Sammy is a current professional at Texas Instruments where she works as an Engineer 1 in their Fabrication Laboratory. She has been a very dear friend of mine for the last 5 years since we first met at a Society of Women Engineers meeting. Sammy is a fierce advocate for K12 STEM outreach, and it is my pleasure to invite her to Medical Redhead to share her 5 top tips to launch an outreach program.
To learn more about Sammy and her coaching program for engineers, visit https://sammyzellner.com/.
Volunteering in an outreach program is the foundation for the “experience section” of any application – whether it’s for school, jobs, scholarships, awards, or anything else you’re applying to. Colleges, universities, companies, and awards committees love to see how you donated your time to better yourself and your community. Unfortunately, volunteering opportunities tend to get overshadowed by school and work commitments, which can ultimately leave your applications lacking.
Starting your own outreach program can be a large time commitment, but doing so gives you the flexibility to decide what events you want to run, how much time you’re willing to put into it, and more. While I was in my undergrad, I started a K12 STEM outreach program at my local community library. This program gave me a platform to hone my leadership skills, work with other engineers, and gain valuable experiences all while positively impacting my community. In the countless hours of running this outreach program and volunteering in many more, I found that anyone can start an outreach program in 5 easy steps.
1. Find out what is already out there.
I would not have been able to start my outreach program without the help of the University of North Texas Society of Women Engineers. This organization gave me the capital to start this program – through funds to purchase supplies, people to serve as volunteers, and a name to brand the activity with.
Before you start your own outreach program, see what organizations exist around you to partner with. Start with organizations you are already a part of – your school, company, church, professional organizations, and anything else that you’re involved in. If you aren’t involved in any organizations, a quick Google search with some keywords about your event’s theme + “organizations” can be a good starting point. Social media can be a great way to connect to these groups as well.
Most importantly, you want to find an organization that can provide you a name to associate your activity with. This will allow you to gain influence with your audience, who will then be more likely to attend your event.
2. Gain experience through leadership.
Once you find an organization to join, look into different leadership opportunities they offer. This doesn’t need to be an elected or appointed position. Ask the current leadership what you can do to be involved and help out. Most people hate asking for help, but they are much more likely to take assistance when it’s offered to them.
Utilize any responsibilities that you are given in your organization to gain leadership experience.
- Do they need help sending out reminder emails? This is a great way to build your communication skills!
- Is the leader out of town and can’t host a meeting? Use this as an opportunity to lead the meeting and hone your presentation skills.
- Is the organization trying to find speakers for upcoming events or expand their membership? This could be an opportunity for you to expand your network as well!
Volunteer organizations offer tons of opportunities for you to be a leader, even if you only have a few hours a month to offer. You’d be surprised what’s out there if you just ask!
3. Create your own program.
Once you have a brand to support you and you have worked on your leadership skills, it’s time to create your program! Start by writing out your theme and your goals. What do you want to accomplish through this program? Next, choose your target audience. For example, if you want to expand the number of registered voters in your community, you’ll likely want to target a demographic that doesn’t have many registered voters (like college aged students).
Once you have your event theme, your goals, and your audience, you need to decide on the logistics details of your event. When will it happen? Where will it happen? How much will it cost? How many volunteers do you need to help you? This is where your supporting organization will be invaluable! They can help support the capital costs of your program – whether its finances, people, a venue, or more.
If your supporting organization can’t help you with the capital needs for your program, see if any of the leadership can direct you to someone that can support it. If you see a need for the program that you want to launch, chances are someone else will too!
4. Manage your time wisely.
Hosting an outreach event can become time consuming. There are so many details to keep track of, funds to raise, and people to contact. One of the most important parts of your outreach event will be to manage your time accordingly.
List out all your commitments – home, school, work, organizations, etc. Based on these responsibilities, look at where you can carve out time each week to work on your outreach program. Can you find 30 min each night to work on this event? Or, batch all your outreach event tasks one day of the weekend? Time management could be a whole post on its own, but evaluate what block of time works best for you to work on your program. Committing to a set time each week to work on your program will allow you to reach your goals and successfully launch your event!
5. Host your first event!
The day of your event has finally arrived! Here are my top tips for day-of outreach program success:
- Keep a written copy of the event schedule with you at all times. Don’t forget to include set up and clean up time!
- Have the phone numbers of all your volunteers. Email addresses will do you no good when you need an immediate response.
- Have a couple different ice breakers to start your event off with. This will help your audience get engaged in your event early.
- Don’t forget to have a sign in sheet to collect all your attendee’s names and contact information. This is invaluable if you want to send them any follow up information after the event.
Don’t let any doubts or reservations hold you back from hosting your own outreach program.
The best advice I have been given on hosting outreach events is to “roll with the punches”. Is your event supposed to be outside, and there is suddenly inclement weather? Does your AV system not work? You really never know what’s going to happen, so be prepared for the unexpected.
Hosting outreach events is a fun and rewarding way to build your leadership skills and better your community. It can also become a great way to build experiences and stories to later use in applications and interviews. Don’t let any doubts or reservations hold you back from hosting your own outreach program. If you believe that your event is needed and will be impactful, then your audience will as well.