I was the president of the Society for Technical Communication Canada West Coast chapter for 2008-2009. It was a very vibrant and exciting year for the chapter, which had been faltering when I volunteered to be president, due to lack of volunteers to keep things running. The year ended on a high note, with the chapter winning the STC Pacesetter Award for using technology to serve our members.
Liessi Häussler, president of Cyberscribe Solutions, said:
“Thanks for the kind mentions, Karen, and for all you’ve done to change this little corner of the world. Your time at the helm has made an enormous difference, all for the positive.”
Rahel Bailie, president of Intentional Design, said:
“I’ve worked with Karen as an STC volunteer for two terms, and both times she has shown a level of dedication and professionalism that is admirable. She revitalized the chapter during a time when, due to recession factors, volunteerism had dipped badly, and chapter operations were compromised. Karen stepped in, created a strategic plan, and socialized her vision throughout the membership. The crowning accolade was the chapter winning an award for creative use of technologies. Karen has shown herself to be a people person. Her leadership style shows how she values human relationships and works hard at ensuring that the volunteers are appreciated for their contributions.”
Pam Drucker, STC senior member and blogger at Shorter Documents, said:
“Your leadership pulled us through the 2008-2009 year. The outcome was an event to celebrate. It’s an understatement to say you oversaw many activities. This recap gives breadth to the year’s challenges and successes in thoughtful and meaningful terms. I hope you will repost your final message on the wiki to serve as a guide for future executives. I simply want to say thank you for accepting the challenge, giving your extraordinary energy, and for fulfilling a vision that by all measures has allowed our chapter to thrive again. Great job!”
Here is my end-of-term letter to the membership, in which I reported on the 2008-2009 program year. This highlights the accomplishments of the chapter under my leadership, thanks to the contributions of 40 great people who contributed time and energy to the chapter.
Letter to the membership
Dear members of the STC Canada West Coast chapter,
This is my final message to you as your president for the 2008-2009 program year. I’d like to take a snapshot of where the chapter is at right now, as well as reflect on the year that’s passed.
Lois Patterson, our new programs team lead, surveyed the chapter recently to check on the popularity of the third Tuesday, our current program evening. While of course this night doesn’t work for everyone, the majority who responded to the survey prefer this night. Respondents also requested that some meetings be held further east from the downtown core, and the programs team is considering holding an event in a location that’s further east to see how this goes. We also received encouragement to persist in our efforts to make programs available to remote participants.
We will be continuing our efforts to bring programs to remote participants by recording the meetings and posting them on our website. If all goes well, the May program, Susan Patch’s fascinating presentation on the principles of Agile Development, will be up soon, in the innovative format of audio plus SlideShare presentation. For the coming year we have a team of volunteers, headed up by James Lee, who will be working to bring live audio combined with laptop visuals to remote participants, hopefully with phone-in capabilities so that remote participants can ask questions during the Q&A period. Bruce Sharpe will continue to do fine work with the audio recording.
The May program was also Academy Awards night for the chapter, with awards going to the full gamut of chapter members, from the newest to the most senior:
- Rahel Bailie was honoured for achieving the distinction of STC Fellow; our chapter’s other Fellow and co-founder, Sheila Jones of International Wordsmiths, welcomed Rahel into this elite echelon with an entertaining talk about Rahel’s accomplishments and contributions to the chapter and the profession.
- Heather Sommerville won the award for Volunteer of the Year, for her dual role as programs team lead and volunteer coordinator.
- Two Print Futures graduates shared the prize for the Julia Broderick Scholarship; one student, Amanda Lee, who received honourable mention, was at the program meeting to graciously accept the award in memory of Julia. The other student, Crystal Auffray, showed great enthusiasm for technology and technical writing and currently works in Victoria.
- The chapter won the Chapter Pacesetter award for our use of technology to enhance all functions of the chapter.
- I received a beautiful gift, presented by our vice president, Eagranie Yuh, in appreciation for my contributions as president of the chapter! It will warm my house for years to come and remind me of my tenure as prez.
Woohoo! Congratulations to all award winners, and to the entire volunteer team, whose combined work contributed to winning the Pacesetter award.
A Year of Great Programs
In looking back over the year, I am thrilled at the variety and quality of program events we had:
- September’s kick-off meeting began with an introduction to the volunteers and the year’s theme of making a difference, followed by RJ Jacquez’s remote presentation from San Diego, CA about the new Adobe Suite; the presentation was broadcast to remote participants.
