Last week I had the opportunity to attend my first NASPA (National Association of Student Personnel Administrators) conference in Philadelphia, PA. Although I have been to other student affairs conferences, the NASPA annual conference was a whole new experience (in the best way possible).
During the conference, I had the opportunity to connect with other professionals, to attend a number of sessions in areas of interest, and to take time for self care with some friends in the city. Attending a NASPA annual conference as a student affairs graduate student is a bit scary at first, but inevitably I learned a few things that I wanted to reflect on.
Step outside of your comfort zone. Networking and connecting to other professionals is terrifying if you have never experienced it before. During my first small NASPA Regional conference in St. Louis, MO a few years ago, I challenged myself to talk to random people at the conference. I learned that a lot of others at the conference are sometimes just as scared to step forward and make connections. Sharing your mutual awkward feelings sometimes breaks the ice as well!
It’s okay not to do everything. As young professionals, we sometimes feel the need to take on everything possible at a conference. I have learned that it is completely okay to take time for self-care, sharing meals with friends, etc. at conferences instead of pushing myself to go to every possible session I can. Conferences are a time for us professionals to rest as well as to learn new things, so we always need to keep that in mind.
Go to sessions and speakers that will inspire you. During this conference, I had the opportunity to hear Justice Sonia Sotomayor speak and to attend a panel on Women AVPS and Deans. I was deeply inspired by both sessions and have a lot of words of wisdom to carry into my next few years. You don’t have to push yourself to go to sessions that will always teach you new things. Sometimes the best ones are those that reaffirm your passions and areas of interest.
Don’t be afraid to step away from your friend group. It is definitely easier to stay with close friends if you are attending a conference together. Although it is great to spend time with them, I encourage you not to build your schedule around one another. Our interests lie in different areas sometimes and we all need to do our own thing in order to get the most out of the experience. Plus if you are attending different sessions you will have different things to teach one another after the conference!
Be yourself! It is important to be as genuine as possible when connecting with professionals and other grads in our field. I learned that when I allowed my quirky sense of humor to show through I ended up being more comfortable with the individuals I was connecting with. I was able to give people a few laughs while also discussing important experiences and talking about where we are from. It is possible to be your authentic self and to show professionalism at the same time.
Overall, this was an incredible experience that I will never forget! Thanks to the generosity of a professional development scholarship (and reduced grad rates) I was able to afford and take advantage of this experience. I look forward to hopefully attending another NASPA conference in the future and I challenge you to find the opportunity to do the same!