This month's INFORMS blog challenge is on O.R. and Social Networking and this post is my contribution.
I believe that some of the best educational experiences take place outside of the classroom, and that having students interact with luminaries in the field as well as with one another, with faculty, and with practitioners greatly enhances their learning and knowledge.
Of course, such experiences can happen in a more or less ad hoc fashion, but it is special when there is a common forum and a sense of community.
At UMass Amherst, I have served as the Faculty Advisor to its INFORMS Student Chapter since September 2004. This chapter, through the excellent work of its officers, elected each Fall, and its members, organizes activities each semester, ranging from speakers, to excursions, to social activities, from parties to ping pong tournaments and bowling nights, some of which have become annual events, and help to mark the progression of the academic year.
A highlight (and unique event, thus far) was the First Northeastern Regional INFORMS Conference that took place at UMass Amherst, May 6-7, 2011, for which the student chapter members provided essential support and assistance (thanks). Also, several of the present and former officers spoke on a panel, How to Run a Successful INFORMS Student Chapter. and offered some great advice.
Essential to the building of a community is to make sure that everyone is informed about the chapter's activities. This we accomplish through the use of social networking tools from Facebook and Twitter, through which we disseminate news about our upcoming activities and such communications help to keep our members feeling connected to the chapter. Our chapter Facebook page provides a nice historical timeline of what has been happening over a given year and the students enjoy our tweets as well. The officers also send out regular e-mail news announcements and construct fliers for upcoming activities, plus they regularly update the chapter's website. Postings also take place on the Isenberg School's events page and, quite often, also on the UMass Amherst events page (and even homepage).
Even after the students graduate, the social network that they have established through this chapter lives on and enriches their personal and professional lives and careers.