In undergrad, some of my best memories were traveling with my peers to the annual National Society of Black Engineers conference. Everyone was dressed to impress as we connected with other students from all over the country, attended workshops, represented our region, and secured summer internship and co-op opportunities. Attending the annual conference was rejuvenating, inspiring, and affirming. To be in one place with thousands of students and professionals all reciting one mission was truly a sight to behold. To me, that conference was much more than a professional gathering. It was a reunion and celebration of our field.
Reflecting on my experiences as an undergraduate, I was uncertain about what to expect at my first professional conference in Student Affairs. However, I was happy to find that my experiences as an undergraduate in engineering and a paraprofessional in higher education were not so different after all.
This February, I attended the Southeastern Association of Housing Officers (SEAHO) Conference in Kentucky. On a whim, I submitted a program proposal and I was fortunate enough to be selected as a conference presenter. Thankfully, I had my supervisor’s support and he agreed to serve as my co-presenter. In the weeks leading up to the conference, I attended preparation sessions offered through my graduate student association and assistantship site. One of the most valuable tips that I received was that conferences are not just for job seekers. Connections can be made at every level in one’s professional career, and there is no telling what opportunities can come of those connections. I would not consider myself to be a “networker,” but I do pride myself on building relationships with others, so I greatly looked forward to meeting other professionals and fostering mutually beneficial relationships with them.
When I arrived at SEAHO, I was determined to make the most of the experience. I volunteered as an interviewer for my current institution, attended sessions, presented, and participated in social gatherings to meet new people. Before I left Raleigh, I had goals that I wanted to accomplish at the conference, and I measured my success by how exhausted I was afterwards. I wholeheartedly believe that I earned my morning in bed that Saturday.
Taking lessons from my SEAHO experience, I am approaching my next conference with just as much enthusiasm and intentionality as my first. Within the next couple of weeks, I will be attending the Student Affairs Administrators in Higher Education, NASPA conference. I have already mapped out the sessions that I plan to attend, contacted friends in the area, and organized my wardrobe. I am looking forward to connecting with faculty members and students from several universities, including institutions where I submitted doctoral program applications. I am also excited to connect with my mentors and old friends that I met during my Master’s search process.
As I continue to develop and progress in this field, I recognize how valuable relationships are in the profession. Professionals in Higher Education are notorious for saying how small our field is, and attending conferences like SEAHO and NASPA only affirm that. With that in mind, I plan to continue building and maintaining strong relationships throughput my career. I hope that eventually new professionals will consider me a mentor, and I can help guide them in the profession. Also, understanding how intimate the field of Higher Education can be, I will always keep in mind that I am a product of where I have been, and my reputation is an attestation to where I am going.