The American Association for Public Opinion Research tries a college campus strategy for membership growth and workforce development.
The American Association for Public Opinion Research represents pollsters and survey researchers. That’s a robust industry, especially in an election year. But colleges don’t typically offer majors in polling and surveys. So, to encourage more students to pursue a career in the field, in the past year AAPOR has been drawing on a sizable resource: its own members.
Through its Send-a-Speaker program, AAPOR coordinates opportunities for members to talk about both their work and the association to undergraduate and graduate students in courses that touch on research methodology. The initiative sprang out of a broader conversation about increasing diversity in the field that AAPOR began in 2016. One result of that effort was to create more initiatives focused on students, like an annual SurveyFest conference that encourages students from underrepresented groups to pursue survey-research careers. But because SurveyFest is limited to the campuses where it’s held, its reach is limited.
“We asked, how can we reach people that we’re not reaching? And one of the strategies was to have people go to universities and give talks about AAPOR and public opinion research and to try to make people aware of it,” says Dr. Allyson Holbrook, a professor at the University of Illinois–Chicago and chair of AAPOR’s education committee.
Under the program, AAPOR invites its members to serve as guest speakers in classes. The staff also reaches out to professors who are looking for experts to present in-depth material that relates to their courses but that they might not otherwise cover in class. Intro courses in sociology, political science, statistics, journalism, and American government, for instance, are good fits.
“It provides us with an opportunity to get in front of an audience of people who might not go to an advertised talk like ‘Learn About Careers in Public Opinion Research,’” Holbrook says.
For the spring semester of 2020, AAPOR attracted more than enough volunteers to take on guest-speaking slots: Approximately 30 members were slated to speak to 12 classes. It’s a modest start, but it places only modest demands on AAPOR staff, beyond designing a slide deck speakers can use.
In the long run, Holbrook says, the effort can build up its core of student members and share the association’s mission more broadly. “The biggest goal of the program is to reach students that we might not otherwise reach,” she says.