Last year after the ACPA conference, I took some time to reflect on the powerful messages of the speakers & presenters and how this could shape & inform my practice. This year, I intentionally planned some goals going into the conference. Despite my best efforts, my plan went wildly off course, and I had a better experience than I ever could have thought possible. Below are some things I learned.
- Think Long-Term: Conferences are the ideal place to seek out and meet people who are where you might want to be in 10, 20, and 30 years. At a minimum, find these individuals and introduce yourself and follow up after the conference. At the most, go out for a drink, ask them about their work, & get to know them.
- Make the Connection: Before the conference, I knew there were a handful of Twitter folks that I wanted to meet. I tweeted & direct messaged some people, went to a tweet up to meet others, met for drinks and was playfully “kidnapped” by yet another group of women that I was ecstatic to meet and spend time with in person.
- Follow Up: Follow up with the professionals you meet at the conference. Do something with all those business cards lying around. I usually write where I met the person, what we talked about, and what to follow up with on the back of the business card. I was given great advice at the conference on following up with the individuals I had met, starting and maintaining the conversation, being positive & confident…I understood all of this advice, but I didn’t get the how. Which leads me to my next point:
- Ask: I explained my “How” challenge to one of the women giving me all this phenomenal advice (Teri) and she immediately said – Ask. You know Ann Marie on twitter and she is a rock star with follow up – ask her. About 13 direct messages later, Ann Marie had given me enough advice to keep me busy following up with ACPA folks for the next 3 months (literally).
- Focus on the now, the RIGHT NOW: You are at a conference meeting new people, attending presentations, going to socials, learning & networking. What is this woman/man/colleague telling you about? Is it something you could collaborate on? Are you interested in getting to know this individual or are they expressing an interest in getting to know you? Is this one of those women I want to get to know – if so – why the hell would I wait to read her biography when I could start asking her questions, joke around with her, and talk to her about her interest and what she is working on – right now?
I want to link this back to a larger conversation taking place online and off. A conversation about how we are doing conferences. Are we doing conferences wrong? Yes. Do I get irritated by several of the intriguing non-entry level assessment presentations being at the same time? Absolutely. Could we do better? We work in higher education; we can and will always do better. But none of this is without self-accountability.
- Be a co-producer: One of my graduate professors used to say students are co-producers in their own education. He would teach, I would do the research, the reading, the homework, etc. If you want to learn at conferences then be intentional with your approach. If a presenter doesn’t go into a topic deep enough – ask more questions. If you are not getting tangible examples of programs – ask for them, or get the presenter’s card and follow up with an email to ask for additional information. If the presentation isn’t what you thought – leave and go to another one or a roundtable.
- Personal vs. Professional: I think it is important to focus on both of these areas of development while at a conference. Was going out for a drink with a Twitter connection (which lead to meeting multiple women) professional and personal development.? Yes. I can talk to these women about professional development, the next steps in my career, & how to be more effective and educated in my current role. What institutes are relevant to my position, what connections should I be making, who is working on strategic planning that I could talk with, who is working on assessing student competency development? Having professionals to ask these questions will develop me personally & professionally.
- Bringing it Back to Students: I don’t work in a job in student affairs where I directly connect with students on a regular basis – but my work in assessment directly impacts the programs we facilitate and I hope to demonstrate that it impacts student learning as well. I did learn a few things about assessment while at the conference, but more importantly, I made connections and developed/identified resources that will help me bring our strategic plan to life, better serve on the Student Affairs Assessment Committee, better chair the departmental Assessment Committee, better communicate my work to my supervisor and those we are accountable to (students and SSAOs), and better understand which of our programs & resources lead to student learning & success..
My point is, rather than say, “Hey, you people working hard to plan conferences where I’m disappointed by the sessions and don’t learn anything – you could be doing better.” I’m willing to say, “Hey, self, why don’t you see what you can do on your end to make the most of your experience.”
What did you take away from the conference? How does it link to your work now and in the future?