Graduate Student. Leader. Innovator. Friend.
When I was asked to highlight a woman in technology, I immediately thought of Taylor Koch and her work in establishing the IUSPA Virtual Conference. Taylor is a second-year masters student in the Higher Education & Student Affairs (HESA) program at Indiana University and her assistantship is at IU Career Services Center. Most recently she was the 2012-2013 President for our HESA student organization, Indiana University Student Personnel Association (IUSPA).
During her tenure Taylor created and implemented the IUSPA Virtual Conference in October 2013 alongside a small group of dedicated volunteers; advancing technology as a tool to link graduate students and professionals across the country. I am thankful that she allowed me to interview her about the experience.
Creation of the Conference
Taylor’s inspiration for the conference began in learning IUSPA history. In 1976 IUSPA sponsored the first Midwest Meeting of Graduate Students in Student Personnel (MMOGSISP) which became an annual event in the field. This event originated with George Kuh, who had “the idea of bringing graduate students to interact with students from other programs.” Unfortunately the last MMOGSISP was in 2007 at IU because grad students had lost interest in traveling to short term conference; time and money were limiting factors.
So why a virtual conference? Taylor explained. “This <money and time> was the reason behind suggesting a virtual format- to allow for a free meeting of students, that could happen any time, in a variety of locations. Additionally as technology becomes an increasing tool for student affairs professionals, I thought it would be helpful for SA professionals both experienced and new to the field, to engage with newer forms of communication.”
Taylor’s Personal Purpose
It is no easy feat to create a conference that is centered on technology and institutional partnerships – especially as a busy graduate student. So why is Taylor so invested?
“I think that IU HESA prides itself on being a leader and strong program in the field of Higher Education and Student Affairs. For this reason, I wanted to create a program that would allow IU to bring together other graduate students, and provide an innovative method of engagement. I became very interested in the history of the program and I was dedicated to reviving this part of IUSPA’s history.”
Google Hangout was selected as the platform for the conference due to its inclusive nature (Google+ accounts are free) and widespread use. More so, the platform provided an opportunity for sessions to be small and interactive.
Partnerships & Promotions
The challenge of creating a virtual conference that works across multiple campuses is promoting the event to recruit both presenters and attendees. Taylor reached out to programs throughout the Midwest, focusing on this area as MMOGSISP once did (although presenters also represented the south and west coast). Social media marketing was implemented by Niki Messmore (me, your friendly author).
There were 11 one-hour sessions provided over a 4 day period. A variety of session topics were included, such as “A Thousand Paper Cuts: Students of Color Speak on their Experiences in the Academy”, “Breaking Down Silos: Building Connections Across Functional Areas” and “You Ask, I’ll Answer: A Virtual Fireside Chat with an Alum in the Field”. Presenters included grad students and professional staff from 9 institutions. The conference booklet can be found online here.
“When using a virtual setting there is a certain degree of control that is lost. Some technical issues, such as a frozen Power Point, do not allow for trouble shooting during the session.” Taylor recommended that future conference planners make time for a ‘practice run’ for presenters and facilitators to practice using the technology.
Taylor was proud of the variety of session topics and number of institutions involved. “It was great to have not only graduate students, but experienced professionals involved in the conference. It has also been wonderful to see a strong response for those at other institutions that would like to help plan the conference in future years.”
Looking to the Future
“Marketing is one area that I hope will greatly increase in the (hopeful) future of this conference. With the foundation of at least one year of the conference the hope is the conference will be simpler to promote and explain to potential participants.”
Participation from Partnering Institutions
Now that there is groundwork for the conference, Taylor knows that investment from other institutions will be key. “I hope that this conference can continue through both IU in collaboration with other institutions, and continue to spread to other graduate programs.”
“I think there is also potential to either create a theme for the conference, or create a list of requested/suggested topics that most interest current students/alumni/professionals. I also think that it would be great to engage more faculty both from IU and other institutions.”
What do you think, Gentle Reader? Would you be interested in participating in a Virtual Conference? Do you see this conference as a logical next step for technology, student affairs, and graduate school? Leave a comment or tweet me at @NikiMessmore