Creative strategies to increase membership and diversity at state chapters using the First Timers concept

Jason E. Cosby, P.E.
Assistant Director of Public Works
City of San Antonio, Texas
Member, APWA Diversity Committee

There are many ways to enhance and promote the exciting benefits of APWA. As APWA members, we have a responsibility to do just that. By doing so, we become an "inclusive association" where our members and prospective members feel welcome and valuable. As a way of achieving this objective and in an effort to strive for excellence, the members of the Diversity Committee would like to offer our findings, solutions, ideas, successes, and nuances that we encountered at an event called the First Timers Meeting, which takes place during our annual Congress and Exposition.

The First Timers Meeting has been held at every Congress since 1997. Last year's event had a record attendance of first-time attendees. Each first-time attendee at a Congress is given the opportunity to denote this information by checking the First Timers box on their registration form. This information is then noted at APWA National, so that when a first-time attendee picks up his/her badge he/she also receives a First Timers Ribbon. First Timers are invited to a special session at Congress where they meet their peers from around the world and become familiar with all Congress has to offer them. This has been a successful way of making first-time attendees feel welcome and of introducing them to Congress events.

It is helpful to learn from others who have attended several Congresses in the past as to the most beneficial functions and sessions to attend. For those who will attend their first Congress this year you will, of course, need to determine your own educational needs, but perhaps we can provide enough information about various functions to help you make decisions on the other activities.

We have found three main reasons why our members continue to come back to our annual meeting year after year. The first reason relates to the vast number of educational sessions we offer and the opportunity to learn from experts in every area of public works. The second reason is to get a close look at state-of-the-art equipment, attend hands-on demonstrations of the equipment, and save time and money by comparison-shopping under one roof. The last reason relates to networking with your peers, talking shop with people who understand your challenges, and building professional bridges for your future.

The First Timers Meeting, which will again be held at the 2003 Congress in San Diego in August, can be a very successful event at the chapter level as well. This year the Texas Chapter (TPWA) will co-sponsor our State Conference with the South Central International Erosion Control Association, which will allow other stormwater professionals from Arkansas, Oklahoma, and Texas to benefit from our educational sessions. This will provide us with the opportunity to use the First Timers concept at this year's conference being held in San Antonio in June. TPWA members will greet new members and introduce them at our opening event. This will allow us an opportunity to discuss local events, scholarship programs, student programs, InfoNOW, the APWA Reporter, and many other benefits.

The list of first-time attendees will also be distributed to the branches for membership, committee volunteers, etc., and thus encourage them to become active members of our association. This will not only make new attendees feel welcome, but also encourage them to return again.

We can also motivate existing members by introducing them to the First Timers event. Existing members can share their experience, knowledge, and organizational skills with first-time attendees. Additionally, they can share how involved they have been with APWA.

An added benefit is the possibility of developing mentorship opportunities between existing members, first-time attendees, and new members. These new relationships would not only benefit new members and first-time attendees, but also existing members through the development of new professional and working relationships.

Another way to continue efforts within the state chapters is to forward/promote these goals to the branches. To enhance Texas Chapter membership and diversity efforts for 2003, the TPWA board assigned a membership/diversity liaison for each branch.

Let's not waste time implementing this process. We need to continue motivating existing members and gaining additional members using the techniques discussed above.

Jason Cosby was a Top Ten Public Works Leaders of the Year award recipient in 2002. He can be reached at (210) 207-7785 or at jcosby@sanantonio.gov.