Well, may the recent inactivity of the CSSA Blog demonstrate the sheer business of the Winter Term, for both the first year, second year, and part-time cohorts! On my part, I blame my absence on the perfect storm: portfolio, legal issues, conferences, and the job search.
I would like to share with all of you my experiences attending the Association for Student Judicial Affairs annual conference in February. I received the ASJA Bracewell Conference Internship, which meant not only did I get to attend the conference in Florida for free, but I got to work alongside important leaders in my functional area in organizing and facilitating a 600-person conference. I assisted with registration, the conference evaluations assessments, volunteer training, and, of course, “other duties as assigned.” I am very grateful to the ASJA association for providing funding and opportunities for graduate students to attend conferences, which is not usually part of my GTA budget. I left the conference not only with an increased awareness of emerging trends in student conduct and best practices in responding to campus concerns, but established contacts with professionals and colleagues in my field. After attending the conference, I would recommend graduate students join professional associations – both the large and broad like NASPA and the narrower functional area-specific associations like ASJA or NODA – sooner than later.
It was apparent to me, however, that professional associations are not immune from the current state of our economy. Attending a conference can be very expensive – the airfare, hotel, per diem, and registration fees… it adds up. Most professionals at the conference reported next year their office will be unable to contribute any funds towards professional development, which is unfortunate given the need for us all to stay current on campus climate issues and students. I think professional associations, both the broad and specific, are challenged now to create more cost-effective and accessible professional development opportunities that do not require airfare. I predict we will see see an increase in regional conferences, webinars, online courses, and publications for download on professional development websites as fewer institutions are able to provide professional development funds.
While hopefully the education component of a professional association can continue despite economic hardships, I feel what will be missed most are those opportunities to connect and share with colleagues across the nation. For me, I loved being around people who got what I do. Student conduct can be a lonely, misunderstood job sometimes; let’s face it, the students do not always want to hug you after meeting with you and some colleagues find the work to be rather unappealing (which is why people like me exist who love it). It was really unique to be with people who could relate to the experience of enforcing campus policies, laugh with you about the funny incidents that occasionally happen on campus, and be part of important conversations about the transforming changes coming to our functional area. I think there is absolute merit in establishing yourself within an association and maintaining those relationships. Some professional I met had been to every ASJA conference since it started 21 years ago!
For those of you attending NASPA in Seattle (how lucky are we that it is so close this year?), my word of advice is to attend the social functions, participate in the concurrent session discussions and case studies (not because you want to “win” but to learn), take interest in other people and their institutions, and aim to build connections beyond just to find a job (though it cannot hurt). Seek out authentic relationships with your colleagues. If you are going with friends or peers, try to reach out to graduate students and new professionals who came alone from their institutions. I think taking active measures to make connections will improve your conference attendance experience.