- November’s program by Jack Molisani taught us all how to earn six figures as technical writers, and was also our AGM.
- January’s Yoga for the Office presentation, by yours truly, brought some flexibility into our daily work lives.
- February’s program with Joe Welinski gave us ideas for finding and creating work in technical communications by providing leading-edge user assistance.
- March’s Pecha Kucha presentation, with slide shows by eight of our chapter’s members, on a variety of technical and non-technical topics, was entertaining and helped us get to know our members better.
- April’s program on Ideation Design, with Jerome Ryckborst, gave us another method for promoting ourselves and contributing in the work place.
- May’s program, with Susan Patch describing Agile Development, encouraged us to get involved early and often in the product development process; we also had a chapter Awards ceremony, and Susan’s presentation was recorded for remote members.
All of the programs were well attended, with about 30 members on average, and close to 100 people came to the presentation on earning six figures! This year the executive decided to make the programs free for members, which seemed to encourage more people to come to meetings. We also had the enticement of wonderful refreshments, generously provided by Liessi Haussler and Cyberscribe Solutions! But these events would not have been possible without the hard work of Heather Sommerville, Pam Drucker, and various other elves who worked behind the scenes throughout the year, including Lois Patterson, James Lee, Bruce Sharpe, Tracey Heyworth, and Tony Chung.
In the year to come, Heather and Pam are stepping into the background, taking a well-deserved break after years of bringing programs to the chapter, and Lois is coming forward as programs team lead, assisted by James, Takuro Ishikawa, Laura Misko, and Bruce.
Marika Piehler is our chapter photographer, and she has created a photo gallery of some of the programs from the past year, as well as providing photos for articles about chapter events. Check out the gallery, accessible from the new Photo Gallery menu item on the Coast Lines menu of our chapter website: http://www.stcwestcoast.ca/index.php/gallery. Thanks also to Stephen Arthur for taking photographs at the January meeting.
Volunteer Meetings and Coordination
We had volunteer meetings about once every two months, which were well attended (with 7 to 13 volunteers at each meeting) and a source of fresh ideas and inspiration for the chapter. I’d like to thank the many people who took minutes at these meetings:
- Karl Meinert, secretary*
- Christine Grimard, secretary*
- Michelle Fredette
- Tracey Martinsen
And I’d like to thank Liessi Haussler of Cyberscribe Solutions for providing us with a meeting space, and Panago for the pizza! The volunteers were very gracious about all the pizza choices being vegetarian!
* The position of secretary was akin to being the drummer from Spinal Tap (see http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0088258/synopsis); you didn’t even hear about the first person who held this position. Hang onto your drumsticks, Christine!
Our volunteer coordinator, Heather Sommerville, was present at every volunteer meeting and performed vital work throughout the year, recruiting volunteers, matching them to jobs, and helping give them the support they needed to do their work. Volunteer numbers rise and fall throughout the year, with volunteers coming and going as their life circumstances change. But to give you an idea of Heather’s recruitment skill, we had 12 volunteers who continued on from the 2007-2008 program year in June 2008, and now, in June 2009, we have 27 volunteers lined up for the coming year. Well done, Heather!
It has become something of a tradition in the chapter to show appreciation to the volunteers with a small gift and a volunteer lunch. I’d like to thank Mike Parviainen for getting the volunteers gift certificates for their choice of Amazon, Chapters, or movie tickets. Thanks again to all those volunteers who waived their gifts and donated the money to the Vancouver Food Bank at Christmas time.
I’d also like to thank Catherine Kerr for making the arrangements for the volunteer appreciation lunch at La Rocca. The coloured name cards were a great touch, and the restaurant was very accommodating about providing vegetarian options. Eagranie had the brilliant idea of getting us to switch chairs between courses, so that we got to talk to more people and get to know each other better. And Pam Drucker gave a funny and moving speech honouring Heather’s contributions and “gentle nudges” over the year. The lunch was so much fun that some of us lingered for three hours! Now that’s a classic Italian feast!
Membership in the chapter has remained pretty steady throughout the year. We had 217 members in June 2008, and in June 2009 our membership is at 195. This is an exceptional retention rate, given the economic difficulties we are facing in Vancouver and in our field of technical communication. I’d like to thank our membership coordinator, Dawn Stewart, for her year-long work in orienting new members to the chapter’s services, including helping members post their listings in the Directory of Contractors and Independent Consultants (not always an intuitive process). We currently have 34 listings in the directory. Nine are new listings since July 2008, and there were three new listings before that in January 2008.
