Earlier this week, I attended the National Association of Student Personnel Administrators (NASPA) Western Regional Conference (WRC). Largely, I attended because I had a proposal for presentation accepted.
After chatting a bit with colleagues from my office, I have had a chance to think through some of my thoughts enough to articulate them.
NASPA vs. NACADA
The first thing that stood out to me was the difference between this regional NASPA conference and the regional NACADA conferences I have attended. I have really grown to love NACADA, so much so that I felt really sad when I was in a group conversation and someone loudly and emphatically stated their opinion about NACADA in a way that felt unusual and not like the sort of thing one should say in a public space around people they do not know well. I find that NACADA is a great place for development of professional practices related to things I do in my daily work-life, as well as a great place to share some of those practices. NASPA is great for development of my professional self, for visiting with folks I know in other parts of higher education and for presenting content that is less related to my functional area and more connected to general interests. Both organizations are good fits, they just serve different purposes
Plain and simple, I missed having my office at a conference with me. Both of my experiences going to conferences with my team have been incredible, and it was pretty hard to be away from them but still doing work-like things. I did, however, get to meet some new folks that work at my University. On the first day, I was looking for the First Time Attendees session (I have attended the national NASPA, but this is my first regional experience) and I ran into a colleague I knew vaguely through work. It turns out there was a whole group of folks from my institution that I had not even met before. It was great meeting new folks that were close-ish. I definitely feel generally like I want to not be around people always, but it is nice to have people who have social initiative.
Attire & Attitude
At dinner with two of the folks I met from my institution, one of them looks at us and says “does it feel like everyone seems to be interviewing at this conference?” It did. It felt like the majority of attendees were on their “best” and treating every interaction as an interview, instead of engaging authentically. Folks were dressed in suits and ties and slacks and none of it feels right for me. Maybe that is what feels right for them. I just… I do not understand this sub-culture that exists, this sub-culture of always trying to show and impress and be interesting. I want to be who I am. I want to think and say the things I believe, with no reservation, with complete honestly. I had many delightful, incredibly interactions with people who were funny and interesting and seemed to have the same perspective of honest self. But I had a few conversations where I felt completely discarded as soon as the other person realized I could do nothing for them.I wore polos and flannel all week, with solid black jeans and Vans. I often felt under-dressed – a feeling I have been getting more comfortable with since moving to Portland. Polos and flannel are what I usually wear. Jeans are normal for me. I want to be honest. When I show my best self, that means showing how I am always.
At the conference, I ran into a former supervisor, several former classmates and someone I know through my best friends older sisters high school friend. I had a chance to sit down and chat and catch up with all of them. Reconnecting with people tends to make me feel bad for not keeping up regularly, sometimes it makes me feel like a bad friend. I did not have any of those feelings in these interactions – it was largely accepted that we are all busy doing our thing.
I presented TL;DR Student Development Theory for a second time this year. Probably the last time I will submit this presentation for a conference – though I may stick with a similar concept in the future. This presentation went incredibly well. I went over time by 2 minutes, and really only missed one discussion slide. The content is, actually, very dense for the time I spend on it. Several folks wanted to connect after and chat, which was great. I really love chatting about the theories, the popular culture and my graduate school experience. One conference attendee asked if I had thought about writing up the content I presented as a blog post. I have not previously, but am very seriously considering it. I would just want to make sure I do it right, and have .pdf handouts to go with each one. You may see something like that in this space sometime in the next month or two.
I attended a session with some interesting suggestions about proactive responses for academic standing, career services for freshmen and sophomores, and #saspeaks which is the NASPA version of TED Talks – short, inspirational messages. Some stuff really resonated and stuck. Some stuff was cool to see presented. I did not attend any sessions where I thought “I really need to bail on this session,” which I definitely see as a positive.
There were several whole conference social events, which were wonderful and well put-together. At one of them, I found myself wanting to stay, chat and meet people but not knowing anyone that was there past a point. Cognitively, I understand that I could approach almost anyone that works in higher education and introduce myself and probably become best friends in less than five minutes. The active practice of this is challenging. I wish more conferences would be pro-active about creating spaces or activities where people can meet folks they do not know.
The City (or Town, I guess)
It was unique visiting Oakland. It is not a city I would typically go to, but I did enjoy a few cool things there. I had Homeroom Mac and Cheese for the first time, which was amazing. My friend referred me to a church service for Sunday morning, and it was one of the most open, welcoming churches I have been to. I stopped at a game store and walked through Chinatown after the conference and bought a game called Quao. I also tried Milk Tea for the first time! It was great.
The conference experience was cool. Nice to meet/see people. Fun time presenting, learned some cool stuff. If I never stay in a hotel room again it will be too soon.