Bulletin, October/November 2006

Student Perspective
Visibility of Student Member Involvement in ASIS&T Leadership Roles

by Phillip M. Edwards

Phillip M. Edwards is a doctoral candidate in the Information School at the University of Washington. He is one of the two student members of the Advisory Board of the Bulletin of the American Society for Information Science and Technology. Email: pme2<at>u.washington.edu

It is a pleasure to contribute this column to the Bulletin as the membership gears up for the 2006 Annual Meeting in Austin, TX. Given the amount of excitement and enthusiasm that accompanies this event each year, and provided that my role on the Advisory Board is ostensibly to give voice to concerns relevant to both student members and the organization as a whole, it seems appropriate to focus this column on a timely question: How do student members become involved in leadership roles within ASIS&T?

Based on personal experience, the process seems to involve equal parts persistence and a tendency to be in the right place at the right time. This year, I have had the opportunity to serve as a SIG officer (secretary/treasurer of SIG/STI) and as a member of an award jury (Best Information Science Book). A number of my colleagues over the past four years have similarly risen to prominent leadership positions within the organization as student members, and based on numerous conversations during that period, the nearly 40 recognized student chapters appear to remain successful in engaging students in their associated graduate programs.

My idiosyncratic and haphazard experiences notwithstanding, it came to my attention while reading the most recent slate of bylaw amendments presented for consideration by the membership that “many regular SIGs are unable to find the requisite number of [two required] officers” ([Bylaws amendment 1], 2006, n.p.). This raises a second – perhaps more intriguing and fundamental – question related to leadership and service within the organization: How is the visible involvement of student members distributed across other leadership clusters such as SIGs, chapters, awards juries and committees?

To address this new question in a somewhat more systematic fashion, I surveyed the degree of student involvement as elected or appointed officers of SIGs, as members of awards juries, as officers of chapters and as members of committees as listed throughout the ASIS&T website (see References and Source Material for specific URLs). For the purposes of this brief investigation, any listed activity – for instance, being the leader of a virtual SIG – was considered to be a visible example of involvement. Each named individual was classified as either a student member or a regular member by scanning entries in the online membership directory and performing a series of searches in Google to establish members’ affiliations. For example, if evidence supported that an individual was a current doctoral or masters-level student, he or she was recorded as a student member. If not – for example, those who were employed professionally or who held faculty positions – he or she was recorded as a regular member. These categories are inherently problematic, particularly for those who are working while earning their degrees and for student leaders who have recently graduated, but the intent of this investigation was to be illustrative of relative distributions of student leader visibility rather than serving as a painstakingly precise measure of student involvement. These distributions, reflecting information gathered as of August 2006, are presented in Table 1.

Table 1.  Visible student member involvement in ASIS&T SIGs, chapters, award juries & committees
% of student member involvement (conservative est.) % of student member involvement (liberal estimate)
SIGs (n=72) 4.2% 6.9%
Chapters (n=96) 2.1% 8.3%
Awards juries (n=78) 2.6% 6.4%
Committees (n=70) 1.4% 7.1%
Overall (n=251) 2.8% 8.4%
Notes: All conservative estimates include counts only of members with student status that could be verified and estimates may be lower than the actual percentages. All liberal estimates include members with indeterminate membership status among the counts of student members and may be higher than actual percentages. Because individuals may hold more than one leadership role, summed group counts will not equal the overall count.

Not surprisingly, many ASIS&T members serve in more than one leadership capacity within the organization, and instances of multiple involvements have been collapsed to count individual members once only within each grouping. The number of members tallied within each group does not, therefore, equal the overall total. There were also 14 members for whom student or regular status could not be verified. To account for any resulting distortions to the distributions, more liberal estimates that include members of indeterminate status among the counts of student members have been provided as well. Finally, it is prudent to interpret these findings only as a single snapshot of student member involvement and not indicative of any specific patterns in behavior.

Most striking, perhaps, is the disparity between the percentage of student members within the organization and the percentages of student involvement in leadership positions. We might reasonably expect that these distributions would approach the overall distribution of student members within the organization, which Hahn and Vaughan (2004) report as 21.6% based on the 2003 ASIS&T membership survey. In order to achieve a distribution of student involvement similar to these published membership statistics, approximately 50 additional student members would need to participate across all SIGs, award juries, chapters and committees.

The advantages and disadvantages of such a maneuver are debatable, and the prospects of such a sweeping change initially seem daunting. Certainly, recording involvement of student members and regular members might rest upon an unfair comparison. (Another interesting investigation – but one that falls beyond the scope of the present column – could examine the number of years required after joining the organization for student members and regular members to assume leadership roles. If the data failed to illustrate differences in tenure between the two membership classes, the percentages in Table 1 may simply reflect the “newness” of student members rather than their status.) 

It may nevertheless be productive to conclude with several responses to the question that originally inspired this column, particularly in light of the disproportionately low degree of visible student involvement at the organizational level: How do student members become involved in leadership roles within ASIS&T? Student chapters should continue to flourish, of course, but opportunities for gaining leadership experience at the national level should be encouraged as well. In preparing for the Annual Meeting, I encourage each SIG and committee chair to reflect upon the ways in which their group presents itself as a mechanism for student involvement in the organization. To move from inward reflection to outreach, it would be of great benefit to all ASIS&T members – student and regular alike – for these groups to make visible the available points of entry for leadership and service. As a complement to this “pull,” we could also envision a “push”: from student chapter advisors and during Annual Meeting events like the New Member and First Conference Brunch. Upon further reflection, drawing 50 additional student members from among nearly 40 student chapters might be a goal that could be achieved. It is my sincere hope that student members will continue to play an incrementally increasing role in leadership within the organization, and I trust that we can collectively offer a range of leadership opportunities to student members as they begin to explore what ASIS&T has to offer – not only as future regular members, but as future leaders within the organization.

Comments and feedback related to this column are welcome. For those who will be attending the Annual Meeting, may your travels be safe.

References and Source Material
American Society for Information Science and Technology. (n.d.) Awards juries. Retrieved August 15, 2006, from http://www.asis.org/awards/awardsjuries.html

American Society for Information Science and Technology. (2006). [Bylaws amendment 1].

American Society for Information Science and Technology. (n.d.) Chapters – Regional. Retrieved August 15, 2006, from http://www.asis.org/Chapters/chapters-regional.html

American Society for Information Science and Technology. (n.d.) Committees. Retrieved August 15, 2006, from http://www.asis.org/committees.html

American Society for Information Science and Technology. (n.d.) Special Interest Groups (SIGs). Retrieved August 15, 2006, from http://www.asis.org/SIG/sigs.html

Hahn, T. B., & Vaughan, L. (2004). Messages from the 2003 ASIS&T membership survey. Bulletin of the American Society for Information Science and Technology, 30(4), 8-11. Retrieved August 15, 2006 from http://www.asis.org/Bulletin/Apr-04/membership_survey.html