A Grad Student’s Reflection on NASPA ’11

“Educating for Lives of Purpose.”

This was the theme of the national NASPA (Student Affairs Professionals in Higher Education) conference, held in Philadelphia, PA. I flew out on Friday, March 11th from Portland, OR, and proceeded to spend the next five days not only learning more about my field, but reaffirming my own personal purpose and motivation for going into student affairs.

My reasons for attending NASPA this year may be a bit different than the typical grad student. Due to finances and my need to save what I can for a potential international internship, I had resigned myself to not attending the conference this year. I rethought this plan of action when my father passed away at the beginning of February.

Dad was a former educational administrator, serving as a guidance counselor and principal, among other things. This past summer, he told me, “You are the type of person who can make a difference.” When he passed, I thought to myself, “Is missing out on this conference because I think it may be too expensive really a good reason?” With the conference theme resonating, and my new leadership position with the NASPA International Education Knowledge Community, I decided that the conference may be just what I needed.

I confirmed my registration and flight the day after Dad passed away.

After spending five days with other student affairs grads and professionals, I knew my decision was for the best. I began my time at NASPA with the International Symposium, leading a thank-you dinner for the planning committee which ended up going quite well. Throughout the International Symposium, I connected with professionals working all over the world–Lithuania, Spain, Germany, Qatar–and learned first-hand what it’s like to work in the different systems. I was particularly inspired by the colegios mayores model found in Spanish universities, which function kind of like living-learning residencies or Greek houses with a central faculty member. What the faculty members do in their roles can be translated to what I do as a grad student: build relationships, inspire directed and in-depth learning, and provide a solid foundation within a much larger institution. This transferability will be helpful when considering how to craft effective programs and strategies.

Speaking of how to craft effective programs, what I took away from the rest of my sessions–not to glaze over them–was that I need to be innovative and collaborative, and that my goal of educating global citizens is in-line with educating for lives of purpose. I want the students with whom I come in contact to think about why they do what they do, and to challenge themselves to create good by being good. I want them to find out what really drives them, beyond money, beyond nice cars, beyond individual status; I want them to consider what they bring to the global table.

I learned not only about new ideas on leadership, but saw how the spiritual side of life seeps into everything else: wellness, academic success, purpose, and so forth and so on. I reaffirmed my inklings that community is what I want to build, and that community is what keeps me happy and sane.

Overall, NASPA gave me that hard reset I had been yearning for all quarter. I connected with people from all over the country–and all over the globe–and took away new ideas and new approaches that I will need to deliberately put to good use.

But most importantly, the conference showed me that I am where I am for a purpose–to be great through being good, and being myself, and not losing sight of that idea of making a difference.

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