Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Thank you!

Just a short note to thank all of our ASGA members across the world. I'm thankful for the privilege of serving you, and hopefully, helping you to create a more effective Student Government for your campus.

I can tell you that the whole ASGA team, everyone from me to our data-entry specialists, believes that you are our nation's future. What you're learning now will later translate to you being an effective, ethical leader in the future. This is why what ASGA does is so important.

It it an honor to be entrusted to teach and train the future leaders of this nation. We take this responsbility seriously and do everything in our power to make sure ASGA's resources are as accurate, current, and thorough as possible.

Here's to a great 2010, and thank YOU again for 2009, ASGA's best year yet!

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Just because...

It's pretty common for new student leaders to want change. They come into their positions and have lots of ideas about how to improve their organizations.

Unfortunately, a lot of time the "change" is just for the heck of it. They just want to make their mark without doing any research to prove the change is wanted or needed.

An example: I just saw that the SGA at St. Cloud State University is not only changing its constitution (I'm guessing that at least half of SGs across America change their constitutions each year), but they're actually changing their name.

If their name were "student parliament" or "Student Council" (which brings up memories of high school), I could understand. But they're changing from the very-clear name "Student Government Association" to "Student Association."

My experience is that now they'll have to explain that Student Association is the student government for SCSU. Changing from SGA, which is clear to everyone who sees Student Government Association, to Student Association will muddy the waters for this organization. They'll have to spend time explaining to students, administrators, faculty, and staff that they are the student government.

In the newspaper article I read about this upcoming change, I saw no evidence whatsoever that the SGA there made any effort to determine if fellow students were having trouble understanding their name or their role. I saw no proof that they surveyed anyone, had a marketing class conduct research or focus groups, or anything beyond "let's change because..."

They're making a major, major change (your name is about as major a change as you can make) without any research to prove that it is either needed or warranted.

Making a change "just because" is just not good leadership.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

The evolution of ASGA

ASGA will be six years old this March 2010.

Until now, most of my focus as executive director has been in creating the organization, developing services, and creating policy. It has been more than a full-time job, to say the least.

But my work with ASGA is evolving. Now, I spend much less time on "creating" and "marketing" the organization. ASGA has become the recognized "standard," the only national organization serving and supporting collegiate student governments. We have earned credibility and respect from much of the higher education community.

This respect is reflected in our constantly growing membership. We now have 900 member institutions, which is four-times larger than USSA or ASACC, which are primarily lobbying organizations. We produce 10 conferences, which is more than all of the other student government conferences combined.

Our credibility is also reflected in our very high renewal rates for member institutions. Just a handful of institutions don't renew their ASGA memberships, and this is usually because they're experiencing severe budget limitations. They usually want to be ASGA members, but just can't financially.

Now, my role is more about serving those members through consulting, research, answering questions, and helping them solve problems. This is what I always envisioned it would be like as ASGA evolved.

Within another year, I predict that 80 percent of my time will be spent on answering member questions and helping them with research instead of coming up with recruiting and marketing strategies to spread the word about ASGA. This is exciting! This is why I do what I do!

Thursday, October 1, 2009

The needs of the one...

Just got back from ASGA's National Student Government Summit in DC. It was the largest training conference we've ever produced, with 555 registrants from 101 institutions in 35 states. The entire ASGA staff and nearly all of our speakers participated. We think it was the best conference we've ever produced.

With this said, we did encounter a new situation there. One student told me that she was very uncomfortable being photographed. We always have a professional photographer and videographer capturing "moments" that we can then post at the conference web site. Potential future attendees then can learn what it's really like to come to the conference.

I personally don't think it's a "big deal" to be photographed, and initially thought this student was overreacting. "Just deal with it," I was thinking to myself.

But then I reconsidered. Maybe she had something happen in her past that caused her to feel this way about photos. ASGA and I certainly need to be considerate of all of our attendees' concerns and opinions. We need to be listening and trying to serve them better.

When an SGA registers for one of our conferences, they agree on the form that all photos and video taken are ASGA's property and may be used for promotional purposes. But individual students rarely see this form, as an advisor or one officer signs up for the entire group.

I don't want to make the registration process take longer and be more complex. But I'm thinking that in the future, we may allow students who don't want to have their photo taken to put a red "sticker" on their conference name tags. This would alert our photographers that these students are "off limits" for photos.

ASGA's conferences serve thousands of students and advisors each year. We've now produced nearly 60 conferences in the past five years. While we've never had a complaint before about photos, we are taking this one student's concerns seriously. And we may change and improve policy because of it.

ASGA does serve the "masses," but we're also conscious about the needs of the one.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Doing more with less

I've been noticing the past few days that several Student Governments are lauding themselves for saving money on their "retreats" and "training" for new officers. Schools like the University of South Alabama are proud of saving money by having their "retreat" on campus. Georgia State University's SGA says it saved 93% on what it spent in 2008 for its annual retreat.

This is great news for their constituents. It's proving that the SGAs are serious about saving money and using it to serve fellow students, even in a "down economy."

Most student government budgets are somewhat protected, as they usually get their funds from activity fees which are tied to enrollment. In a recession, people typically go back to college, which means more activity fees to disburse. This usually is restricted, however, to public universities and colleges, and less often to community colleges and private institutions.

Still, with many universities making cuts to faculty positions, reducing their budgets because of less revenue coming from the state or donors, and cutting back programs, Student Governments should follow that example and also be extra careful in the use of their limited budgets.

Student Government retreats are CRITICAL for the health and effectiveness of any student government. These retreats are typically done in August/September and often are at an off-campus location, so that members can be immersed in SG issues, plans, and goals without the distractions they have on campus.

But a helpful and useful retreat can easily be done on campus-- I just worked with two institutions (one in Illinois and one in Boston), where their trainings were done right on campus before the start of school. Where the retreat is housed is not as important as when. If it's after the start of school, there are myriad of distractions, so SG members and officers are less focused and can give less of their attention.

In a down economy, it's wise for SGs to be cost-conscious on their training and planning retreats. Having it at an off-campus retret locale may sound great, but you can save a lot of money for your constituents by getting your training right there on campus.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

On the run

Every weekend this month, plus at least one other trip mid-week, I'll be either speaking at an ASGA conference or training/consulting with an ASGA member institution. August is typically my busiest travel month for serving ASGA members.

While I don't look forward to the airport waits and delays, I do look forward to the work itself. It's rewarding and satisfying knowing that I can help less-experienced student leaders and advisors.

Fortunately, I'm only gone for two days at a time, so I'm not away too long from my wife and children. That's the hardest part of travel for business: being away from the family.

But when I come home, we always take a family day to do something fun. Yesterday it was bowling (my first time in 31 years). The kids loved it. Next week when I get back from Boston, I'm thinking of taking them to the Tampa zoo.

Travel nowadays, let me tell you, is hardly romantic. Just because I go to cities like Boston, New York, Chicago, and Los Angeles doesn't mean that I sight-see and spend time enjoying cool drinks, music, and checking out the landmarks. I usually see the inside of a hotel room, meeting rooms, and the airport.

It's also hard work to travel. All of the preparation takes a ton of time. I'm my own travel agent, so that adds to the complexity. I'm also the "roadie" at our conferences and handle set-up before the event and take-down after. Sweaty work, particularly at this time of year.

But again, I focus on the work and what it is accomplishing and who it is helping. That knowledge that ASGA and I are doing important work that matters helps me make it through the flight delays, jam-packed planes, and over-priced airport meals.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Ready. Set. Fall...

Where did the summer go? There was a time when summer in higher education meant rest, time to plan, and even some time at the beach. Now, most colleges and universities offer summer terms and student affairs administrators and staff usally have to stick around for much of it.

This increased summer action mainly relates to institutions trying to use their facilities more efficiently and to students wanting to complete their degrees sooner than later (to save time and money).

Still, let's admit it: who else, behinds those in academia, get weeks off at a time and every federal holiday, not even counting normal vacation days, sick leave, and "comp" time.

At ASGA, we take Fridays off from May to August. So everyone works extra hard the rest of the week to keep up with our workloads. I admit that it's great to have an extra weekend day to rest, spend time with the family, and to travel/visit with family and friends. Fall is coming, and that means lots of travel for me to ASGA's conferences, not to mention consulting trips to several member institutions.

It's still stinking hot in Florida (actually we just started the heat of summer), but it's beginning to look a lot like fall around the office as we get ready for the fall semester rush.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

No more "status quo"

Most of us keeping doing what you've been doing. Why? It's easier than innovating, creating, taking risks to create something new. Trying new things involves the potential, maybe even likelihood, of it not succeeding exactly as we envision.

But we grow as leaders and our organizations improve when we strive to be better.

For example, ASGA discovered a new way to gather information that we store in our SG Database which include information on every student government in America. Our team literally researches information on every college and university in the nation, one at a time. It's time-consuming, exhaustive work. In the past, each of our data-entry team members might, on a good day, be able to complete research on five institutions.

However, in the last month, we experimented with a new system. This new system has led to us tripling our production. Each of now can complete 15 schools on a good day. This mean updating as many as 75 institutions a day. With 5,000 colleges and universities in the nation, we ideally need to be updating data on every institution twice a year. we were barely getting through once a year using the old ways. Now it's more realistic to get through the nation twice a year. That's exciting. We're better able to serve our members with better data on student governments everywhere.

