Chapters As a Source of Leadership in Sigma Xi

by Linda Mantel | Nov 13, 2019

Linda Mantel is the 2019 recipient of the Evan Ferguson Award for Service to the Society. She will accept her award on November 15 at the Annual Meeting and Student Research Conference in Madison, Wisconsin. 

Why are chapters important for Sigma Xi?

Linda Mantel

Chapters are the lifeblood of the organization and a major factor differentiating Sigma Xi from other multidisciplinary organizations. They are the connecting links among members, the organization, and the scientific community as a whole. For the past 18 years, I have been a proud member of the Sigma Xi Columbia-Willamette Chapter, a multi-institutional chapter with members from several local schools, industry, and agencies based at Portland State University. I joined the chapter board in 2002, served as secretary from 2004-2008, and then as president from 2008-2019. 

How does the chapter serve the local scientific community?

Thanks to my colleagues on the Board of Directors and elsewhere, we grew our chapter events and activities to include not only professional talks, but also events for students and for the larger community. We raised our chapter profile locally and nationally by wearing our chapter buttons when participating in scientific events, and attending meetings and showing our chapter poster. 

Our chapter members serve as judges for the statewide pre-college Northwest Science Expo, and the chapter awards cash prizes to winners in several categories. We also support student recipients of Sigma Xi Grants in Aid of Research by awarding them an additional $100. Our annual Student Research Symposium, open to college and university researchers in the entire area, brings from 35-75 participants to campus, provides exposure to science programs in the area, and provides the winners with both cash prizes and the opportunity for travel support to Sigma Xi Annual Meetings. Our award-winning students serve as inspiration for additional students to participate and become part of the scientific community. We also have a robust, privately-funded Outstanding Faculty Award program, where we honor both a junior and a senior faculty member in all our science areas with cash awards and certificates. These winners then come back and provide lectures for us during the year. 

Our end-of-year celebration has become a favorite event for the community, bringing together our usual attendees and new friends. At this event, we honor a local teacher, a local supporter of research, and all of our student and faculty research awardees. Each person is given three minutes to introduce their science to the audience, and we are always astounded by the breadth of scientific and engineering endeavors being carried out right at home.

One of our special contributions to the community is our wine-tasting series, where thanks to Scott Burns, our local “terroirist,” we have an annual winter event with tastings of a variety of wines. This serves as a chapter fundraiser, to help support student travel to Sigma Xi conferences. We also have summer wine-tasting trips to see the terrain and terroirs first hand.

How can chapters expand their networks?

Our chapter is fortunate to have members from a diverse array of organizations. I believe the multi-institutional format provides benefits well beyond those found on a single campus. Leadership can come from many directions, connections can be forged with many colleagues, and partnerships can be found in unexpected places. For chapters uncertain of how to move beyond their normal programming, try inviting a neighboring chapter or organization to join you for a program, a dinner, or a celebratory event. For instance, we have co-sponsored science-based events with local groups such as the Union of Concerned Scientists, the League of Women Voters, and Oregon Academy of Sciences. 

What have you learned from your experiences with Sigma Xi?

Having been inducted into Sigma Xi as a graduate student at the University of Illinois, I have been a member for 55 years! My service for the Columbia-Willamette Chapter was not only all encompassing, but also rewarding. Building and engaging the chapter and board membership are never-ending projects. With the support of my colleagues and the superb assistance of the headquarters staff, the chapter has won three awards in the past eight years. I know the next generation of board members and officers will continue the good work. 

Perhaps my most significant contribution to Sigma Xi as a whole came when I served as director of the Northwest Region and established the relationship between the AAAS Pacific Division (AAAS PD) and the Northwest and Southwest regions of Sigma Xi.  We have met together each summer since 2012, thanks to the efforts of the regional directors and the AAAS PD board and staff. I believe this linkage of Sigma Xi and AAAS PD represents value to both organizations, and in particular to students, who have the opportunity to present their work in two different Sigma Xi venues per year. 

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