“Finally.” With the help of some professional development funding and one of NASPA’s scholarship initiatives for New Professionals and Graduate Students, I was able to attend and participate in my first National NASPA Conference which took place in New Orleans this year.
As a first-time attendee, here are some of my general thoughts and reactions to the conference as a whole.
10 quick thoughts:
1. It’s true – you do not have to go to everything. But do go to some things. I did my best to attend a handful of educational sessions and socials throughout the day. But I also made sure to enjoy my time being in New Orleans and so I skipped out on some featured sessions, resource fairs, and community meetings. At the end of the day, it was a great balance of exploring the city and (re)grounding myself in the work that I do as a scholar practitioner.
2. Do not feel ashamed or embarrassed if you decide to do things by yourself. If you want to explore the city, do it. If you want to attend a session because it is relevant to you and may not be of interest to your friends, go to it anyways. If you are hungry and need time to reflect, have lunch by yourself. It is okay to do things alone. Sometimes as a field, we place a large value on networking and community building – for good reasons, of course. However, I have also seen such community-organizing work place a sense of shame or guilt on individuals for not going to that “one thing” when all these independent folks wanted was to have some quality “me-time”.
3. Small improvements – large victories. Even if you only make one new connection at a reception, don’t discount its significance. For example, although I am currently in NASPA Region I due to graduate school, I decided to attend the NASPA Region VI reception because I thought it might be good to network with current professionals if I ever wanted to get back to California (and I do, someday down the road). Although I literally only met three individuals that night and re-introduced myself to a former UCLA colleague, I felt accomplished for what I achieved that night: new perspectives, an understanding as to how these receptions look and function, and a new Twitter follower.
4. Do not be afraid to ask for help or a hangout buddy. Ask for clarification: what is the opening session and what do they do there? What is a Knowledge Community and which “meetings” can I attend? Who is she/he? Hey, what are you doing for lunch? Do you want to have dinner tomorrow? What are these ribbons for? As a first-time attendee, give yourself permission to be
“selfish” your own self-advocate. The more you know, the smaller the conference starts to feel.
5. Do not forget to thank the people who took the time and energy to make sure you felt included, supported, and welcomed. Identify at least three individuals that have been largely influential during the conference and express your gratitude for them, to them. We can easily build, validate, and sustain our communities with these little touches of compassion and appreciation.
6. When it comes to lunch or some kind of coffee break, be sure to get in line at least 10-15 minutes before a session ends. Once the session ends, everybody is out and about. Either practice waiting with patience or instead, engage in more strategic planning – you choose!
7. If you cannot avoid the lines then make the most of it. Sometimes standing in line when waiting for food or coffee can bring about the greatest of conversations and the newest of friends. True story: A friend and I were waiting in line for Subway and the three individuals in front of us were graduate students from Baylor College in Texas. We talked and laughed and they invited us to sit down with them for lunch. We exchanged business cards, added each other on Facebook, and ran into one another several times throughout the conference.
8. Try and connect with both new and old friends of your alma mater. It was great to see some friends from my college years, but it was also wonderful to hear from professionals that are currently at the university. Do not be afraid to post an announcement to your Facebook, Twitter, and other social media outlets asking if there are any “_______ alumni” in the area. I found that by asking to connect with individuals at the conference, people connected me with their connections and the whole conference scene became that much smaller. It was also great to reminisce and talk about familiar street names and campus buildings again. Talk about navigating with courage, right? #gobears
9. Get to know not only the people at the conference and the professionals at the various institutions, but the people who actually live, work, and breathe in the city as well. Talk to the locals. Ask them for their recommendations. Say please and thank you and wish them a good day. With an influx of 7800 people in one city, having a level of respect and politeness can go a long way, especially to those whom are working in customer service-oriented positions.
10. When the conference is all over, give yourself some time to truly reflect about your experiences there. What did you learn about practices, strategies, cultures, and/or programs within higher ed and student affairs (name at least 5 take away messages)? What was the best part about it? What was challenging about it? Who helped you along the way? Who are new colleagues and professionals that you would like to keep in touch with? And what would you do differently if you were to go again next year?
And there you have it. My ten thoughts about the conference as a first-time #NASPA15 attendee.
What do you think? Anything else you would like to add that a first-time attendee should know and think about?
And in case anyone is interested, below are my #outfitsofNASPA that I wore for the week in New Orleans. I think I did pretty well :) Any outfits you were particularly proud of? Please share!