Sana Lulu is the outgoing Chapter President and the incoming Advisor for the NSLS chapter at the University of South Florida (USF), and she has no problem expressing her appreciation of her fellow chapter members when thinking back on their incredible growth.
“I love how much our chapter has grown under my leadership. We started off with barely five people on the E-Board, and now we’re up to a total of 13 officers. I am so proud of all of our hard work to make being on the E-Board seem worthwhile enough for so many people to want to join.”
That expansion of the chapter’s E-Board is mirrored in the chapter’s growth overall. They saw a record number of joins — over 1,100 new for Fall 2023, which represents a 550% increase over the prior year.
The chapter growth allowed the group to offer more events, including regular professional development workshops, a public speaking workshop, and an American Sign Language (ASL) workshop. These events were in addition to already-scheduled traditional events, such as a bi-annual NSLS picnic at USF Riverfront Park and a bi-annual art therapy event.
“The goal of all of these events was to bring our members together to network and get to know their E-Board which would hopefully send the message out that our chapter is still alive and growing. We were also able to bring back in-person induction ceremonies, which has been a highlight of being on the E-Board. Last semester we inducted over 300 new members alone. We still have ways we can improve but I'm very proud of the progress we have made in just one year.”
Helping a Hurt Community Heal
They have made a recent addition to the chapter’s regular schedule of events. The backstory of how this event came to be a bi-annual event powerfully demonstrates the importance of paying attention to your community and responding to the common needs, challenges, and concerns you see when planning and hosting chapter events.
“One strong example of where our chapter has made a positive impact on our school's community is through our art therapy event. This event first came about due to a tragic incident that happened at the Beard Garage last semester. This incident hit me harder than I expected it would, recalling I was just a freshman when a similar incident happened with a graduate student.”
The work the community did to help foster healing after loss included a group session, where members of the international student community, Honors College, and other groups could share their grief.
“I was inspired by this example and eager to give back in my own way, so I partnered with the sponsor of that event to create an art therapy event to give the Honors College community as well as my NSLS community an opportunity to manage their anxiety and stress.”
Building on Success to Create a Tradition of Service
As Lulu describes it, that event’s success led the group to build on the theme and strive to grow and broaden the event’s impact. That included reaching out to other organizations in a collaborative spirit to reach more students with even more helpful resources.
“This past semester, I reached out to a residence hall for a larger space as well as to the Center for Student Wellbeing (SWELL) on campus to partner with us. We wanted to focus more on the mental health aspect of this event by inviting SWELL to bring mental health resources and stress-less-packs for our attendees to take home with them. Our event brought in just over 70 people, which was a much larger turn-out than the semester before.”
The art therapy event emboldened the chapter to think beyond the campus borders and adopt initiatives to give back to the larger Tampa Bay community, including:
- An annual Thanksgiving food drive — members packed boxes full of pantry items for families struggling to put food on the table during the holiday season.
- The “Mercy Mats” project — members created plastic yarn from recycled plastic shopping bags to be crocheted into sleeping mats for individuals experiencing homelessness.
- “Cereal for Summer” food drive — at a recent induction ceremony, over 50 cereal boxes were donated by new inductees, all of which were donated to Feeding Tampa Bay to help feed children home from school during the summer.
Lulu looks forward to continuing to broaden the USF NSLS chapter's community impact.
How the NSLS Helps Build Leaders at USF and Beyond
Lulu and her chapter members have embraced the challenges and opportunities they’ve experienced thanks to their membership in the NSLS. They also appreciate the benefits.
In addition to the leadership skills development and growth opportunities, Lulu says USF members appreciate the broad organizational commitment to providing the resources and experiences members need to achieve personal and professional success.
“From my experience, I think most people appreciate the scholarships offered by the National Office above everything else. Aside from that, the job bank is also a big enticing factor, and I have heard many people really like the Speaker Broadcasts. In terms of in-person events, people really liked how our chapter hosts so many socials throughout the semester which are open to inviting members outside of the chapter.”
