Collegiate SWE members can have a difficult time juggling classes, jobs/internships and extracurricular commitments while professional members tackle the constant push and pull of work-life balance. This can make it difficult for members to consistently find the time and energy to volunteer for outreach events. This year’s FY19 Wow! Innovation Challenge #3 asked how SWE sections encourage volunteers to comeback and avoid “burnout” all the while maintaining outreach volunteer engagement. We looked for what type of programs or incentives are in place to keep the outreach spark alive. How do you foster an exciting and inclusive volunteering environment? How do you accommodate volunteers’ commitments to other activities? One fantastic submission stood out against the rest.
Congratulations to Colorado State University for winning the FY19 Wow! Innovation Challenge #3! Colorado State University won this challenge due to their efforts aimed at keeping volunteers engaged while respecting each person’s busy schedules. Volunteer “burnout” was avoided through a multifaceted program that included transparency, effective communication, defined roles and incentives. This program was implemented for volunteers involved with Introduce a Girl for Engineering Day (IAGE) which promotes STEM to middle school girls through hands-on activities and a parent panel. Theresa Centola was kind enough to provide the Wow Innovation committee with insight into her personal experience with the program. Theresa was open about the fact that she has “felt burnout before” and credits the inclusive environment that the committee built that helped her the most. “If I was overwhelmed by work, there was always someone that was willing to help.”
Transparency was key to creating an inclusive environment and keeping volunteers engaged in IAGE. All volunteer requirements were outlined at the very start of the planning process. The requirements included descriptions of tasks and time commitments. This level of transparency provided enough background information for volunteers to make an informed decision about participating in the event. Effective communication was also tied to this program. One point of contact was designated to create ease of access and consistency with the exchanges between the volunteers and IAGE committee. Check-in surveys were utilized to gauge members’ workload and to assign extra assistance to distribute work among the committee. While check-in surveys were used to evaluate stress, bonding exercises such as stretching and guided meditation were used to alleviate it. Theresa mentioned that she thought the bonding exercise was a “nice way to start our meeting with some healthy habits and relaxation.”
A defined and diverse list of volunteer roles allowed each person to choose a role that best fits his/her availability and skills. For example, role models were a crucial volunteer position composed of collegiate and professional members. A role model was paired with 6-8 girls and helped the group complete hands-on activities. Activity hosts had a larger time commitment that involved creating an activity and facilitating it during IAGE. This role required about 3 months of planning. The lowest time commitment was general volunteers that came to the day of the event to help where they were needed. The list of volunteer roles also included a fundraising team and PR coordinator which are both positions that Theresa was actively involved in during past school years. These roles secure funds for the event and get the word out about IAGE. Next year Theresa will be taking on even more responsibility as the team lead! Overall, the wide range of volunteer roles allowed each person to choose a position that helped them accommodate commitments to other activities outside of SWE.
Incentives were also used to keep volunteers engaged in outreach. In addition to the classic free t-shirt and food incentives, IAGE satisfied the service requirements for some classes. Also, a point system was created to award 2 scholarships to volunteers by the end of the spring semester. Theresa Centola said that “being involved in IAGE increased my chances of being the freshman selected to attend SWE Nationals, as well as get me participation points through our SWE section to be eligible for an involvement scholarship. Additionally, I feel my involvement in SWE helped me to be elected as a section officer.”
The Wow! Innovation group hopes that Colorado State University is able to keep up the great work and continue to encourage volunteers to stay active! Best wishes to Theresa Centola as the new team lead and CSU with next year’s IAGE event!
Check out Colorado State University’s winning video submission below: