Calling All College Students: Start a Student Chapter!
By Sean Taylor, Eastern Kentucky University Student Chapter Chair
Most likely you haven’t considered starting a student chapter at your college or university, but it can be done, and it’s easier than you might think.
First, it is critical to reach out to fellow students who are interested in conservation. It is also critical, and in most cases required, to involve the administration and staff at the college or university. Of course, help from RMEF field staff and other RMEF chapters is essential as well.
Starting a chapter at Eastern Kentucky University (EKU) was a natural fit because of the outdoor demographic of our student body. EKU has a long tradition of producing bright and well-trained wildlife biologists and conservation officers. Having an active student chapter with The Wildlife Society (TWS), living in a state with a hunter-friendly reputation, and boasting a recently-restored elk herd didn’t hurt, either. We already had a solid base of individuals who were steeped in wildlife conservation and hunting history and traditions.
Another thing to consider is whether or not the community already has an RMEF chapter. In our case, we filled a geographic gap between the Lexington and London chapters. Starting a student chapter in a community with an existing RMEF chapter can provide some assistance and advice, but also requires some special considerations. Soliciting support and seeking banquet donations may compete with the local chapter’s efforts, which may not make the best business sense for the RMEF. One solution would be for the student chapter to embark on a different type of fundraiser (other than a big game banquet) that would augment the existing chapter’s efforts.
Once you’ve decided to commit to starting a student chapter, the first thing you need to do is speak to a faculty member about the school’s process in starting an official student organization. In our case we needed a faculty advisor, a charter and a set of bylaws. Next, contact your state’s RMEF regional director and, if your state has one, the State Leadership Team (SLT). Kentucky regional director Bill Carman was extremely helpful in getting our chapter set up and organized, and he and the SLT have been invaluable coaches and mentors. Your local or nearest RMEF chapter can be a great help, too. Besides tapping them for advice, help set up and work or attend their banquet to learn how to host a successful fundraiser.
It’s important to choose an appropriate location to host your event. An off-campus venue is best to avoid issues with firearms transactions or alcohol sales. Choosing a location with an outdoorsy look and feel is also a good idea. We will hold our 2013 banquet at Lake Buck Lodge at the Bluegrass Army Depot. The building is set up to have the look and feel of a hunting lodge that might be found on a snowy mountainside in the Rockies.
When it’s time to send out the invitations, reach out to students and their family members (grandparents make great big game banquet attendees!) and friends. RMEF headquarters will be able to provide a membership mailing list, but it’s important that the word gets out to those who may not already be members of the RMEF. See if your school has a “listserv” in place to make broad announcements, and if you can use it to extend electronic copies of your invitation to the entire school. About 70 people attended our first banquet, held in 2012.
One thing to remember is that while any volunteer group will have some turnover, college clubs have especially high rates. It takes four years to get a bachelor’s degree, but people don’t always join as a freshman and leaders are often upperclassmen. To keep some stability and continuity within your student chapter, spread leadership out over multiple years of students. For example, this semester we have two upperclassmen and two underclassmen stepping up to take responsibility. We meet frequently and share duties such as selling gaming tickets, collecting donations, and promoting RMEF’s visibility on campus.
However, a student chapter shouldn’t be about all work and no play. Figure out ways to get your committee out on the ground. Our chapter has fostered a good relationship with the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources (DFWR) and we regularly participate in activities that not only help their conservation efforts, but also teach the students more about wildlife-related jobs and provide field experience. Our experiences this fall included assisting the DFWR in trapping and immobilizing elk for tagging and sampling. We got to see several field techniques in action and got hands-on time with animals and professionals who do this kind of work every day. The importance of cooperation between a student chapter and state and/or local agencies cannot be stressed enough.
The benefits of organizing a student chapter at your school are many and long-lasting for students, the school and RMEF. Besides raising much-needed funds for RMEF, students can also gain significant hands-on experience implementing techniques they have only read about or discussed in class. Even more importantly, students have the opportunity to network with wildlife professionals both at the RMEF and agency levels who one day may be their peers.
If anyone is interested in starting a student chapter, please do not hesitate to contact me at email@example.com. There is some work involved, but student chapters are excellent feeder programs for RMEF, and ours has proven to be extremely valuable and meaningful to the students at EKU. Whether we end up in Yellowstone or Ypsilanti, we will always carry the RMEF banner.