Fighting Apathy in Student Organizations

~By Humaira Taz

On Wednesday, Mar 22nd 2017, the UTK Campus Events Board held a seminar with T. J. Sullivan as the guest speaker. Sullivan is the author of the bestselling book titled “Motivating the Middle: Fighting Apathy in College Student Organizations”, and he travels all over the country delivering speeches that identify and tackle the problems faced by student organizations in colleges and universities. Cole Pawlaczyk, the Recruitment Officer of FOSEP, made sure to attend the event and came back enlightened. Here is what we learned from him.9781604946901-susanedits.indd

Every organization has three categories of people: the top one-third; the middle one-third; and the bottom one-third. The top one-third people are very active in terms of engagement and involvement. They like to have strong identities, validation of their efforts, and they seek success wherever they participate. They do not like apathy, or incomplete tasks, or looking bad in front of other people. The easiest way to spot them is that they are always busy and seek opportunity.

The middle one-third are the members who do not take any initiative, but answer when they are called upon, adding value to the organization. They might not be taking initiative due to difference in priorities and simply being very passive in their opinions. They also often juggle multiple activities simultaneously. They like balance and healthy relationships, while staying away from negativity and disorganization. They are usually in the background – like the backdrop of a play: important, adding value, but never catching the spotlight.

Finally, the bottom one-third are the people who love having fun, complaining, but also wants some respect. However, they dislike rules, obligations, and unfortunately quite often, the top one-third. Thus these people tend to be the ones causing drama and are often missing in action.

Therefore, it would seem like to keep the members of the organization from being apathetic, it’s important to motivate the middle one-third. However, the task is not that simple. The single biggest mistake made by the leaders in any organization is to assume that everyone will be motivated by the same things that motivate the leaders. That’s not necessarily true since in most occasions. To put bluntly, there might be members in the middle one-third group who are sincere, but are motivated by the goal of boosting their resumes.

The second big mistake is insufficient communication between the members of the organization. If the top one-third assumes that they are the ones having to do everything, and thus develop a negative attitude in the process, they are losing the interest of the middle one-third who were willing to help all along. The key would be to communicate to the middle one-third and extract from them the value that they bring to the organization instead of shooing them away with negativity.

So how do we keep all of these groups motivated and working as a cohesive team? Well, we lead, motivate and inspire them from where they are. We need to make sure the top one-third is always busy to take advantage of their affinity for success. For the middle one-third, we should definitely avoid making passive-aggressive statements as starters. We also need to understand that having mutual respect with them is important, and that they are passive so we probably should not be making decisions at the same meeting that topics are raised. Rather it would be wiser to give them some time. As for the bottom one-third, they really do cause more harm than good, so it’s best to leave them alone. But this shouldn’t make us belittle those bottom one-third: we are all bottom one-third somewhere.

In the end, we need to accept that the idea of having everyone in the group motivated and inspired at the same level is in fact a fantasy. Isn’t this some important life lesson? To learn better about improving your organization dynamics, I highly recommend reading Sullivan’s book!

**Special thanks to Cole for the notes from attending the event!




Upcoming Events for Spring 2017

~By Humaira Taz

Welcome everyone for another activity-filled semester with your campus science policy group! Our goal this semester is not only to expand our presence on campus, but also to collaborate with different campus organizations and program events to demonstrate how omnipresent science policy is in our lives. Getting involved in science policy is a job exclusive to neither journalists/political science majors nor science majors. Science pervades in all aspects of our lives so it’s very important to get involved in the policies that govern the direction in which scientific research goes. This means we cannot simply leave the burden of this responsibility only to small percentage of the population. If we are to live the consequences of the policies made, we need to get involved ourselves. So without further delay, here is the list of upcoming activities FOSEP has planned for you this semester.

  1. Discussion with Senator Briggs; March 31st, 2017, afternoon. Image result for senator briggs tennesseeDr. Richard Briggs is a Republican member of the Tennessee State Senate, representing District 7, and was first elected to the chamber in 2014. He obtained his B. S. from Transylvania University in Lexington, KY, and went on to attend the University of Kentucky College of Medicine. Upon his graduation from there in 1978, he joined the military services and rose to the rank of a full Colonel. He is a vital figure in sponsoring bills influencing healthcare in Tennessee (a full list of bills he sponsored can be found here). Officers of FOSEP and two members of the FOSEP legislative team will meet with Senator Briggs to have an open discussion, with the objective of getting involved on a local level at policy-making.
  2. Beyond Academia: Environmental Edition; April 8th, 2017, 10AM-3PM; UT Panhellenic Building. altCareerThis event, in collaboration with GREBE, is a dive into all the career options one can go into with a science degree. There will be panelists from government agencies, NGOs, the CDC, ORNL, science policy organizations, science communicators, the Knoxville Zoo, and more! They will be available to answer your questions about what can you do with a science degree other than being in the academia, how can you prepare yourself ahead of time, what kind of networking skills might be vital starting even from your undergrad days….and pretty much any question you can come up with. As a fourth year grad student who is just now trying to figure out what steps to take for transitioning into a science writing career, I can affirm that this event will benefit undergrads and early stage grad students more than you might anticipate. So don’t miss out on this gem! Check out the event on our Facebook page for more details.
  3. Staged reading of “Informed Consent” by Deborah Zoe Laufer; April 23rd, 2017, 6:30PM-8:30PM; Hodges Library Auditorium.Image result for informed consent play Photo source:

“Informed Consent” by Deborah Zoe Laufer is a play that was inspired by a court case between a Native American tribe and an Arizona University. It addresses issues such as science vs belief, and whether the public has a right to choose what they want to know, or what they would rather stay in the dark about. The play has received excellent reviews from well-known organizations such as the New York Times, Cleveland Examiner, Broad Street Review to name a few. The staged reading will be in collaboration with the campus organization All-Campus Theater, followed by a panel Q&A/discussion session. To say the least, this event is an entertaining way to think deeper about how science policy affects our lives. I wouldn’t miss it! Facebook event for this coming soon!

For now this is all folks, but we will surely have some more events going in the very-near future!