American Public University System (APUS) is composed of American Military University (AMU) and American Public University (APU). Our students, faculty, and staff reside around the world. Our online-only university has a brick and mortar campus in West Virginia, but students attend classes online as well as run their “social” university lives virtually. Despite this, APUS still manages to offer most of the same aspects of student life as other universities.
Here are some of the ways our chapter managed to stand up in late 2016 and accomplish so much in such a short amount of time. We hope these recommendations are helpful as you collaborate and find ways to support your campus community!
The first step in forming and maintaining a solid online student organization is to have a stellar leadership team who truly believes in the heart and mission of the organization. Free and open communication between the faculty advisors and student officers supports a successful organization or club. To that note, it is invaluable when the officers openly communicate in order to coordinate and collaborate.
Connection & Events
Encouraging, empowering, and educating members through technology may seem simple in today’s tech-dependent world. As we know, virtual connection is not comparable to real connection. With that obstacle before us, we simply must push past, around, over, and under and continue with our mission. The major perk of being online only is the world-wide reach we have due to our membership being spread throughout the world. There is a good reason that our very own advisor received the prestigious honor of “Advisor of the Year” from Active Minds in 2019 followed by our chapter receiving the esteemed honor of “Chapter of the Year” from our university and even had a featurette made to promote our chapter! Check out our video and article here: https://bit.ly/2019_apusam_video.
- Annual Suicide Awareness & Prevention Symposium
In September 2020, we will host our 3rd Annual Suicide Awareness and Prevention Symposium. It is an honor to coordinate this 2-day event every year. We host our symposium in a webinar-style with guest speakers presenting for about an hour including a Q&A session and facilitated by Active Minds chapter officers.
- Virtual 5K – Miles for Mental Health
The concept is to promote a walk-and-talk event which can include babies in buggies, children, pets, etc. The goal is to possibly have a light conversation about mental health as the walk-and-talk proceeds. On the other side, some members throw on some headphones, choose some good music, and run the 5k in peaceful solitude. The message is always the same – mental health is okay to talk about, and we are here for you. We even send out fancy medals!
- Stress Less Week(s)
Stress Less Week reminds us that we do have permission to (re)take control, (re)prioritize, (re)organize, or simply (re)focus some of our mental energy each day. We love to share and promote self-care as the cornerstone to mental health that it is. We host an SLW once in spring and again in autumn and often have graphics contests inviting members to share their stress less ideas.
- Cards of Kindness
The original thought was simple: make or buy a card; write encouraging messages, phrases, quotes inside; and, physically mail the card to another member. The beauty of it is the all-inclusive nature of it. Children can help write notes. Knowing a fellow chapter member (in our case a perfect stranger somewhere around the world) will feel special, loved, needed, encouraged, seen, etc. all because of a little card… well, that is priceless and sends my heart over the moon. There is something invaluable about a tangible moment of kindness from a stranger that can last a lifetime.
To encourage positive focus, we started #APUSAMCED which stands for APUS AM Celebrate Every Day. This is another simple concept which highlights the National Day Calendar for inspiration. We choose themes for each day, week, and month to highlight. These seemingly silly “National Day of ….” highlights allow for a low-stakes focus which often brings about smiles, connection with others, and are great conversation starters. I mean, who doesn’t love national pancake day? We have the #APUSAMCED corner of each monthly newsletter, we share them on our social media, and we have them within our Slack work space. We often have members thank us for providing a quick re-focus for the day or reminding them to smile.
- Member Conference Calls
Another way we maintain contact with our members is through member meetings. We generally hold these once per quarter on either Adobe Connect or Zoom. It is a great way to come together quarterly since we cannot meet in person.
Another fabulous way to connect and empower your communities is through presenting information: e.g. Active Minds’ V-A-R, or a lunch-and-learn event. Just recently, our chapter among others, had the honor of presenting the Validate-Appreciate-Refer tool to some fellow students, staff, and faculty in early 2020 (Click here). V-A-R represents a technique and life skill for all to have readily available since it is for everyday people in everyday life. It does not require you to be certified, degreed, credentialed, or any other kind of recognized professional status. It simply requires you to be willing to listen and practice empathy; it requires you to listen and be human along with others.
If you have not had the experience of learning V-A-R, we highly recommend it. Using it helps you create an open and safe space for others to be interpersonal or confide in you in their time of need – mild or intense. The most non-threatening aspect of V-A-R is that it works well in non-crisis situations and provides low-pressure opportunities for empathetic support. I even use it at work with colleagues.
As an online-only university, we have to be creative on many fronts and expose any and all methods for reaching and connecting with our members and communities. Naturally, one of our main sources of connection is social media. We have both a closed Facebook group for our members who have signed up through APUS and a public page to share events and awareness information publicly for anyone to see. This way, our outreach is wide and more realistic. We also have a Twitter and Instagram account which we use to share events, challenges, encouragement, and general information. And even more exciting, coming June 2020: www.apusactiveminds.com!
Blogs are a GREAT way to communicate, share, raise awareness, and virtually connect with others. Our Vice President recently wrote a great article – check it out here. In addition to all of this, we enjoy hosting events to bring our members together for no real reason at all other than to check in with one another. One example is what we call, Social Hour. This is an opportunity to simply chat – no real agenda – just be together to discuss life, mental health, self-care, etc….just doing life together.
Having much of our student population in the military and spread throughout the world, we must have other ways to reach our members. We do that by sending out a monthly newsletter to inform our membership of forthcoming events, report on events passed in the previous month, and a highlight of our #APUSAMCED corner. Last but not least, the now archaic method of email never lets us down as a sure-fire way to open communication lines. As much of our connection with our members is one-way, we must be visually creative and as engaging as possible. Email marketing platforms that offer free plans, such as MailChimp, are useful in managing membership rosters and sharing information quickly and efficiently. Also, surveying members regularly is critical! Finding out what our chapter members and leaders are interested in doing and how those ideas align with the chapter’s goals and mission helps keep the chapter moving forward. This is also a great way to increase participation for events and fundraising.
The APUS Active Minds Chapter will continue to innovate to further progress and encourage mental health in our communities.
Happy Virtual Connecting from all of us to all of you!