I encourage members to make use of the forum as a means of communicating your needs to the volunteer team, and for continuing to build the sense of community we share as a chapter. Many thanks to Tracey Martinsen for being the forum gardener, planting seeds of topics for us all to ponder, explore, and contribute to if we felt called to do so. I was just thinking over the topics I remember, and concluding that Bumper Sticker Wisdom was my favourite. It looks like I’m not the only one; with 1,885 views, this was the favourite topic of the year!
Our long-time treasurer, Susan Patch, kept track of the financial affairs of the chapter, and prepared two sets of financial statements this year, owing to the changing of the year end by STC International. She filed all the necessary paper work to meet our legal obligations as a chapter, and made sure everyone got reimbursed promptly for expenditures incurred to run the chapter. Thanks very much, Susan! The chapter has full transparency about our financial affairs, and the budgets, strategic plans, and financial reports dating back to 2005 are available to members via the member Wiki, accessible from the home page of our chapter website.
We were given the option to update the chapter bylaws this year to mirror the bylaws of the STC International. The executive, consisting of past president Theresa Putkey, Eagranie, Susan, me, and Christine, decided to retain our current bylaws, because they are specific to BC legislation and suit the needs of our chapter. Updating the bylaws to mesh with STC International would have been very time consuming because the STC International bylaws reflect the laws of New York State. Our chapter bylaws are available for anyone to view, by going to Chapter bylaws on the About menu of our web site.
We didn’t have a documentation competition this year, as originally planned in the strategic plan, but we will be having one next year. Liessi Haussler is the team lead for the competition, with backup from Pam Drucker and assistance from an astonishing team that Liessi has put together. Stay tuned for more details about this!
Contractor’s CIC SIG
The informal monthly meetings of the Contractors and Independent Consultants Special Interest Group, headed by team lead Ben Hechter, have been a fun way of meeting with others in the field to discuss the state of affairs in Vancouver. The group has been meeting at a restaurant-pub on Commercial Drive, but may experiment with a Surrey location for one of the meetings next year. The group is on hiatus over the summer, and will meet again in September.
I went to a few of these meetings over the past year (initially hosted by Paul Tyson), and really enjoyed the chance to exchange news about mass corporate layoffs, job opportunities, and consulting rates. But the best part was getting to know what people are doing in their off hours! We technical communicators are a very creative and diverse group of people.
Without a doubt, the job bank is an important resource for members, and access to the postings is a strong incentive for membership. Tony Yip has been quietly editing, approving, and posting jobs behind the scenes for some years now, and I’d like to thank him for this very helpful service to our membership.
If the job bank can be used as an indicator of the state of the field, things have slowed down over the past year. We had 50 posting in the job bank from July 2008 to June 2009, versus 77 the previous year. Full figures aren’t available for the year before that, but for the six-month period from January to June, postings were as follows:
- 2007 – 53
- 2008 – 45
- 2009 – 25
The chapter plans to do community outreach to employers in the year to come to raise awareness of the role and importance of technical communicators.
Scholarships, Education Liaison, and Outreach
Rob Hughes administered the Julia Broderick Scholarship this year, and will be expanding his role to be our education coordinator next year. Sharon Twiss, Douglas College Advisory, and Tamara Bailey, SFU Advisory, will continue in their roles. Eagranie has some exciting ideas about education liaison, which she will be revealing in her strategic plan for 2009-2010.
Theresa Putkey was our liaison with related organizations. She posted announcements about events of interest to our members, and obtained discounts for our members to go to events. In addition, Eagranie has been working with the High Tech Communicators Exchange to put on a joint event. To assist with public outreach, one of our new volunteers, Degan Beley, will be doing public relations for the chapter next year.
I’ve already discussed some aspects of the website, but I’d like to give a special mention to Lisha Li, our webmaster. Lisha has been an incredibly dedicated webmaster, often making updates within minutes of my requests to her. In addition to updating web content, Lisha is responsible for upgrading the Expression Engine used to run the website, and is also available to help visitors to the site.
Lisha has been working with a small committee, headed up by Theresa Putkey, to redesign the home page. Our innovation strategist, Rahel Bailie, is also on this team, as are Tony Chung, Eagranie Yuh, and I. Theresa surveyed the membership to discover which information is most important to have on the home page, and the team has been collaborating to come up with a leaner design. Theresa and Lisha have both mocked up pages, and the next step is to get a graphic designer involved. Hopefully you will be seeing a new look on the home page in the year to come.
