Most Outstanding VSA of the Year: Vietnamese Student Association at University of Washington
What are the purpose and goal(s) of the VSA, and how has the VSA met or exceeded those goals?
VSAUW’s main purpose is to uphold and promote the Vietnamese culture and traditions. To achieve our purpose, every project we take on must tie back to this year’s main goals: increase leadership development within our officer team, improve the relationship between general members and officers, and promote more intimate cultural story sharing. This year, we restructured our officer team so we could focus on working within sub-committees. In having logistics, event planning, and media & marketing teams, we were able to create groups that could collaborate on several projects while allowing for room for individual officer projects where the project lead was able to reach out to their sub-committee for help and support. This change significantly improved the proactivity within each team because smaller team dynamics increased each team’s efficiency in tackling projects and increased individual project lead’s morale by giving them a better sense of control. Membership retention is always a problem that we often face. We believe that a way to increase membership retention, is to improve the relationship between members and the officer team to make members feel more involved and a part of the VSA community. We started to host study sessions once a week at the library, to have interactions beyond general meetings. Another new project was playing a week-long game called ‘Assassins’. The game started at the beginning of the school year with the intent to get to know various VSA members that you normally don’t interact with by finding them and interacting with them in person. Our last goal is to create more intimate spaces to share personal stories of our Vietnamese lives. College is a tough time to find your self-identity, so we aimed to allow members feel at home on campus. We hosted an Asian-American identity night where we had breakout groups to hold discussions surrounding around sensitive topics like personal struggles and family. Also, in honor or Asian American Pacific Islander heritage month, we had a month-long campaign of various Vietnamese community members write in to us about their stories about their experience as a Vietnamese American.
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.
For past years, our VSA organization has always been been branded as a social club rather than a cultural club. This year, we set a goal to break this stigma by putting more efforts into cultural events like Asian-American Identity Night, Black April Night, and Southeast Asians Night. By shifting our focus on the aspect on how our heritage and culture plays a role in our Asian-American identities, we saw an increase in membership retention since the members are getting more than superficial activities. Also, our audience broadens since we are reaching out to other Asians organization on campus. This shift also allowed us to rebrand ourselves to a more professional organization, and we saw a higher increase in other organizations reaching out to us for support. With a team of 21 active officers, we can barely find the time for all of us to be together beyond officer meeting. We took a different approach in having individualized officer training throughout the year through the team leaders structure and mentorship. Each quarter, we aim to have every officers in charge of a new project of their liking and execute it. This type of strategy empowers the officers to not only grow, but also cultivate an environment within the team that allows them to feel comfortable leading a project. It also creates a safe space to take a lot of risks and learn from the mistakes without the feeling of failure. One of the downside of being on a big campus is that there are too many student organizations for the university to financially support us. Because of this, we learned to accommodate with the constraints we have and use it to the best of our abilities. We rented a small office space to utilize as a storage room of all of our necessity. We keep inventory and always make sure that we check the storage space first before buying additional products with our money. We apply to as many grants in the community as we can and utilize that money towards our necessities such as room rental and fees.
How did the group work to establish responsibility and accountability among its members?
Since our team is split into 3 separate specialties teams (executives, event, media), there are established team leaders to manage each subteams. We did this to create a better flow from the team to the executive boards. This lead to a more effective way of communication between different teams as well, smaller projects between officers of different teams would be monitored by their team leaders instead of getting lost in the chain of communication. With everyone knowing what their assignment is and being properly updated, it will ensure completion of all components of the project. In order to keep all members of our team accountable for the duties listed in their job description, we implemented a three strike policy. The overarching idea of the policy is communication. Communicate to your team leader if you cannot meet their deadline. Communicate to your executives if there is an issue that prevents you from fulfilling your duties. Members are obligated to follow through on what is expected of them based off of their job descriptions and reach out for help when they are unable to do so. Even if they cannot complete their own task, another member is encouraged to be proactive and take in additional responsibilities. This policy serves not to threaten members, but rather to enforce and encourage more communication between everyone in order for our organization to successfully carry out its goals. Moreover, it is important to lead by example. Thus, we have set up a “big-little” program within the team. The “big” is someone from the executive team, which is a higher position than the general officer team. Through having a “big”, the general officer can observe what it takes to be a responsible and productive team member from someone who has more experience with the organization. In addition, our ‘big-little’ program allows general officers to become intimate with an executive, allowing a safe environment to discuss concerning issues within the team. The intimate space allows the executives to listen to problems and take action if needed.
How did the VSA work together to maximize strengths and overcome weaknesses?
Our VSA is constantly changing as the year progress, and so do our strengths and weaknesses. We have learned that the best way to combat this problem is to adapt to changes that occur in our organization. By doing so, we were able to grow out of our weaknesses. Keeping an open-mind and being flexible throughout the year is key to our successes. We have a strong belief that there is always something to improve on, and this motivator is what drives our team to adapt to new weaknesses that arises within the team. When this occurs, we come together to plan and execute new strategies to keep on growing. For example, we started the year with a really strong membership pool but it slowly died down in the winter. The event team got together and came up with about fresh new ideas, ranging from recognizing our members through ‘Humans of VSA’ to having something crazy like VSA Rush Week. For every event or project we take on, we always debrief at the following officer team meeting to see how we can improve as a team. As boring and tedious as that sound, this process is always taken seriously to ensure that everybody takes in every feedback and understand how we can grow as an organization. Rather it is our 10th general meeting or our biggest cultural event, everybody has an opportunity to provide their constructive criticism and feedback to ensure the best learning experience for the team. To maximize strengths within our officer team, we held 2 officer retreats: one retreat before the school year, the second retreat mid way through the year. The first retreat had the typical workshops and presentation to get the officer started with content. However, we decided to have a second one midway through the year to reflect back on the first half of the year and utilize the time to find the direction our team needs to go. The second retreat had additional interactive workshops where executives felt the team needed and coming up with new projects for every officers to participate in.
Provide specific examples of how the student group demonstrated growth and development in the 2016-2017 academic year,
In the beginning of the year, we struggled with team cohesion in the beginning of the year. Focusing too much on our own individual work with VSA, we forgot the importance of communication amongst each team. VSAUW divided the officer team into three teams: executive, event and media. Bringing in a new concept into our organization, conflicts between the teams arose. When it came to the promotions of our football tournament through social media, miscommunication and misinterpretation proved to be a major issue for our team. Through discussion and deliberation, we improved our means of communication, separating our professional work from our chats for leisure. From this, collaborating with officers from other teams became much more clear and concise. This year, VSAUW was in charge of hosting a regional football tournament in the Northwest in November. As a team, we had to start early in the summer, where everybody is on vacation or away from home, to start planning a full scaled event. We faced challenges such as adjusting to the new team, communication within teams, and developing technical skills so early on in the officer process. Facing all of these challenges early in the year only made our officer team stronger, as hosting a regional football tournament demonstrated to officers where our potentials are. Every year we continually faced the same problem with our Freshman Intern program. Interns often quit due to lack of motivation, feeling unmotivated since there are no structured responsibilities for interns to take on. To change this we decided to add a second round of one on one interviews after our professional interview to get to know the applicant on a more personal basis and see if their passion lies within the Vietnamese community. In addition, the team ensured that the interns always had an ongoing project that they are working on. We successfully managed to pick three interns this year who went beyond their call of duty. Together, they worked on various projects for our VSA and have learned many skills to become great leaders on the team this upcoming year.