Starting a Graduate Student Organization

By: Julie Van Dette, MA
Anne T. Molloy, MS, Ed
Sarah Johnson, MS
Kristen Robust, MS
Jenn LeBrun, MS
Maryland Psychological Association Graduate Students (MPAGS)
Maryland Psychological Association, Baltimore, MD


Involvement in State Associations is an invaluable experience for all students and an integral supplement to their academic training. These organizations provide leadership experiences, networking opportunities, peer support, and mentoring. Aspiring psychologists affect their future by actively engaging in legislative advocacy, community service, and professional activities. Although many states openly welcome student involvement, few have separate student associations. This poster shows an example of how to start a student state association using MPAGS as an example.

Evolution of MPAGS

  • MPAGS was approved as a student group within the board of Academic & Scientific Affairs in 2002

  • One year later (2003) - MPAGS was granted full board status

  • Allowed for voting privileges on MPA’s Board of Directors

  • Allowed for visibility on website & newsletter

  • Received its own budget, resources & support from MPA’s administrative staff


MPAGS is only as strong as its members. Strategies are needed in order to generate new membership successfully

Suggested steps to increase student membership:

  • Create a membership committee that visits area schools to recruit new members & establish campus representatives

  • Campus Reps are responsible for advertising events and recruiting new members

  • Institute Campus Faculty Representation by using existing members of Psychological Associations to be faculty mentors at area colleges

Graduate Student Membership Package

  • Students are offered a one-time membership fee option based on degree types

  • Offer flex-pay options in which students could choose to pay their fee in installments

Leadership Positions

  • Chair - Coordinates efforts of council and with the council directs the activities of MPAGS. Votes at MPA Executive council meetings

  • Chair-Elect - Presides over and assumes responsibility for MPAGS meetings in chair’s absence and automatically succeeds to office of chair the following year

  • Communication Chair - Keeps track of and distributes all records including minutes from meetings. Responsible for student submissions to newsletter. Maintains and updates listserv

  • Advocacy Chair - Coordinates state and federal legislative advocacy efforts with MPAGS campus representatives and acts as liaison to the MPA legislative committee

  • Membership Chair - Head of all campus representatives, helps recruit new members, and is student representative to the MPA membership committee

  • Convention Chair - Coordinates all aspects of student participation in the annual MPA convention

Integration with State Psychological Organization

MPA members involve students via many programs such as:

  • Leadership Retreats with the MPA

  • Student representation on several MPA boards

  • Student publication in MPA newsletter – The Maryland Psychologist

  • Student involvement in research projects and publications

  • Involvement in legislative process through active lobbying efforts

  • Offered free workshop attendance in exchange for student monitoring & assistance

  • Combined MPA/MPAGS convention, with MPA members as presenters

Membership Benefits

  • Leadership opportunities

  • Variety of workshops designed to meet the needs of graduate students

  • Up to date information on MPAGS Website and Listserv

  • Newsletter subscription with publication options

  • Extensive opportunities to participate on various committees

  • Social events and networking opportunities with fellow students and professionals 

  • Membership in mentoring program


  • Student Convention

  • Segment on internship process

  • Break-out sessions tailored to students’ interests (e.g. self-care, starting a private practice, financial tips, balancing family & career, teaching, and dissertation tips)

Community outreach

Soup kitchens, tutoring, & volunteering

Student Social Hours/Networking

Student mentoring:

  • Mock interviewing

  • Curriculum vitae reviews

  • Internship Application appraisal

Pitfalls to Avoid

Lack of money:

  • Find state grants for different projects

  • Find private funding to help start the organization

  • Request donations from local establishments for events

  • Association members may wish to donate part of dues for student scholarships and programming

Lack of leadership:

  • Find psychologists who are willing to help and mentor the organization

  • Ask universities to help sponsor the state organization

For further information contact: Julie Van Dette, Chair MPAGS