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Refreshing Reflections of a NASPA First-Timer: Kim Kushner

April 14, 2010

I am very excited to be reflecting on my NASPA experience! I have already talked to my classmates, friends, and family about my great time in Chicago, but it is also nice to share my experiences with this blogging community. Overall, my first time at the NASPA Annual Conference was not as intimidating as I had thought it would be. It was exciting, motivating, and refreshing! I was able to work toward all three of the goals I had identified in my first blog (e.g., networking, getting involved in a Knowledge Community [KC], and exposing myself to diverse sessions), while also surrounding myself with other professionals and students who are as passionate about higher education administration, research, policy, theory, and practice as I am! This blog entry will serve to talk more about my NASPA experience, summarizing how my conference goals were achieved, what I learned from my volunteer experience, and how I am inspired to continue my commitment to the field after this unique opportunity.

As I stated before, three of my conference goals were to network, get more involved in a KC, and expose myself to diverse sessions. I found that networking was extremely easy at both TPE and NASPA. Besides talking to attendees at sessions, I made an effort to talk to people in the hallways of the hotel, in the elevators, and in the lobby area. Saying hello to people and asking what institution they attended or worked at was very simple, and also very effective in breaking the ice and learning more about their professional paths. I reacquainted myself with professionals I met during graduate school Outreach weekends, and also made an effort to talk to individuals who shared career and research interests that were similar to my own. Networking even helped to land me an interview at TPE! Thus, through attending conference sessions and initiating informal conversations, I learned that it is important to be proactive when forming relationships at NASPA. Although the amount of people may seem overwhelming, introducing yourself and starting small conversations in and between sessions can be one of the most influential components of the entire conference. Learning more about others’ professional journeys helped me reflect on my own, and finding connections regarding hometown, institution, etc. made the conference seem much smaller.

I achieved my second conference goal through taking part in the Student Leadership Programs Knowledge Community (SLP-KC). In particular, I helped with the Community Fair and also attended a membership meeting. Through taking part in these initiatives, I learned more about the mission of the SLP-KC: to serve as a resource for higher education professionals who have a professional interest in college student leadership training, education, and development.  It was exciting to learn more about upcoming leadership conferences and recognize exemplary programs, researchers, and practitioners during these two events. One of my favorite memories of this involvement was hearing from the President of The Leadership Institute during the membership meeting. As a former Leadershape Cluster Facilitator, it was refreshing to hear the mission of the institution—“Lead with Integrity, Live in Possibility” and think about how this phrase influenced my life and those I mentored throughout the six day retreat. Working with the SLP-KC was another great networking opportunity because I was exposed to the many different types of leadership jobs in student affairs and the various KC volunteer positions. I intend to apply to the SLP-KC leadership team in April, and look forward to continuing my involvement to share best practices and support national and regional efforts to develop student leadership programs.

My third goal was to expose myself to diverse conference sessions. This goal was the most difficult to achieve because there were so many different programs I wanted to attend and such a limited amount of time to do so. I had to be very intentional in the programs I chose, and make sure that I challenged myself to attend sessions about topics that would help to increase my knowledge as a practitioner and researcher. One of my favorite sessions I attended was Using the Learning Partnerships Model to Build Student Engagement. This program explored Baxter Magolda’s Learning Partnerships Model (2004) to increase student engagement in the co-curricular environment. I decided to attend this program because the term learning outcomes is such a buzz word in student affairs. I wanted to learn more about how to create an outcomes-based framework to facilitate engaging learning experiences for students. My major takeaway from this session was the importance of reflective exercises within the journey of co-curricular education. Both verbal and written reflection is very important to allow students to become more aware of their personal learning process, while also making meaning of their experiences. I have learned about Baxter Magolda’s model in my theory classes, but hearing about it in practice helped me identify how I hope to utilize it in my personal practice.

Moreover, my volunteer experience was one of my favorite parts of NASPA. In particular, volunteering during the Community Fair as a Social Media Tech challenged me to better understand the purpose of Twitter and other social media sources in the student affairs community. Although I am a Facebook fanatic, I have been hesitant to join Twitter because I didn’t understand its purpose. After joining it for the purpose of this scholarship and teaching others about the site throughout the Community Fair, I have a better understanding of its effectiveness in the student affairs field. It is important that the field utilizes this technology to stay current, while also recognizing that it can be used to see what the needs of campus constituents are. In addition, I also enjoyed recording different conference participants’ experiences on the flip cameras. I continued to form relationships with students, faculty, and staff through asking them simple questions and learning about their stories. Because of this volunteer experience, I plan to continue to volunteer at future regional/national conferences. I enjoy giving back and helping with logistics, while also getting to know others outside of the formal sessions.

Overall, NASPA has been an inspirational experience. Through meeting other professionals and attending sessions, I have further reflected on how theory and practice strengthen my ability to work with diverse students, alumni, administrators, and other university constituents. As an entry level practitioner, I am inspired to see my own potential to give back to this field. I am inspired to utilize the support network I have built through my NASPA experience to become a more confident and competent leader, educator, and scholar. I am excited to go to Philadelphia next year to continue to build my support network, and continue to learn about ways I can give back to this field that has given so much to me.

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