Most Outstanding VSA of the Year: Vietnamese Student Association at the University of Georgia
What are the purpose and goal(s) of the VSA, and how has the VSA met or exceeded those goals?
The Vietnamese Student Association serves to introduce the Vietnamese culture and language to the campus of the University of Georgia through our four main pillars: Cultural Awareness, Community Service, Friendship, and Leadership. This past year, our VSA has promoted Vietnamese cultural awareness through our mini Vietnamese lessons at general body meetings, fundraising to the public by selling traditional Vietnamese foods/drinks such as chè thái and cà phê sữa đá, and putting on our 13th annual culture show, Night in Saigon 13: Gifts of the Past. We’ve increased our involvement in community service by providing opportunities for our members to volunteer not only for our campus community, but the Vietnamese community in Georgia, through food banks, health fairs, voter registration drives, and most notably, voter phone banking during which we reached out to Asian Americans to vote in the presidential election. We’ve cultivated a feeling of friendship and family this year through multiple GBMs, outings, our ACE program, group travel to different schools, etc. Although we are VSA, we don’t exclude anyone, but rather welcome other ethnicities because we want everyone to find a safe place at school and also spread Vietnamese culture to anyone interested. Finally, we instill leadership, our fourth and newest pillar, by offering positions such as our executive board positions, director positions in our annual culture show, Night in Saigon, and becoming mentors/family leaders in our ACE program. This year, over 20 of our members are also attending UNAVSA-14 in hopes to build upon their leadership skills and become more involved in the VSA community.
Address how the VSA was outstanding in the following areas: recruitment, marketing, outreach to campus community, use of resources (financial, etc.), officer training and event planning.
Our recruitment this year has been nothing less than amazing. We were able to reach out to more new AND active members (especially freshman) than previous years, demonstrated by our general body meeting attendance, which averages around 40 people each meeting as well as approximately 100 student volunteers that participate in our annual culture show. Marketing-wise, we aim to keep our social media platforms (Facebook Page and Instagram) constantly updated as well as promotion in private channels such as Snapchat, GroupMe, Facebook Group, and Remind101. Through our Public Relations officer position, we are able to have eye catching graphics for every event page. Digital Marketing is not our only strength; each and every time we host an event, we try to reach out to as many members and schools as possible by building personal connections with everyone we come into contact with. When it comes to outreach to campus community, we always try to have officers present at other clubs’ meetings such as KUSA, CSA, AASA, FSA, etc. For the next year, we are already working to collaborate more with other clubs through mixers as well as a potential Night Market event. We always extend the invite to all the clubs on campus to attend our meetings and events. Due to our organization’s limited number of resources allocated to use by the school, we host fundraisers to try and help raise money for our organization. This past year, fundraisers were especially pertinent to to success of our culture show due to a more expensive venue. The majority of the profit made from our annual culture show is donated to UNAVSA’s current CPP. Once a new executive board is elected, the previous board will have transitional meetings with the new board. The older board members are always welcome to give advice to the current board when they are in need of help and act as senior advisors to the new board. For most events, the EBoard plans everything. Typically, each officer is in charge of a committee; however we all work together so that the event runs as smoothly as possible.
How did the group work to establish responsibility and accountability among its members?
Because it’s unrealistic for our EBoard consisting of seven members to be able to plan every aspect of the club, we open up positions for general members to become leaders in the organization in which they have certain expectations and responsibilities to be accountable for. For example, the family leaders in our Anh Chi Em program are responsible for guiding their Ems/Littles/Mentees in not only VSA but UGA and life in general. We keep them accountable by doing checkups with the family leaders and also interacting with those in their family. We also help them out by planning ACE specific events where their families can have the chance to bond in hopes of sparking independent bonding sessions outside of VSA-sanctioned events. The ACE Program also incorporated a point system for families that were the most active in the organization. Points were awarded for attendance at meetings, events, out-of-state events, winning games/competitions, etc. The family with the highest number of points were given custom made shirts as an award. Additionally, we also provide the opportunity of coaching a sport for our region’s Olympics: UVSA Southeast Olympics. The coach is responsible for coaching the interested parties in how to play the sport as well as motivate them to continue coming out to practices and improving themselves. The coach and players are both accountable for creating an inclusive environment where everyone should feel welcome to play regardless of skill level of the sport.
How did the VSA work together to maximize strengths and overcome weaknesses?
UGA VSA’s executive board elections always occur in February as our timeline revolves around Night in Saigon which is always in early January. Thus, there’s an awkward transition in the middle of the school year as we move from one board to a newly elected board. As a member on both of these EBoards, I definitely find that there have been a variety of personalities both times with some personalities that meshed really well and some that didn’t. However, any disagreements that occurred were solved maturely and professionally and in many cases, the best solution turned out to be a compromise of the two differing opinions turning our own weaknesses into a strength for the event. At the beginning of each executive board meeting, we would debrief whatever events or meetings we held since the last EBoard meeting discussing pros, cons, deltas, and solutions. It helped us figure out how to improve the next thing we planned as a board, and detailed meeting minutes were recorded to help out future boards if they faced the same problems. The past EBoard’s meeting minutes should act as a preventative measure and resource for future boards following resulting in a stronger organization every year. Additionally, at the end of every major event (ex. Night in Saigon and Athens by Night, our formal ball), we release a survey to the public asking them for their opinions on the event. These surveys are split into different sections of the event planning process (ex. Decorations, Food, Entertainment, Marketing, Logistics, etc.) where they can give specific opinions on specific aspects of the event. Following a two week period, we close the form, and debrief as an EBoard responding to the concerns and praises given in each survey response. Sometimes, we don’t agree with what the surveyor said, but regardless, we take note of their opinion and try to solve it for the next event. As an organization overall, we overcome our weaknesses by working together as a group. Members in our organization are always willing to help each other out and help each other improve.
Provide specific examples of how the student group demonstrated growth and development in the 2016-2017 academic year,
The past year has shown a tremendous growth in not only the number of members, but the number of ACTIVE members. Our member retention rate was especially high this year, maintaining an average of about 40 members at each general body meeting and about 80-100 members participating in our large events (Night in Saigon, Athens by Night). We also have a strong alumni network with graduates still involved in the VSA community that we can go to at any time for advice or help. A members-only GroupMe was created to facilitate outside bonding and communication, helping our general body to become closer as not just members of the same organization but actual friends. It allows for an easier way for people to plan things and meet up to eat, go out, etc. We are always aiming to create a social environment where everyone is comfortable and accepted. Additionally, we have made it a point to hold general body meetings that have intent and purpose instead of a informational type of meeting only used to give out upcoming events and updates. Every meeting, we decide on a theme and what we want to convey. For example, we’ve held Vietnamese game night where people play Tiến lên and bầu cua cá cọp. Our ACE Reveal was planned around helping the newly formed families break the ice. We even do mini history lessons during GBMs such as our Hai Bà Trưng meeting. We’re committed to not wasting our members’ time. Our members are so dedicated that we were able to get over twenty of them to sit in a room and call voters to convince them to vote in the presidential election for 4 hours. We had over thirty members travel to the University of South Carolina each time we’ve gone in support of their events. Our organization has transformed within the past two years, and the growth has shown in the excitement our members show at regional events and school events.