In my experience, there are three types of people when it comes to membership in organizations. First is the person involved in nothing, or very close to it. Sometimes this type of person just doesn’t want anything to do with clubs or other groups, and sometimes he or she just doesn’t know where to start. Second, there’s the person who belongs to a few organizations and may or may not be reaping any benefits from them. Lastly, some people are involved with as many groups, activities, and organizations as humanly possible. These people may be social butterflies, extreme overachievers, or simply stretching themselves too thin to bolster their resume. I’ll focus mainly on the first two types of people, highlighting three ways in which belonging to (and being active in) an organization or two may have more benefits than most people realize.
Scholarships and fellowships
First thing’s first: This category is not exclusive to people currently in college or high school! If you are a parent and college is a path your child(ren) may take, then it’s never too early to be thinking about ways to pay for their education. Organizations you belong to may have funds exclusively for children of members, or you may find out about scholarships that are relatively unknown. The less competition, the better the odds of winning. Whether you plan to help pay for your children’s college or not, scholarships are a great way for them to earn some of the money that would otherwise be out-of-pocket or student loans.
For current or prospective students, this may be the most important of the three benefits. By being involved in 4-H, Future Farmers of America (FFA), the American Society of Agronomy (ASA), or hundreds of other national or local groups, you may qualify for scholarships or fellowships reserved only for members. Every little bit helps, and even $250 from your local gardening club yields great returns if you can finish your application in an hour or two! As an added benefit, repeatedly writing about your skills, accomplishments, and career aspirations can help you when it comes time for interviews.
Personal and professional development
Many organizations aim to help their members build life skills. For example, the main goal for most members of Toastmasters International is to improve their public speaking abilities. Others are focused on leadership, teamwork, etc. Some also promote these goals more indirectly, such as honor societies or certain sororities and fraternities. The groups in college associated with agronomy usually required additional effort for me to feel like they were helping me truly develop professional skills. One of the easiest ways I found to accomplish this was by holding an official title, like president or treasurer of our agronomy club. This forces you to work on your “people skills” — such as leadership, public speaking, and teamwork — plus looks good on a resume. I think this category has the potential to impact your life in the most ways, but it requires knowing which personal qualities you want to improve and then taking action. My advice is to pick just one skill for starters that you desire. For example, let’s say you want to be a better leader. The only way to improve is by assuming a leadership role in a group of your choosing and then practicing!
For your career
The first two categories help build your resume, but that’s just the first step to landing your dream job. The rest of the challenge often boils down to one thing: networking. Meeting and associating with other people in your field is the best way to start or advance your career if you work in industry. However, not all groups are created equal when it comes to networking for future jobs. In general, the best organizations are composed of members with jobs as similar as possible to the one you hope to have. These members are the ones who know how to get where you want to be and are already “in the loop.” Seek out professional societies relevant to you and then focus on making connections.
For farmers, entrepreneurs, and anyone who already has a career, other benefits may still be available from the right organization. Besides the purely social aspect, advantages of belonging to a group can include finding mentors, getting advice, and learning new ways of doing things. Brainstorming and sharing ideas amongst a group of people with similar goals can be invaluable for making tough decisions. Not to mention that in the digital age we live in it’s important for us to maintain our real, in-person friendships and acquaintances.
Spartan-state native Michael Swoish is a Michigan State alum who’s currently pursuing his Ph.D. in soil science at Virginia Tech. Michael has taught classes on precision agriculture and has traveled the country to get as much dirt time as possible.