2018 NASPA Annual Conference

Choosing the Right Session: First Time Attendees at #NASPA18

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It’s finally here! The 100th Annual NASPA Conference and you can’t wait to make the most of it. As a first-time attendee you are probably feeling both excited and nervous about what to expect. Therefore, you are probably trying to do all you can to prepare including planning on what session to attend.

This planning, while important, can also become overwhelming. Upon opening the Guidebook app, you will see dozens of sessions, all with outstanding presenters from across the country. You are now probably wondering:

  • “How will I choose between all these amazing sessions?”
  • “How do I know if these presenters are credible?”
  • “How do I make the most of my trip and my/my institution’s limited professional development funding?”

Here are eight tips for helping you navigate through selecting from many wonderful sessions available and while making sure you are maximizing your experience.

Set a goal

It is first most important to set a goal about the types of sessions you want to attend. As a first-time attendee you may want to experience all that the conference has to offer (see #8), but make sure you set a goal of the one thing you want to get out of that conference. Find a session or two that addresses that and mark those ones first.

Keep in mind the NASPA Competencies

Remembering the NASPA Professional Competency Areas is a great way to diversify the types of sessions you attend. Rather than attending all sessions about law and policy, keep in mind the competencies of personal foundations, social justice and inclusion, or assessment and evaluation. As practitioners, we must have a broad portfolio of skills and knowledge. Remember, there are more specific conferences throughout the year to dig into a particular area.

Challenge yourself, at least once

Always go to at least one session that you never thought you would see yourself at. Perhaps it is about a functional area you are less familiar with such as student programming or conduct. Or maybe it is a session on understanding the experiences of a diverse student group. It is important to challenge yourself to realize new perspectives to make sure you are able to serve all students on your campus, even those you may currently spend less time with.

Think about what you can bring back to your institution

What projects is your division currently working on? What promising practices or programs are out there that you could mimic on your campus? Find at least one session that describes the process another institution went through to develop a new program. Understanding their challenges and opportunities will help you improve your own work at your home institution.

Think about what will help you later in your career

Sometimes you see an exciting session title and think “that doesn’t apply to me, I’m just a….” However, it is important to consider what skills and knowledge may help you later on in your career. It is also important to see what your Deans and Vice-Presidents are interested in and discussing while at the conference. Attending a session that you think doesn’t apply to you is a great way to grow and learn about the larger picture of student affairs.

Consider this just one part of your development

Remember that the conference is just one part of your overall development. Along with attending a national conference, you should be reading, talking to mentors, going to local drive-ins, and attending campus programs to make sure you are learning and growing all year, not just this one time.

Take a break!

Sometimes we put too much pressure on ourselves to attend a session during every time block for fear that we may miss out on something. It’s important during a long conference to take time for yourself and make sure you reflect on what you are learning. Some of my best times at conferences have been connecting with a colleague or new friend in a coffee shop and sharing what we had just learned at a previous session. Sometimes you also just need a break to get outside or check email!

Remember, you can’t do it all!

You will see a range of sessions from new research in the field, to Title IX best practices, to working with undocumented students. With all that we do and face in a single day in our roles, we can become overwhelmed thinking we need to solve all these issues at once. Pick the sessions that speak to you the most and that will allow you to address at least some of the challenges you face on your campus. You will come back better equipped to face that issue rather than spreading yourself too thin. Remember you have colleagues and campus partners to help you with the rest.

Your NASPA experience should be all that YOU want it to be. While it is great to seek advice from mentors and colleagues, it is also important that you make the most of this experience, as each person’s professional development is their own. These tips are just a few ideas of how you can make the most of your conference experience by attending sessions that will suit your current needs but also help you move further in your career trajectory. Don’t forget there are plenty of staff, volunteers, and seasoned conference attendees to help you along the way!

Best wishes in a positive and rewarding conference experience!

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