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The Promise of Professional Organizations
(Continued from 1)

- On-Campus Opportunities
If there is a chapter of a professional organization on your campus, consider becoming an active member. Local chapter members of the Society of Women Engineers plan social, service and educational events. The American Medical Student Association has groups that promote professional development and improving health care at both the pre-med and medical school level. If you are interested in giving back to the community, student groups will often plan volunteer opportunities that use the unique skills of their members. So a group of future accountants will do taxes for low-income residents, and the pre-dental club will make a presentation about good dental hygiene in local elementary schools. Such projects benefit both the recipients and the students who are gaining hands-on experience.

- Leadership and Networking
You can gain valuable skills by taking a leadership position within these organizations. Of course, there are always elected positions like President and Secretary, but even if you don't see yourself in one of these larger roles, there
are other ways to get more involved. If there is a project you wish your group would do, offer to chair a committee to get it accomplished. If you create Web sites in your free time, volunteer to organize and manage the club Web site. However, even if you don't have an official title, don't think that you can't make an impact on the group. Simply being an active, committed member who attends meetings and events will help make the organization strong and allow you to get the most from your membership.

Joining a campus student professional organization is also a great networking opportunity and a chance to learn from upper-level students in your field. Do you want the dirt on the best journalism professors? Ask the students who
have been there before you. Do your friends and family just not understand the frustrations you face in your chosen field? Go to a meeting full of people who can commiserate with you and offer support and answers. Is it time to
start your job search? Encourage your organization to have a resume workshop or a panel of potential employers.

- Conferences and Conventions
Just when you thought you couldn't get more from your association membership, conventions and conferences offer untold opportunities. Conference registration fees are typically reduced for student members. If you're attending as a member of an on-campus chapter, your school might even offer assistance in paying for registration costs. While this is helpful for the travel budget at all levels, if you live in Wisconsin and attending a national convention in Orlando is beyond your finances, a student registration fee for a state conference an hour away can make it quite a deal for the information you'll take away. You're sure to find inspiration from keynote speeches and break-out sessions, pick up some resources from the exhibition hall and network with potential future co-workers. Convention and conference attendees also take away a greater sense of being part of something larger than themselves - part of a profession.

- Advancing Your Profession
Once you've sensed that you're part of a whole, an intangible benefit of joining a professional organization is the potential for advancing your field. In some cases, this is done on the organizational level with congressional lobbying or a nationwide campaign to bring new students into your chosen profession. At other times, it's much more personal and means that you are contributing ideas and engaging in dialogues that will change the face of teaching or architecture or whatever your passion might be.

Overall, when you add up the advantages, it's easy to see why there should be a place for membership dues in your educational budget. How else can you learn from professionals in your field, make valuable contacts, build your
resume, and become part of a larger community for less than the cost of many textbooks?
How to Find Professional Organizations in Your Field of Study

- Since there are thousands of professional organizations available, the easiest way to find organizations is to look for a campus chapter of an organization in your field of study.

- Associations on the Net .
The Internet Public Library provides an online directory of organizations.

- American Society of Association Executives.
Offers a comprehensive directory of business and professional associations.

- Encyclopedia of Associations
Published by Gale Research, the Encyclopedia of Associations (EOA) lists indepth descriptions of local, state, national, and regional membership organizations in all fields. Check your library for a copy.


Lorie Witkop graduated with a B.A. in English from Michigan State University and later completed an MA in Education from the same school. Certified to teach high school English and Spanish, she joined several education-related professional organizations during her time as a student.

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