It is conference season in the world of Student Affairs and Higher Education. Luckily, I have the opportunity to attend the ACPA (American College Personnel Association) National Conference in Baltimore, MD, in just a few short weeks. I’ve been a grad student member of the organization for about three years and this is my first opportunity to attend the national conference. However, I have attended conferences on the state level for the past two years. I thought I would share with you my experiences before, during, and after the conference. Before and after will be covered here on the blog and you’ll be able to catch the “during” over on our Twitter account (http://twitter.com/UWWCareer) when I use my assigned day of tweeting to cover what I’m learning at the conference.
So how does my going to a conference affect you as a student? It’s to prove that becoming involved in a professional association related to your field is important while you are still a student. Plus, the fees are generally quite a bit cheaper as a student!
The student affairs field has several professional organizations to choose from. A few associations are for general student affairs and others are function-specific. Some associations include:
- ACPA (American College Personnel Association)
- NASPA (National Association of Student Personnel Administrators)
- NODA (National Orientation Directors Association)
- NACA (National Association for Campus Activities)
- ACUI (Associations of College Unions International)
- NACADA (National Academic Advising Association)
- NACE (National Association of Colleges & Employers)
- ACUHO-I (Association of College & University Housing Officers – International)
While these associations don’t represent every single association in the student affairs field, it’s a good start. Do research into your own industry. Which associations look interesting to you? Which have opportunities specifically for undergraduates or graduates to become involved? Which associations stretch your thinking about your future industry? Once you’ve found a professional association you want to join – do it! Then find out how to get involved.
Here are some questions to think of prior to attending a conference (no matter what level of the association – i.e. state, regional, or national).
How will I benefit from this conference?
Professional Development, knowledge, exposure to new ideas, networking with professionals already in the field, etc.
Can I further my participation at the conference besides attending sessions?
Participate in Case Study Presentations (put your classes into action!), present research, or volunteer your time to help (I was lucky enough to be selected as an ACPA Ambassador and will be participating in a variety of activities and volunteering my time while in Baltimore)
What is the social media backchannel?
If you’re connected to social media (such as Twitter) you can follow the backchannel (attendees tweeting live!) of the conference whether you’re there or not. The ACPA conference will be rocking the #ACPA11 hashtag on Twitter for all to follow the many experiences, thoughts, and revelations that attendees are having.
What are the different networking opportunities?
Speed networking, receptions, dinners/lunches, socials (organized or informal – such as tweet-ups)
What is the expected etiquette?
Dress, behavior, attendance to programs or evening events
Are you going with anyone, such as a classmate or colleague?
If you are attending with one or more other people, I suggest creating a plan of attack and planning out who is attending which sessions. You’ll be able to acquire more information/knowledge from the conference if different people are attending different sessions.
Share the information you learn with others. Talk about sessions afterwards to give yourself a chance to process what you have learned. Talking through the information together may improve your understanding of the content.
Is there an opportunity to interview for job positions while at the conference?
Higher Education can be somewhat unique in that we have “placement exchanges” in conjunction with conferences so people who are job searching can interview with multiple schools all in one place (TPE & C3). Generally, the next step after this is to have an on-campus interview if you’re in the running for a position. Check to see if your industry/field does events like this.
How can I continue the conversation once the conference is over?
Connect with people you’ve met at the conference through email/Twitter/LinkedIn once you get home from the conference.
Get involved in the organization: committees, write for newsletters, join if you haven’t already, if you attended a national conference – check to see if there is a state or regional chapter you can join.
Follow my national conference experience through the @UWWCareer account on Twitter on March 29th.