Changing our methods was risky and potentially could have caused problems. But the risk paid off. ASGA is much deeper and more accurate now as a result.

All of us in Student Government must be willing to take risks when the reward and result could better serve our constituents. We can't be content with the status quo.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Sweet Home Alabama

Leaving in the morning for a consulting/training trip to Auburn University's Montgomery campus. I'm facilitating their SGA training retreat at a 4H camp. Looking forward to helping this member institution.

It's a privilege to serve Student Governments and be trusted to provide them with information, advice, and training. I don't take this responsibility lightly.

In preparation for going, I spoke with two administrators and the SGA president in some depth, to learn about their problems and issues and specifically want they must want to learn, and what they most need to learn.

They asked me to do some "leadership" training, but my specialty is student government and that's what they're getting when they bring me to work with them. I'm Mr. Student Government and that means everything I talk with them about is on how they can improve their Student Government this year.

If everything goes as planned, I'll be home Sunday early morning (1 or 2 a.m.). I plan to drive straight through. It's seven hours there and back. But I've learned that if it would take eight hours to drive, you're better off driving than flying, particularly in my case. There is no cost-efficient airport within minutes of my home, so I have to drive two hours to Orlando, Jacksonville, or Tampa to get more palatable fares. So when I think how long it will take to drive, and wonder if I could save time by flying, I have to build in four hours of driving to any airport, plus another hour or more of "waiting" time. My rule is I drive when it is under 8 hours.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Research, research, research

One of the most-rewarding and interesting aspects of serving Student Governments is helping them with research.

This research can be on everything from student activity fees to student government budgets to elections.

Our members frequently ask ASGA to help them save time, money, and energy on getting information they need. It's a privilege for us to help out.

When we get a request, our team writes, calls, e-mails, and faxes schools nationwide to get answers to specific questions.

Once we get the answers, we add this information to our SG Database. So the research not only benefits the member school that originally asked for it, but all other ASGA members.

Every time we research a subject, we're also adding to the knowledge-base that ASGA stores. This continues to grow and grow and improve.

One thing about ASGA is that we are always growing and improving.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Planning Ahead Saves Money

Particularly now, in light of budget issues at most colleges and universities across America, it has never been more important for student governments to plan ahead.

Planning ahead saves time, energy, and money. Waiting until the "last minute" can cost money, create problems, and cause errors.

For example, ASGA offers "early-bird" discounts for institutions that are planning to attend our National Student Government Summit in September. By registering now, our members save $50 per person.

The cost goes up progressively over the summer. Waiting until September to register will cost a member $200 per person. This could have gone toward programming or services for their fellow students.

Registering now also will save our members on their travel expenses, as airfare is super-low right now. It might not be later this summer.

Planning ahead for this one ASGA conference alone could save our members thousands of dollars.

Of course, there are many other areas in which planning can save Student Governments time, money, and energy. In tough economic times, it is particularly important to think ahead and try to save, be more efficient, and save your students' money.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Happy Anniversary ASGA!

March 17 is the fifth anniversary of the founding of the American Student Government Association. I can't believe it has already been five years.

I remember back in 2001 when our team was considering the idea of starting ASGA, what it would entail, what services it would offer, what work would need to be done.

It has been a LOT of work to create this resource. It has taken thousands and thousands of hours of research and we've dealt with hundreds of problems with the web site and technical aspects.

But what I envisioned in 2001 is now a reality. I envisioned a "knowledge base" for student governments, a single resource that would give any student government the tools, ideas, and help necessary to become more effective. That's what ASGA has become.

Our resources literally get better and deeper every day. Seriously. Our data team is constantly improving the information we store on student governments everywhere. We add more officers, more advisors, more administrators, campus media, elections information, compensation, goals, accomplishments, documents, programs, services, and more. It really is an amazing resource.

My original goal was to have 1,000 member institutions in five years. We're not quite there, but do have 821 member schools. That's out of about 5,000 student governments in the nation.

There has never been an organization for student governments that serves so many member institutions. A big reason for ASGA's growth is that we focus on helping student governments improve, not on lobbying. We try to help our members get better there on their local campuses so that they can be more effective advocates for their fellow students. We believe that more effective local student governments leads to more effective lobbying and representation on bigger issues.

It has been quite a "ride" starting and running ASGA for the past five years. As we continue to grow and improve, I'm excited about what lies ahead. It's a great unknown, as no one has ever run an organization for students quite like ASGA.

Monday, March 2, 2009

The show must go on...

