A Community Manager Finding Support in Unexpected Places

This week we’re wrapping up the first year of the AAAS Community Engagement Fellows Program (CEFP), funded by the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation. The first cohort of Fellows is made up of 17 scientific community managers working with a diverse range of scientific communities. Today, Heidi Olds reflects on what taking part in the inaugural cohort has meant to her. You can catch up on all posts by the Fellows here.

Posted by Heidi Olds, Technical Activities Administrator for the Society of Petroleum Engineers (SPE).

Wow! This year has been a whirlwind  of new adventures. I was lucky enough to be accepted into the 2017 AAAS Community Engagement Fellows Program as part of the inaugural class! We explored new depths of community management and I am walking into 2018 feeling empowered and more confident than ever.

The 2017 CEFP Fellows in a group fist bump. Photo credit: Allen Pope.
The 2017 CEFP Fellows in a group fist bump. Photo credit: Allen Pope.

But it wasn’t always that way…

Let me tell you a bit about my j-o-b! My position with the Society of Petroleum Engineers is centered around member engagement. Engagement is this year’s hot word. What does it mean to me? Engagement looks like our members networking, dialoguing, resource sharing, and connecting all the time! The upstream oil and gas industry has showered SPE with the brightest stars and it’s been my greatest privilege to support these folks. But it can feel like a big task for one person. After all, I am only human. Going into the fellowship year would mean a lot of things to me.

Here’s what was going through my mind before heading to Washington D.C. to meet the cohort:

  • We’d discover helpful resources together
  • All community managers would have online platforms for their communities
  • We would primarily focus our time on workshops, trainings, readings
  • The other fellows would have a clear idea of their strategy
  • Most fellows would have a defined role at their organization
  • Organization structures would be similar to mine– marketing department, member services, social media, etc
  • Funding structure would be relatively similar across the board

This is where I get to tell you about how this fellowship impacted my career, my confidence and my life! 11 months ago I took a leap of faith and joined an amazing cohort with fellow community managers experiencing the same struggles as me. As me!  We, as an amazing unit of community leaders, did something spectacular – we created an impenetrable force to be reckoned with. We rallied support for each other. We offered guidance when a fallen comrade needed it  the most. We listened. We empathized. We encouraged. We finally found a safe place to be heard.

Here’s what was going through my mind as I headed to Washington D.C. to meet the cohort for the last time:

  • The resources shared were so much more than helpful. I was able to directly impact our community strategy and sustainability because of this fellowship.
  • All community managers work with people and are constantly trying to understand the depths of engagement. Community is so much more than an online platform.
  • Our time was focused on each other. We connected regularly and learned by example.
  • We are all human. All of us were struggling in some area and it was humbling to know that being vulnerable is the first step to growing.
  • Most fellows had no clue what their role was! Right now is a turning point in history for community managers. There is an element of uncertainty and our organizations are only now starting to learn more about this profession and its importance to our ROI.
  • The fellowship consisted of folks representing not only organizations but also research collaborations and academia. I wanted so badly to be able to concretely define what a community is… What I learned is that it’s less about the organizational structure and more about the experience.
  • Support! I had no idea this would be a therapeutic experience for me. This cohort offered the chance to decompress with colleagues that were experiencing the same challenges, providing valuable perspective to each other.

To come full circle, I’m walking away from this fellowship with the support of a life-long cohort. To my supportive cohort: I’m so grateful for the chance to have worked with such an amazing group of individuals. I have been challenged to push the boundaries of my comfort zone. I am better equipped now with the tools needed to do big things with my society. I’m looking forward to taking this knowledge and sharing it with my team– the tools and resources but more importantly, the experience.

From the bottom of my heart, thank you, #CEFP2017!

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