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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Kicks of Silence

This weekend was so needed.

I got dressed up and went dancing one night. As I have said before, I feel alive when I can just move to music. Nothing mattered–well, except for making sure my dress didn’t ride up too far.

The next day I went to the coast with friends. We found a wonderful cafe with a funky atmosphere and amazing desserts. I had key lime pie, and like everything else on the menu, the ingredients were a local as possible and the food was handmade. It was heaven.

Back in Corvallis, we destroyed our bodies with Dorachos–nachos made with Doritos chips. They were an abomination, I swear, but oh-so-tasty. It was my idea, since I had a bag of these chips and was kind of missing Seattle. (The Cha-Cha Lounge sells Dorachos… under a different name.) I am the ultimate bachelorette, I swear.

Sunday was my day of rest, with the completion of a good deal of homework, followed by dinner with friends. Good laughs were had, as well as enchiladas.

Three of us then scampered away to a local Episcopal church for Compline service. There is something incredibly soothing about Gregorian chants, as well as the premise of “Just sit back and relax.” It feels much more spiritual and personal that way. I want to make it up to Seattle for St. Paul’s Compline services. The last time I was there must have been 2007, when we wrapped up our spring break road trip. Compline there is a totally different experience, with the freedom to lie on the floor or sit wherever one chooses. You get to lose yourself in personal silence as ancient melodies surround you.

I’m still on that personal quest for peace and resonance. This term has not been good for that. I have a lot of repair work to do still, both in personal and interpersonal terms. However, I met with an individual I consider a mentor, and he helped me process a few things, just by letting me talk.

I am in an interesting place in life. When I graduate, I will have the ability to job search wherever I please. I can cast a wide net.

And I hope in doing so, my adventure, my journey will take me to places I never dreamed about.

Peace be with you. And me.

Or... Come at me, bro.