relationship to

motivational needs: A study of the Stamp Union Program Council. (Counseling Center Research Report No.

18-89). College Park: University of Maryland.

 

Fitch, R. Thomas (1987). Characteristics and motivations of college students volunteering for community

service. Journal of College Student Personnel, 28 (5), 424-431.

 

Flanagan, J.C. (1954). The critical incident technique. Psychological Bulletin, 51, 327-358.

 

Gough, H.G., & Heilbrun, A.B. (1983). The Adjective Check List manual. Palo Alto, CA: Consulting

Psychologists Press.

 

Henderson, K.A. (1980, September). Programming volunteerism for happier volunteers. Parks and Recreation, pp.

61-64.

 

Holland, J.L. (1985). The Self-Directed Search professional manual. Odessa, FL: Psychological Assessment

Resources, Inc.

 

McClelland, D. (1962). Business drive and national achievement. Harvard Business Review, 40(4), 99-112).

 

Phillips, M. (1982). Motivation and expectation in successful volunteerism. Journal of Voluntary Action

Research, 11, 118-125.

 

Sergent, M.T., & Sedlacek, W.E. (1990). Volunteer motivations across student organizations: A test of

person-environment fit theory. Journal of College Student Development, 31(3), 255-261.


 

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Stano, M. (1983, April?. The critical incident technique: A description of the method. Paper presented at the

Annual Meeting of the Southern Speech Communication Associates, Lincoln, NE.


 

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Table 1: Sample Characteristics

Characteristic

N

%(a)

Gender

 

 

Male

42

56

Female

33

44

Totals

75

100

Race

 

 

Black

4

5

White

60

80

Asian

7

9

Hispanic

2

3

Other

2

3

Totals

75

100

Class Status

 

 

Freshman

20

27

Sophomore

18

24

Junior

22

29

Senior

13

17

Other

2

3

Totals

75

100

Resident Status

 

 

With parent or relative

17

24

In an off-campus apartment or house

8

11

Campus residence halls

47

65

Totals

72

100

Length of SUPC Membership

 

 

Less than one semester

14

19

1-2 semesters

32

43

3-4 semesters

19

25

More than 4 semesters

10

13

Totals

75

100

Ever Held SUPC Leadership Position

 

 

Yes

38

51

No

37

49

Totals

75

100


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Table 2

Table 2: A Comparison of SUPC Member Experiences by Leadership Status

Experience

 

Leaders (a)

 

 

Non-Leaders (b)

 

 

 

N

%

 

N

%

Dealing with SUPC policies and procedure

 

34

90

 

20

54

Dealing with Union policies and procedures

 

31

82

 

13

51

Making contacts with people who might help me in the future (d)

 

24

63

 

12

32

Saving program attendees

 

25

66

 

7

19

Working with other members (d)

 

37

97

 

28

76

 

Note. Table refers to number and percentage of students who reported having had each of the experiences listed. Leadership status refers to whether or not the member had ever held a formal leadership position in the organization. (a) n = 38. (b) n = 37. (c) Subgroups differed significantly at p < .01. (d) Subgroups

differed significantly at p < .05.

 

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SUPC Experiences Identified as Having the Most Postive or Negative Impact on the Overal Quality of the Volunteer Experience

Experience

Had Experience

 

Positive

 

Negative

 

N

%

 

%

 

%

Attending the Awards banquet

26

35

 

15

 

8

Attending Exec. Council Meetings

22

29

 

14

 

9

Attending the Holiday Party

24

32

 

13

 

0

Attending a retreat

26

35

 

54

 

8

Balancing schoolwork with SUPC involvement (a)

33

44

 

24

 

67

Becoming more assertive

24

32

 

75

 

0

Being part of a group with a common goal

44

58

 

32

 

0

Being part of a successful programming effort

44

59

 

45

 

0

Conducting a committee meeting

22

29

 

9

 

9

Dealing with SUPC policies and procedures

40

53

 

0

 

35

Dealing with Union policies and procedures

36

48

 

3

 

36

Delegating tasks

30

40

 

20

 

3

Doing more than my share (a)

18

24

 

(N=1)

 

(N=18)

Feeling accepted by others

45

60

 

29

 

0

Feeling "involved" on campus

39

52

 

77

 

0

Feeling that I did not fit in (a)

3

4

 

(N=2)

 

(N=16)

Getting leadership experience

24

32

 

71

 

0

Getting job experience

26

35

 

8

 

0

Getting praise or recognition for my work

36

48

 

42

 

3

Handling the SUPC budget

15

20

 

7

 

20

Holding an office

23

31

 

35

 

9

Implementing a program

29

39

 

34

 

0

Interacting with the Union staff

46

61

 

7

 

7

Learning more about racial or cultural diversity

29

39

 

21

 

0

Learning specific skills

37

49

 

11

 

0

Learning to say "no" to others

24

32

 

4

 

17

Making contacts with people who might help me in the future

27

36

 

30

 

4

making new friends (a)

26

35

 

(N=43)

 

(N=0)

Planning a program

31

41

 

39

 