Lulu says that bringing hundreds of dedicated students from so many diverse backgrounds and fields of study together has been one of the most impactful parts of helping to lead the USF chapter over the course of the past year.
“What I am beginning to cherish most about participating in a student organization like this is seeing the network of students across all disciplines united by our involvement. Otherwise, there would be no reason I as a biomedical sciences major would ever really cross paths with an elementary education major. This organization is one of the few that provide that opportunity. I am very proud to be a part of an organization that brings people of all disciplines together under the notion that we will all benefit from our differences but understand that our common desire to become better leaders unites us all.”
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Moving Forward With Even Bigger Goals
What comes next for this busy chapter? The chapter’s future goals include expanding the E-Board, offering more professional development workshops, and improving the chapter’s process for receiving and acting on member feedback.
Lulu says one of her biggest goals as Chapter President was helping to prepare for the next slate of leaders to build on the chapter’s extraordinary growth. Previously, the chapter had accepted anyone who applied to be part of the E-Board, but this year that changed.
“Now, we have strong officers in almost every position. Our incoming President, Stephen Koenig, still has plans on expanding the E-Board further by opening up committee positions in hopes of giving as many people as possible a chance for their voices to be heard to influence the style and content of events hosted by our chapter in the future. He is very member-focused, which I think is a great strategy for the upcoming semester.”
A Transformational Leadership Experience
For Lulu, the experience leading her chapter has helped shape the way she views leadership, as well as giving her the knowledge and experience to serve her in all future professional endeavors, including as Chapter Advisor.
“To me, leadership means being a role model and mentor for others who aspire to be leaders themselves by empowering them to grow, learn, and achieve their full potential. I also believe great leadership relies on a clear vision coupled with a passion for making a difference.”
Forming that vision, shaped by commitment and compassion, has been an important part of her time as a student member of the NSLS. Lulu notes that initially, her reasons for joining the NSLS were motivated by an interest in networking and building her resume. Then she began to pay attention to the challenges her chapter was struggling to overcome, as well as what unique gifts and strengths she brought to meeting those challenges.
“Although some of these challenges came about due to circumstances outside our control, others were exacerbated by the choices made by our student leaders. Part of the Foundations of Leadership training program involves taking the DISC assessment. My results indicated that I tend to be more thoughtful, methodical, and observant as a leader. These qualities describe me well, and are what enabled me to bring about such drastic change in our chapter during my involvement over the years.”
Lulu observes that her leadership development efforts helped her redefine her sense of herself as a person and as a leader.
“I love the USF Chapter of the NSLS because before I joined, I would not have considered myself a leader. Through the program and through meeting fellow student leaders, I discovered a part of myself and nurtured it. I would not be the same person I am today if not for my participation in this student organization and my only wish is for my example to inspire a new generation of student leaders in the USF Chapter of the NSLS and beyond, the way I was inspired when I first joined.”
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Advice for Future Leaders and Other Chapters
For future chapter leaders who want to achieve radical improvements in membership numbers, chapter events, or leadership engagement the way the USF chapter members did, Lulu has some suggestions, based on her experiences as Chapter President.
“My piece of advice would be to treat every meeting or event like it's your baby. Every interaction you have with your team, members, or parents is important, and you need to do your best to make sure the other participants and attendees feel special. It won't just happen on its own."
Of course, this won't be easy. Most, if not all, success stories come with obstacles. The key is to keep moving forward with a smile when things seem impossible or out of your control.
"There will be times when you are feeling less-than or nervous from being in the spotlight, but you need to understand how important your example is to the people you meet. The energy you bring to representing your chapter at events and to parents is so important. Put on a brave face and do your best to present as professional, kind, and caring as possible.”
The USF Chapter of the NSLS has achieved remarkable growth over the past year. Read about another chapter that explored ways to expand its reach and impact.