Highlights of the 2002 Sigma Xi Annual Meeting
Annual meetings tend to become more enjoyable after one has attended a few. One becomes used to the format and itís enjoyable to see familiar faces and catch up with acquaintances from past years. This was my third opportunity to represent the Quinnipiac Chapter of Sigma Xi as its delegate to the Annual Meeting. It was a thoroughly successful and enriching occasion. Chapter President Dr. Albert Notation also attended the meeting in his capacity as Associate Director of the Northeast Region. As is usual for these occasions, about one third of the Sigma Xi chapters participated by sending a delegate.
This year the meeting was held at the Moody Gardens Hotel and Conference Center in Galveston, Texas over the weekend of November 15-17. The Annual Meeting followed the Sigma Xi Forum held over November 14-15 and was entitled "Changing the Face of Science and Engineering." The Annual Meeting was opened on Friday evening by President W. Franklin Gilmore. The meeting follows a set format. Delegates and national officers meet in three Assemblies of Delegates over the course of the weekend to vote on society business, elect new officers, and present awards. In intervening periods the delegates gather according to six geographical regions of the Society to elect officers and discuss local matters such as regional websites. The same applies to the various constituency groups (i.e. baccalureate colleges, research and doctoral universities, etc) that correspond to the diversity of institutions that employ our members.
One central function of the Annual Meeting is to assess the health of the Society as a whole and address upcoming needs. The Treasurerís Report is especially revealing in this regard. For the year ending June 30, 2002 the Societyís net assets declined from $19,700,000 to $16,200,000 or a 17.9% decline. This was primarily the result of a lowering of market values of investments. But a decline membership from 74,300 to 71,500 over this period also contributed to financial retrenchment. Our Headquarters Staff did some belt-tightening and accomplished a 4% reduction in operating expenses over the fiscal year. This was in spite of increased costs of production of American Scientist over this period. This news should not be taken as wholly discouraging. The financial health of the Society is still considered to be strong and we continue to operate with a balanced budget. The best insurance for the future is to increase membership. All members of the Chapter are urged to take a look around and bring young scientists into the Society or encourage inactive members to reactivate.
During the summer of 2002 the Headquarters staff worked with Marketing Partners Inc. to conduct a general survey to define our constituency and sharpen goals. The major findings were: a) a need for stronger chapters and chapter support from Headquarters, b) increased communication about advantages of membership to members and the public, and c) use of American Scientist to enhance membership experience. Interesting demographic results of the survey were: a) our membership is 72% male, which reflects a higher tendency for female student members to ultimately drop out of the Society, b) 75% of our members hold the highest degree in their field, c) the median age is somewhat high with 22% of members in the 55-64 age range, d) the biological sciences account for the largest field category (27%), and e) 94% of members live in the USA. The majority of members perceive Sigma Xi as an Honor Society (68%) although there is interest in seeing it become more active in networking, advocacy, and provision of services. Ethics and public appreciation of science lead the list of the most important program areas for the Society.
A particularly satisfying function of the Annual Meeting is to honor distinguished scientists for their research contributions. The 2002 Procter Prize was award to Benoit Mandelbrot (Yale University) for his work in fractal geometry. The John P. McGovern Award went to Mario Molina (MIT) for work in atmospheric ozone chemistry. The Sigma Xi Honory Member this year was journalist Richard Harris (National Public Radio). You may have heard him on such popular programs as Morning Edition, All Things Considered, and Weekend Edition. Finally, the Young Investigator Award was presented to Paschalis Alexandridis (University of Buffalo-SUNY) for his model system approach to understanding self-assembly in molecular environments.
Outstanding chapters are recognized at the Annual Meeting. The Quinnipiac Chapter is a perennial awardee and is testament to the continued success of our Chapter. This year our Chapter won another Certificate of Excellence. The award recognizes the continued strength of our seminar series in informing the public and drawing students to science. We applaud Drs. Albert Notation and James Kirby for their work arranging stimulating lectures over the course of each academic year. Chapter members should take some pride in the fact that the Quinnipiac Chapter continues to maintain a high profile at the Annual Meeting and in the Society in general. As mentioned above, Dr. Albert Notation serves as Associate Director for the Northeast Region. In addition, this year Dr. Richard Peterson was elected to the Nominations Committee of this Region for a 2-year term.
Looking to the future, Francisco Ayala (UC-Irvine) was elected for a term as Sigma Xi President to succeed President-Elect Peter Raven (Missouri Botanical Garden). The 2002 Annual Meeting was adjourned at midday on Sunday by President Gilmore.
Richard B. Peterson