6

Providing a service to the campus community

42

56

 

24

 

0

Receiving an award for my work

24

32

 

4

 

0

Receiving negative feedback

23

31

 

4

 

52

Recruiting new members

32

43

 

6

 

9

Running for an office

33

44

 

9

 

3

Serving program attendees

31

41

 

0

 

3

Socializing with other members

53

71

 

25

 

0

Training/orienting new members

29

39

 

0

 

0

Working with other members

51

68

 

22

 

6

working with SUPC advisors

40

53

 

10

 

5

Working within the system to get things accomplished

44

59

 

7

 

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Note. Respondents (N=75? indicated which of 40 experiences they had had, identified up to five that had a positive effect and five that had a negative effect on the overall quality of their SUPC volunteer experience. (a? Designated as both positive and negative by 9% (y=2> of respondents who had experienced this.


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(a) Because the total number who identified this as a positive or negative experience exceeded the number who indicated they had had this experience, percentages were not calculated.


 

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(a) Because the total number who identified this as a positive or negative experience exceeded the number who indicated they had had this experience, percentages were not calculated.


 

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Table 4

Rank Ordering of the SUPC Experiences Most Often Identified as Positive

Experience

Had Experience

 

Positive

Rank

 

N

%

 

%

 

Making new friends (a)

26

35

 

(N=43)

1

Feeling "involved" on campus

39

52

 

77

2

Becoming more assertive

24

32

 

75

3

Getting leadership experience

24

32

 

71

4

Attending a retreat

26

35

 

54

5

Being a part of a successful programming effort

44

59

 

45

6

Getting praise or recognition for my work

6

48

 

42

7

 

Note. Experiences were rank-ordered according to percentage (number that identified experience as positive out of number that had the experience?, with the exception described below. (a? Because the total number who identified this as a positive or negative experience exceeded the number who initially indicated they had had this experience, percentages were not calculated.


 

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Rank Ordering of the SUPC Experiences Most Often Identified as Negative

Experience

Had Experience

 

Positive

Rank

 

N

%

 

%

 

Making new friends (a)

26

35

 

(N=43)

1

Balancing schoolwork with SUPC involvement

33

44

 

67

1

Doing more than my share (a)

18

24

 

(N=18)

2

Feeling that I did not fit in

3

4

 

(N=16)

3

Receiving negative feedback

23

31

 

52

4

Dealing with Union policies and procedures

36

48

 

36

5

Dealing with SUPC policies and procedures

40

53

 

35

6

 

Note. Experiences were rank-ordered according to percentage (number that identified experience as positive out of number that had the experience), with the exception described below. (a) Because the total number who identified this as a positive or negative experience exceeded the number who initially indicated they had had this experience, percentages were not calculated.


 

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Appendix

 

SUPC Survey

 

Demographics Please circle the appropriate answers.

 

1. Your sex is: 2. Your race is:

a. male a. Black (African-Amer.)

b. female b. White (not of Hispanic origin)

c. Asian (Asian-Amer., Pacific Isl.)

3. Your age is: d. Hispanic (Latino, Chicano)

years e. American Indian or Alaskan Native

f. Other (specify)

4. Your campus status is: 5. Your place of residence is:

a. Freshman a. With parents/relatives

b. Sophomore b. In off-campus apartment/house

c. Junior c. In campus residence hall

d. Senior d. In fraternity/sorority house

h. Other e. Other (specify)

 

6. How long have you been a member of SUPC?

a. Less than one semester d. Three to four semesters

b. One to two semesters e. More than four semesters

 

7. Have you ever held a leadership position in SUPC?

a. yes

b. no

 

Directions On the next page is a list of possible activities and experiences of SUPC members. 6o down the list and place a check on the line next to each thing that you have done or experienced as an SUPC member.


 

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Activity or Experience

 

Attending the Awards Banquet Attending Exec. Council meetings Attending the Holiday Party Attending a retreat Balancing schoolwork with SUPC involvement Becoming more assertive Being part of a group with a common goal

 

Being part of a successful programming effort Conducting a committee meeting Dealing with SUPC policies and procedures Dealing with Union policies and procedures Delegating tasks Doing more than my share Feeling accepted by others Feeling "involved" on campus Feeling that I did not fit in Getting leadership experience Getting job experience Getting praise or recognition for your work Handling the SUPC budget Holding an office

 

Implementing a program Interacting with Union staff Learning more about racial or cultural diversity Learning specific skills Learning to say "no" to others Making contacts with people who might help me in the future

 

Making new friends Planning a program Recruiting new members Receiving an award for your work Receiving negative feedback Running for an office Serving program attendees Providing a service to the campus community Socializing with other members Training/orienting new members Working with other members Working with SUPC advisors Working within the system to get things accomplished ether (specify?

 

More Directions: Now, go back over the list and identify up to five items that have had a significantly positive effect an the overall quality of your experience as an SUPC member. Place a "P" on the line next to each of these.

 

Then, go back over the list again and identify up to five items that have had a significantly negative effect on the overall quality of your experience as an SUPC member. Place an "N" an the line next to each of these.