In this era of budget reductions we are struggling to find new ways to continue to challenge our professionals and providing them with ways to keep current in their thinking without being able to fund costly conference travel. After a long and complicated conversation about conference attendance, we ended up sending a group of students and staff to attend the NACA Northeast Regional this week. We had a great group and aren’t we snazzy at the closing banquet:
As an experienced NACA Volunteer, this wasn’t my first conference. I attended just for two of the days, but during my attendance I got the chance to reflect a little bit about the different ways “professional development” was being offered and the different experiences my delegation was having all at the same conference. We all attended the same event, but experienced ideas relating to our professional growth in so many ways!
My students started using Twitter (#bscpc) and a blog (pcatnaca.blogspot.com) to record their observations and to communicate with both fellow delegates and folks back home. The conference introduced them to these tools that they had never used in this context and their comments were priceless! They also got the chance to present an educational workshop as well as a presentation in competition for the “Excellence in Programming” award. Through these sessions, they had the exercise of having to articulate their accomplishments AND to have to explain them to someone else through a presentation. (oh, did I mention they won the award too… yay!)
My graduate assistant attended the conference too and it was the first time we got to see her in a leadership role with our student delegation. She was amazing with them in helping them make meaning of their conference experiences. During times like when they were working hard at volunteering the day before the conference, she found ways to help them understand how their efforts contributed toward a better experience for everyone involved!
My staff member was on the conference committee and I know I don’t have to explain what that is like to all of you! He was responsible for the “business side” of the conference by helping to organize the marketplace (HUGE number of booths!) and the performance venues. He didn’t just look cool with his walkie talkie – he really made it possible for all of these hardworking artists to connect in a positive environment with potential entertainment buyers.
And then there’s me… even after attending what feels like my zillionth regional conference I gain new knowledge. I got to present on two topics I have never presented before, I had the chance to meet some of NACA’s leadership from the past 40 years at an anniversary celebration, and I got to really, really connect with a group of people who truly “get” what I do. Now, I’m lucky at my campus where there are some who do understand it… but that’s usually from a lens of someone who made the decision not to do it anymore OR who only sees a part of it. These people at this conference? They play amazing roles in my life that they have no idea they play. At the very core, they understand my challenges and my constant personal push-and-pull about how long I can keep “doing” campus activities.
This type of “professional home” is out there for all of us, but with both our campus budget constraints and the constraints that our associations are feeling, I fear that we need to figure out new ways of developing this kind of community among professionals. Many of our senior leaders on campus come from the days of frequent planning meetings for these conferences and no concern for attending these professional meetings, no matter where they were held. So will they respect the opportunities that technology will provide and support ways to make them meaningful? Will they see participating in great things like #sachat on Twitter and contributing to the SABlog as credible ways to grow our skills?
This current generation of student affairs professionals won’t get the opportunity to develop their professional home in the same way that our current VP’s did, so I’d say that there is a charge to those of us in mid-level positions to take the lead in redefining professional community. This is a question we have to answer about our on-campus offerings, our professional association activities, and using technology to help fill in the blanks.
Who’s up for it? Where do we go next?