Re-energizing: NASPA Western Regional 2011 and Such

Last week, from Nov. 15th-18th, I traveled to San Diego for the first time ever. I attended the 2011 NASPA Western Regional Conference, “Anthology,” at the Hard Rock Hotel. It was, to be concise, a wise decision.

I made the choice to attend the regional conference after experiencing a wonderful national-level conference last spring in Philadelphia. While national conference is very energizing, I was especially interested in the smaller regional feel which would allow me to work specifically with people in the regions I will 99.8% end up in after graduation. I am a West Coast kind of girl, and I see many opportunities in our metropolitan-area colleges and universities–areas in which I can make meaningful contributions.

Choosing to attend the regional conference, however, also meant working with my university’s Dad’s Weekend schedule. My department hosts an annual breakfast, which I have a hand in planning, on the Saturday of the big football game. That event and weekend fell on Nov. 19th–which also happened to be the closing day of conference. I made the decision to come back on the evening of the 18th, missing a mentor’s keynote speech on the closing morning. On the other hand, since conference officially started on Thursday the 17th, with pre-conference events on the 16th, and seeing that I don’t have classes on Wednesdays, I chose to fly down a day earlier than the rest of my group to take some “me” time. I also wanted to explore the city of course, since I am enamored with travel and new locations.

Again, to be concise, flying down early was the best decision I’ve made in a long time.

I flew out of PDX at an off-peak evening hour on Tuesday night, which was relaxing beyond belief. No lines at security, plenty of seating at my restaurant of choice, and plenty of seats at the gate. Once on the plane, I overhead a flight attendant say that there were 31 passengers in the main cabin; we were flying on a Boeing 737. That basically meant my trip down felt like first class. In San Diego, I grabbed a cheap shuttle to my hotel. I had the shuttle to myself, so it was like a very inexpensive taxi ride. And at the hotel? Well, I’d taken the chance to book myself a king suite. I had a gorgeous room… all to myself. (And for the record, that’s the first time I’ve booked and stayed overnight in a hotel room by myself.)

When I woke up on Wednesday morning, I felt happier than I had in months. This was despite waking up with a nagging sinus headache, so you know I was doing well. It was great to wake up feeling refreshed and calm, not having to worry about anyone else but myself. I spent that morning reading  at a local coffee shop, and then I followed that up with a stroll down to the San Diego Convention Center, the bay front, and the Gaslamp Quarter. Being a stranger in a new city, by myself, was something I haven’t done since traveling to Europe in 2010. Maybe that’s why I felt so happy that day. I reclaimed a bit of that adventurer, and it was good to know that part of me is still alive and well.

Conference itself was an affirmation that I am still on the right track professionally. I can almost articulate that my interest in higher education–particularly public schools and community colleges–stems from a desire to support students through transitions. I want to facilitate deeper thought and push students to consider various levels of significance as they progress through college. I want them to see a broad horizon. I see the biggest areas of growth in the sectors I identified earlier because I have a feeling that some of the students believe they’re settling by choosing a public/CC path.

I am no expert in student affairs. However, I am a communication scholar-in-training and a business woman by practice. I am fired up about student affairs because it resonates with me. I believe that helping others learn to view situations with different lenses and perspectives is critical to their functioning in a globally-connected world. I have seen too many narrow-minded viewpoints come to light in recent times–some from surprising sources. I have seen too many people write off others’ experiences and world views–and that goes for people from all walks of life. It’s disheartening to hear people badmouth others, especially in a field that is supposed to help us grow and continually learn.

I am riled up about those negative things I hear from all venues because communication and relationship-building and fostering the beginning stages of understanding and comprehension is what I live for. It is a hard lesson to remember that not everyone in my field was a communication scholar. We have not all studied extensively human-to-human interaction in such a finely-tuned, minute way.

I have a purpose in this life and in this area. It’s to get people to listen–to others and to themselves. It’s about pushing others to challenge themselves. It’s about finding grace and goodness in the chaos of life, and it’s about passing that on to others who can change the world. Or at least change someone’s world.

(PS – Completely off-topic: I got stuck in Salt Lake City because it snowed, and my plane had to be de-iced. It was the first de-icing of the season, which meant everything backed up like crazy. It also meant that our “totally on-time if not for this weather” departure was delayed for two hours. Which also meant I got into PDX closer to 1AM instead of 11PM. Which meant I had to find a futon to sleep on so I didn’t fall asleep and die on I-5 in the middle of the night. Which meant I napped for four hours before getting back on the road to make it in time for my aforementioned event. My life: it is exciting?)

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