Right now, professional development is not financially supported by my department. This does not makes my experience particularly unique, but that’s the current reality for the professional staff within our department. Sometimes we only think of professional development as participating in regional or national organizations, attending conferences and pursuing certifications. While those are the easily quantifiable opportunities, there are other ways to pursue that development.
I like to think more about growth. You’re either growing or you’re dying, so not growing isn’t an option. Some of that growth might be personal while other growth/development is professionally focused. We’re fortunate that in our line of work who we are as people is so intertwined with who we are as professionals. So if I’m growing as a person, I’m growing as a professional.
With growth in my heart and no money in my pocket, here are my three favorite ways to do some professional development on no budget:
1. Get a Library Card – Read books. There are tons of wonderful books out there. There are more books than we have time to read. We’re fortunate that we work in a broad field where just about anything we come across can support our work in some way. This can lead to reading books that are explicitly about student affairs or branching out into nearly any other topic.
Personally, I like hearing from lots of different voices and perspectives, and I seek out work from a variety of fields.
You also might have some of your old books from school. Do you know how much more you can take away when you’re not reading for a deadline? It’s crazy! You can just re-read a chapter because you find it fascinating and not just trudge forward to hit your 80 pages before the next class (Recent grads – reading for pleasure can be a blast! Who knew!?).
2. Go To Events on Your Campus – Know what’s one great thing about working on a college campus? There are always interesting events going on.
In the last year alone I’ve gone to talks with Steve Wozniak, Ken Burns, an animator from Pixar, and Laura Jane Grace, among others. I spent a combined zero dollars to attend these events. None of these people specifically talked about student affairs, but topics like leadership, vision, project management, gender identity, creative expression, and collaboration all came up. I figure there are some takeaways there.
Anytime there is a smart person with some measure of success in a room talking, there is something to be learned and something that can be brought back to your work.
3. Do It Yourself – Set something up. Is there a need? Do you have a passion for something? See if there are others who want to join in.
I received my masters in what is essentially interpersonal communication. For me, this is a pretty huge part of what we do. At best, our students might get a half-hour to an hour session on communication. So, I put together a half-day communication conference specifically geared towards the work of student leaders.
My boss was stoked because I was showing initiative, and providing an additional training opportunity for students on our campus. Our University was excited because we were holding a leadership opportunity on campus and getting students from the region to campus. Our VP even came in to do our morning keynote address. This all happened in about a month! We were able to get 15-20 students from local universities to come down, give up part of their Saturday to learn more about communication, and learn how to apply it in their work as student leaders.
Conferences, organizations and certifications are great, but your personal development is yours to own. It cannot stop just because your institution is not covering the bill. Even if their are financially supported professional development opportunities in your department, low or no cost options are still great to pursue and can allow for greater customization to you, your interests, and your growth.
So how about you? What are some of your favorite low/no cost professional development opportunities?