Letter to Myself – Takeaways from a Student-Led Conference

by Woodrós Wolford

Note from the writer: After our inaugural peer education conference, I thought I’d write myself a letter with some of my core takeaways and share that letter with you! If you’re interested in speaking more about this experience – whether for something you’re planning or to collaborate on our next peer ed conference – feel free to reach out to me on Teams, by email, or by stopping by Waldo 125 or 140!

Dear Woodrós,

            Hi, it’s me. Woodrós. You know, you. Can you remember what October and November were like? No? Well, I do, so let me help you out! Here’s what I want you to remember as you work on the second peer education conference, supporting a new group of student-leaders and alongside Caitlin McVay (Beaver Connect, EOP). First of all, remember that the teams who help lead and plan the conference are the teams that will attend the conference. Plan accordingly as we expand on this first year’s reach! 

            Once those student leaders are identified, do please work with them over Zoom over the summer again (although, if you can also pull off an in-person meet up first, do it!). The collective of student leadership needs to shape the vision, goals, and vibes of the conference. In those meetings, you get to help them collaborate with one another, have a good time while getting things done, and bring their critical thinking so that the answers to the important questions are as nuanced and wise as possible.

            Also over the summer, please move on to the steps you didn’t start until September or so last year, because that wasn’t enough time, you know what works now, and you can be a better project manager now that you’re not also co-authoring a first draft. Specifically, don’t bother with sending multiple surveys collecting folks’ theoretical capacity to work on PECL. It doesn’t matter what the capacity is if they don’t know what to do! Instead, present the roles and teams to the group in a meeting, and connect with folks 1-on-1 if they’re comfortable with that to put the structure together. Those who will be point people for specific teams or for the larger student leadership group need to be able to work with you 1-on-1, so you need to build trust and relationship with one another. Those on teams and taking on specific projects might interface primarily with one of their peers, with Caitlin, or possibly with you if that is their preference.

            We had the energy to do things last year before fall term started; we just didn’t have enough clarity on what we could do ahead. Now, much more can happen during the summer while students aren’t also balancing fall term priorities.

            Now, we know that life is going to happen. Things get messy. I want to remind you that part of what worked was our grace and kindness with each other; our support for self-care and creation of a community of care. It’s important to develop a sense of mutual support and shared        responsibility, with space for that “predictably unpredictable messiness” of being a human. So, make space for the team to establish goals and values and trust around this, and show up in line with these goals. After all, this recognition of humanity was a recurring theme throughout the student-driven development of this conference concept, remember? In the topics suggested and prioritized, in planning a de-stress space and for other human complexities when considering the space and lunch logistics, having peer leaders checking in with other peer leaders’ well being, and in one of the feedback themes. There is magic in peers getting to do something for peers, and seeing one another professionally that way. You get to help establish the way of working that supports that student-centered shine.

            Sure, there are lots of other systems and concrete components that you’ll keep or refine. (QR code on the nametag, for instance, or what kinds of roles our marketing team needs to start strong.) These are important! Build on the intention and the energy we built in the first one, layering in those systems to support the well-being of the student leaders and the reach of the conference.

            Oh, and don’t forget to ask the awesome pro-staff who offered help for that help, now that you know what kind of help people can provide and what you need. 🙂 You need multilayered support as much as the students do. (Notice how that’s the last thing I remembered? Please do better and prioritize this!)

            With hope for a smoother yet totally fabulous 2nd year!


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