Coast Lines Newsletter
We occasionally post small news articles on the home page, but most of our chapter news is presented through our online newsletter, Coast Lines. Tony Chung continued in his role as newsletter editor for the past year, editing, formatting, and posting more than 20 articles, reports, and program meeting reviews throughout the year. In addition, Tony wrote articles, worked with Lisha behind the scenes to perform website administration tasks, and helped with the remote broadcasting of our September program. Tony is a font of innovative ideas, limited only by the time he has available for implementation, and his cheerful enthusiasm has been a welcome element on the volunteer team.
Our newsletter has also benefitted by the contributions of many volunteers and members, including Eagranie, Lois, Marika, Clara Johnson, Dawn, Christine, Rahel, and Michelle. It is no surprise to learn that we are a chapter of talented writers! A number of other volunteers have expressed interest in contributing to Coast Lines, so I expect the newsletter will continue to be a lively and timely source of information during the year to come.
Making a Difference
As you know, the theme this year was making a difference in the world, and I feel moved to have worked with this wonderful team of volunteers who are all making a difference in this world in many ways. Their contributions extend well beyond the generous giving of their time to the STC CWC chapter. Some of these ways were celebrated in the forum topic on Making a Difference, but many volunteers and members seem to be too modest to post in public about the great things they do! Here are excerpts from postings in the forum that list a few of the ways our members are making a difference:
- taking public transit
- growing our own produce
- taking dogs to visit people in hospital
- introducing city dwellers to outdoor winter sports such as snowshoeing
- teaching yoga and meditation to young adults in prison
- helping feed the homeless and people with HIV
- working at the farmers’ market
- doing sound setup for church services
- engaging in Jewish-Muslim dialog at a synagogue
- raising children and teaching grandchildren
- revolutionizing the teaching system
- supporting cancer research
- buying items secondhand to reduce the strain on the earth’s resources
- supporting musicians and writers by promoting their work
- promoting awareness of how destructive big business is to our lovely planet and all who sail her
- helping a company develop a “smart grid” system that will help us make better use of our existing (aging) power infrastructure
- web designing for a charity that raises money for anti-poverty projects in India
- helping with a campaign to ban grizzly hunting in BC and protect grizzly habitat
Please visit the forum at http://www.stcwestcoast.ca/index.php/forums/viewthread/29/ and tell us about the ways you are making a difference in the world. We are all inspired and uplifted when people share their stories.
My Experience as President
It has been a year of growth for me, stepping into the role of president and taking on responsibility for the chapter, and the support of our amazing volunteer team is what made it possible. I would especially like to thank Heather, for being a supportive listening ear, and Eagranie, for agreeing to be VP and for fielding all of the president’s emails!
The presidency was an exploration for me in what it means to be a “wild woman,” offering my gifts to my people and place. This was an exploration that arose during a vision quest in 2007, and since then I have been working with different ways to express wild woman energy. To me, being big enough to hold the space for a chapter of 200 people seemed like a way to express that wildness, while channelling it into a productive form of service. Taking the risk of championing a chapter theme that went beyond the usual domain of technical communication—making a difference in the world—was another aspect of bringing my wild woman self to the role of president. I have been so pleased to see that this risk paid off. Volunteers and members shared their own ways of making a difference in the world, and I think that by sharing parts of our lives outside of our business roles we developed a warm sense of community in the chapter. This sense of community, the enjoyment of working with others, and a feeling of belonging were all surprise gifts that I didn’t anticipate when I agreed to be president. The wild woman takes me places I wouldn’t readily go, and beautiful new worlds open up.
In closing, I want to thank the membership at large, for your trust in me. I am glad that I conducted myself reasonably well, kept the chapter from dissolving, and headed up a successful chapter year that I feel is worthy of your trust.
Your New President
Now I turn it over to your new president, Eagranie Yuh! Little did she know where agreeing to coordinate last year’s volunteer lunch would lead! Eagranie has been my right-hand woman for the past year, and has contributed to the chapter in many ways. I have every confidence in her vision and leadership skills for guiding the chapter for 2009-2010. I know she will continue to build on the strengths of this vibrant, passionate chapter!
Have a great summer, and see you in the fall.
STC Canada West Coast