I'm as sick as a dog. Not sure why we say that-- I've never seen a sick mutt. But I am sick with a fever, stopped up head, and laryngitis. Normally, that's enough to knock me out for a few days and keep me home resting in bed. This time I couldn't. ASGA's New York City Student Government Training Conference was last Saturday.

Instead of nursing my fever, I was boarding a plane in Orlando to JFK airport. Instead of sipping soothing chicken soup, I was setting up ASGA's registration area for the conference at Pace University. Instead of sleeping in, I was watching the clock for my 6:30 a.m. wake up to get to the campus Saturday morning.

I kept thinking to myself-- just a few more hours. Just a few more hours. Then you can rest.

I had four workshops to present, as well as being the host, registering attendees, and setting up/tearing down the ASGA materials that we lug to and from every conference. Normally, this alone is exhausting work. But combined with the cold, it was a killer. I've never been so tired after a conference. My voice was shot-- is shot. My feet were swollen and blistered (new shoes, big mistake).

But I dug in and coaxed a few hours out of my sick vocal chords and weakened body. In fact, no one would have known I was sick if my voice weren't so raspy.

It's difficult to be your best when you're sick, tired, cranky, depressed, disappointed, or discouraged. But one of the many signs of a great leader is being a professional when it's not "convenient." This is what I'm trying to model. And this trip, that was hard.

In fact, we've produced close to 50 conferences now and this past weekend's was the hardest and most taxing I've ever done. It was hard to be a professional this time.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Connecting Around the World

This morning, I keynoted a Student Government conference in Italy while casually dressed in my shorts here in sunny Florida.

Student leaders at John Cabot University in Rome asked ASGA to keynote their second-annual Student Government conference for English-speaking institutions in the region.

Last night, about 2:00 a.m., I tested the Skype video and phone system with the host school, and then this morning about 11:30, spoke for 30 minutes on the role of Student Government here in American colleges and universities.

I dressed in my nice shirt, tie, and suit coat, but had on shorts and sandals from the waist down. Why this ridiculous outfit? I was only seen on the small Logitech computer video camera set up on my screen. They could see and hear me over Skype, and they showed the image on a big screen at the college.

I could hear my voice a second later in the background because of the time lag going across the big pond.

This conference today is so unlike ASGA's 10 events, like the one in New Orleans last weekend. I have to drive or fly, prepare for weeks in advance, ship dozens of boxes of materials ahead of time. It's a lot of work.

This conference was such a breeze comparatively because of the use of technology. It tells me that perhaps ASGA could be leading international conferences for Student Governments in the future?

Tomorrow, I lead another workshop on elections and transitioning at 10:00 EST. Rome is six hours ahead, so it will be the end of the day there.

It was a wild experience doing this Italy conference this morning. I enjoyed it and I think the audience appreciated it as well.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Smooth transitions

Watching last week's presidential inauguration reminded me how important "transitions" are for Student Governments. Very few SGs transition well, and this means that new officers come into office knowing very little of what their jobs entail or what has been tried or done before them. They spend a lot of needless time "reinventing the wheel" as a result.

Love him or hate him, it appears that former President Bush and his team did an admirable job of making the transition to President Obama and his team go as smoothly as possible. I haven't read of any juvenile actions that haunted the Clinton administration when they handed over the White House to W. There were stories that implied that some members of the outgoing team made it harder for the new workers.

I hope as your term of office nears, you'll be getting materials, information, and records ready to help your successor, even if you think that person is a know-nothing jerk. Keep notes on all that you do, the progress you've made, the work you've accomplished. Keep notes of who lilkes youo and who hates you on campus. Who has helped you wade through the school bureaucracy?

All of this information will help your successor take on her role with the knowledge needed to be successful. You'll leave the position better off than when you began. That should be one of your top goals as your term of office draws to a close.

Friday, January 9, 2009

From 80 degrees to an ice storm

Being a Florida native, I sometimes get sick of the heat and humidity here in the Sunshine State. But when I travel for ASGA, I'm reminded of how nice it is at this time of year.

Just got back from Saint Francis University outside of Pittsburgh. While there, I drove through an ice storm, walked gingerly on slick walkways and stairs, and drove slow through snow and sleet. For this Florida boy, that was a blizzard.

Yesterday, my children were shirtless and in swimsuits, barefooted of course, outside playing and riding bikes. Back on the mountain at Saint Francis, only the bravest souls were outside in biting 20 degree weather and blowing icy rain.

Travel for ASGA is part of my normal routine now. This trip was to help train new senators and also do an assessment of the major changes that the SGA at SFU has been making over the past year. Very impressive. I'm looking forward to continuing my research and producing a document in the coming weeks to help this institution understand the progress they've made and what potential it has to continue improving.