It’s good to meet people where they are, and it’s even better to meet them before they get there. An association’s college partnership cultivates a new generation of members by empowering and engaging them as students, building a foundation for the future.
How to tap into the potential of a younger generation of members is an ongoing conundrum. Engaging them early, in college, with a meaningful partnership is a key strategy for the American Association of University Women.
AAUW has college partners, including one at Texas A&M University. The group evolved when the Women’s Resource Center opened on campus and presented a salary negotiation workshop using a presentation from AAUW’s national office. This led to the group becoming certified as an AAUW college partner in 2012.
Kelby Kosel, a senior at Texas A&M, is president of the partner group. She was drawn to it because she was interested in women’s issues and was looking for opportunities at the traditionally conservative university to advance those issues on campus.
Kosel appreciated that AAUW is a national organization, based in DC, with grassroots and federal lobbying efforts, but she also liked the “community-oriented vibe” it has with chapters around the country. “I saw a lot of potential for AAUW to be a force on campus,” she said.
The group offers an expansive set of offerings, including salary negotiation and diversity workshops, and it recently hosted a presentation on building a personal brand and cultivating a professional image. “We do multiple things to make sure our members are prepared once they graduate,” Kosel said. A webinar on coping with stress during the pandemic brought in 150 attendees.
What about the popular notion that members of Gen Z are reluctant to join groups? “We do want to be individualistic, and we do want to stand out in our own way,” Kosel said. “But at the end of the day we want to build a community with people that have the same mindset as us.” She credits that galvanizing force as the most powerful aspect of AAUW.
Organizations often wonder how to engage the elusive Gen Z. “Definitely social media,” she said. “That’s how we did most of our recruitment this past year.” Putting information in a digital format makes it more palatable for young people who are not going to read a lengthy fact sheet or email, she said. Communication needs to be easily digestible and meaningful. She recommends Instagram and Twitter in particular.
Kosel sees a lot of potential for the group that is not yet fully harnessed. She noticed another organization on campus building support for the Paycheck Fairness Act, which seeks to eliminate the gender pay gap and strengthen workplace protections for women. The group’s petition garnered 500 signatures, and the bill recently passed in the House of Representatives.
“It shows how impactful we can be on college campuses,” Kosel said. She hopes to collaborate more on advocacy issues with the national office in the future.
The past year has been tough without in-person events, but Kosel is optimistic. “As the rest of the world and the community opens back up, we’re going to expand and increase our presence,” she said.
And, after graduation, Kosel plans to become a full-fledged member of AAUW, not just at the national level but with an AAUW chapter, in whatever city she finds herself in.