For being a profession that works to break down the stereotypes surrounding any number of things, it’s interesting that we stereotype our own professional associations. When I first began my journey as an #SAGrad, I tried to learn as much as possible about the world of student affairs. Through my research, I, of course, learned of the big two professional associations: ACPA and NASPA. When I started asking mentors for advice about which association I should join or the differences between the two, I received a variety of answers. Many told me, and I have seen, that in some cases, certain institutions just tend to be a “NASPA school” or an “ACPA school”. One interesting piece of advice I was given was that ACPA was for younger professionals while NASPA was for the more seasoned professionals. Looking through each associations’ website, I didn’t get that feeling. I was really struggling to see the differences between the two.
I ended up purchasing a membership to both ACPA and NASPA (might as well take advantage while I still get that grad student discount!). In that first year, I didn’t do much with either association. I checked the boxes for some knowledge communities and coalitions, received their e-mails, but that was it. This fall, I decided to get more involved. I applied for, and was accepted into, NASPA’s Graduate Associate Program. GAP is made up of one graduate student from each institution. We are required to plan four events per year that aim to educate our peers whether through professional development or on the workings on NASPA. We also have monthly phone calls where we discuss the progress of our events, different aspects of NASPA membership, and current events in higher education.
NASPA has made an intentional effort to change the stereotype surrounding the professional associations and their intended demographics. My participation in GAP, and subsequently as a GAP intern at the NASPA Annual Conference, has allowed me to see all of the opportunities available to graduate students and new professionals through membership in NASPA. I have not had as much involvement in ACPA, so I can not say for certain what their graduate and new professional program initiatives look like. What I can say with confidence is that NASPA is not just for the seasoned professional. Through my attendance at the Region IV-W conference and Annual Conference, I found an inclusive environment where professionals were excited by the presence of graduate students and new professionals and offered insightful programs for this population.
Both associations make for rewarding professional homes for student affairs graduate students and professionals. I only hope that we can break down the stereotypes surrounding the associations and help others to see each for its own value for professionals of all levels.
Interested in learning more about becoming involved in either association as a graduate student or new professional? Check out NASPA’s New Professional and Graduate Student Knowledge Community or ACPA’s Coalition for Graduate Students and New Professionals.