Candidacy Statement: Elisabeth Cohen

There are two major questions at stake in this election, which all candidates will–almost inevitably–address. The first is: what should the goals of HRSFANs be, and how should Board members go about pursuing them? The second is: what particular qualifications do you bring to the Board? In what follows, I shall offer my answers to these questions.

Thusfar, what the HRSFANS Board has done is to make a database of alumni, use that to recruit members to alumni lists, and use those lists to encourage members to attend the Reunion it organized. Given the infrastructure we had starting out (i.e. very little), I think we did a pretty good job. The polls we passed out at the reunion suggest that people enjoyed it, and would like there to be another one in maybe three or four years. The Reunion (along with a goal of fundraising for HRSFA, which has also made good progress) was the initial raison d’etre for the HRSFANS Board. At this juncture, the question is–other than finishing up fundraising for the endowment and then organizing that next reunion in a few years, what should this Board /do/?

I am inclined to believe that a Board with energy, good ideas, and a diverse representation among its alumni constituency can accomplish a great deal towards both broadening and tightening the current alumni network. The Board should reach out, on the one hand, to get HRSFAlums reconnected with old friends and new, and, on the other, to provide more opportunities for HRSFAlums to provide one another with creative stimulation and to build up friendships. It should help HRSFAlums to weave this network out of a digital warp and a regional weft, reenforced by occasional large gatherings.
In the absence of geographical coherence, effective use of internet networking is absolutely critical. Thus I would aggressively recruit a talented and devoted webmaster, and encourage the whole board to get involved with brainstorming and designing useful online features. Ideally, these would include:
– A reasonably sophisticated database of members. The database would be opt-in, password protected, and searchable by region, profession, HRSFA-type interest, etc. Such a database would enable HRSFAlums to find old friends, to tap into local HRSFA-related activities, to gauge interest in potential new activities, and (when applicable) to seek professional advice.
-Mailing lists and appropriate web-spaces for online SIGs and regional groups. Online SIGs should encompass not only groups that meet regularly (like the already existing Magic and Writers’ SIGs, and with luck many others), but more loosely defined interest groups which might choose to engage via chat-room or wiki.
-An ordered array of links to other sites that HRSFAlums recommend to one another. These would include links to local sci-fi organizations HRSFAlums have found helpful, personal and professional websites of HRSFAlums, and (of course) a cache of fun or enlightening stuff to look at online.

Needless to say, building this infrastructure must go hand in hand with encouraging people to make use of it. The Board should be actively involved with identifying interest in potential activities of various sorts executable online, inviting people to join regional lists, and keeping an ear to the ground for new ideas–in short, stirring up action.

As the Board works to foster the alumni network on the internet, where it is unconstrained by geography, it should should seek at the same time to stimulate interest-based and social activities among HRSFAlums on the local level. While of course HRSFAlums are few and far between in many parts of the country, several cities have substantial concentrations of HRSFen alumni– without making itself a nuisance, I think the Board can play a useful role in making HRSFAlums aware of their local confederates (especially those with whom they were not undergraduates), and injecting a little momentum. A great deal might be accomplished simply by using HRSFANS’ alumni database to invite alumni to join regional mailing lists. The Board should also seek to identify individuals in these regions who are interested in hosting small local events, and make them known to one another. I believe that the Board should also encourage every city that has a large HRSFAlum contingent to host a large-ish regional HRSFAlum event annually (providing logistical assistance upon request). Such events would give local HRSFAlums who maybe aren’t interested in playing bridge every week (or whatever) the chance to connect and reconnect with one another on special occasions without leaving their own cities, thus strengthening and broadening the local networks. Ideally, these events would be spread out through the year so that enthusiastic non-locals could also attend, thus also filling out the annual schedule of venues at which HRSFAlums nationwide may convene and socialize.

While the Board can play a significant role in encouraging such events (and lending logistical support), control over them and responsibility for them should be distributed to the local membership to the degree possible. The board should be a catalyzing and enabling body, but HRSFANS should be conceived of as an ideally grassroots organization. The Board should strive always to be transparent and responsive, to amplify the voices of its members rather than drowning them out with its own.

Finally, of course it will not do to omit from mention the undergraduates. I think HRSFANS should always be ready to provide support to the undergraduates as they desire it. This includes, of course, supporting them financially–and one of the first tasks of the new Board will be to finish up the fundraising campaign that we have begun. It includes working with the HRSFA Co-chairs and the alumni liason they have agreed to designate for us, in order to ensure ongoing contacts with them to the degree they want to get to know us. To a large extent, it also involves staying out of their way and giving them their time in the sun.

This, then, is what I think the HRSFANS Board ought to be doing in the next three years. This is the vision I will endeavor to pursue if I am invited to serve on it, whether by leading the effort as president, by promoting it as secretary, or by supporting it in a non-Executive capacity.

As far as personal qualifications, I have much less to say (and none of it should be taken to diminish in any way my cognizance of the excellent qualifications of the other candidates for these positions).

I bring some experience to the position. As an undergraduate, I was HRSFA’s Editor in Chief my freshman year, and thereafter I served two terms as co-chair. More recently, I was the Treasurer on the provisional HRSFANS Board. In holding each of these positions, I have felt that I was privileged to have the chance to serve a community that has done so very much for me. I have found that I am rarely so satisfied, or so strongly motivated to work my hardest and act my best, as when I know that HRSFA is depending upon me. I am confident that, if I should be privileged to serve on the new HRSFANS board in any capacity, I will find (beg, borrow, or steal) what it takes to do what needs to be done.

Finally, I would like to draw attention to two particular strengths I think I could bring to leadership of or membership in this Board. First, I believe that I have the tenacity necessary to keep distant goals ever in mind and to work gradually towards realizing them. I believe that I am able to to keep discussion from flagging and to guide it forward until important decisions are made; to break large and abstract objectives down into a sequence of managable tasks; to find people who are willing and able –even pleased– to carry those tasks out. I believe that this skill set will be very important in the coming years. Second, I think that I am particularly well able to listen to many points of view, to take other opinions seriously and actively solicit them rather than accepting silence as consent, and to integrate a range of views and priorities into a vision that everyone can share.

Thank you.