Reflections on #CCPA15 Spring Institute

This past weekend, I had the pleasure of attending and presenting at the California College Personnel Association (CCPA) Spring Institute.  You can catch social media highlights curated by the folks at CCPA in this Storify post.  I thought I’d share a couple of my takeaways:

Ascend to what end?

The conference theme was “Ascent: Climbing the Steps of Your Student Affairs Career,” which I found intriguing enough.  Then ACPA Vice President Donna Lee (@DeanDonnaLee) delivered a dynamic lunchtime keynote and brought the discourse to another level when she asked us, “Ascend to what end?”  In sharing some of her professional journey, she encouraged us to reflect on our paths, passions, and purposes.   She also mentioned that ascent doesn’t always mean up, which was a helpful reminder that a professional trajectory need not be a straight slope. Sometimes I feel myself getting caught up in the race to the top and comparing myself to other people.  Checking in with the question of “Ascend to what end?” reminded me to think about my values and to reflect on my journey with that lens.

Think local

If you are not a member of a local professional organization, I encourage you to find one and jump on board now!  Both ACPA and NASPA have regional versions of their national organizations, and many functionally-focused groups also have presence at state or regional levels.  Leadership opportunities abound at this level, and are an especially great entry point for graduate students and new professionals (plug for my CA friends – CCPA elections and appointed position applications are now open).  Professional development programs from these groups also tend to more accessible, both in terms of finances and logistics, as events are typically cheaper and closer than national ones.  And, of course, networking with local colleagues is fun and can be particularly useful for geographically-bound folks looking for jobs.


Shoutouts go to the CCPA Leadership Team and volunteers for putting on a great event, the California College of the Arts for hosting, all the engaging presenters and speakers, and the many enthusiastic participants.

Reflections on #CCPA15 Spring Institute

Reflections from #LeadOnCA

by Rachel Luna

This week, I had the privilege of attending the inaugural Lead On: Watermark Silicon Valley Conference for Women with 5,000 mostly female folks who gathered at the intersection of technology, leadership, and gender.  I attended this event as a volunteer resume reviewer and was also able to participate in the general sessions.  I’ll admit it was odd for me to be in a space so focused on gender as this is an aspect of my identity I don’t often have the opportunity to explore with as much depth and concentration.  Here are some of my takeaways:

Conversations I appreciated

Leadership as a ‘lady thing’

“We’re going to talk about lady things, like leadership and taking over the world in 2016,” said Kara Swisher as she kicked off the opening session.  The conference theme was “Lead On” and this sentiment was palpable in everything from the hashtag (#LeadOnCA), to the background music (“I’m every woman” and “You’re gonna hear me roar”).  Of course, the main draw for the conference was the keynote lineup, which included Hillary Clinton, Jill Abramson, Dr. Brene Brown, Candy Chang, Kara Swisher, and Diane von Furstenberg.  Their stories are remarkable not just because they are women but also because they are leaders.

Opportunities and encouragement to be change agents

Top: My colleague Kathryn Ward writes on the "Before I Die" wall.  Bottom: I contribute my goals to the community art installation at #LeadOnCA.
Top: My colleague Kathryn Ward writes on the “Before I Die” wall. Bottom: I contribute my goals to the community art installation at #LeadOnCA.

It wasn’t all talk at this event; leadership was in action in a variety of ways.  For example, conference participants shared goals and contributed to their own “Before I Die” wall, inspired by Candy Chang’s work.  The exhibit hall, which at most conferences is all about commercialism, featured a couple community engagement efforts, namely partnerships with Family Giving Tree (where attendees stuffed 500 backpacks with school supplies and encouraging notes for children in need) and Dress for Success San Jose (which collected donations of handbags and jewelry).  “What you do doesn’t have to be big and dramatic,” said Hillary Clinton, encouraging participants to make change.  “You don’t have to run for office,” she said with a figurative wink and nod but no official announcement about her intentions.

Conversations I wanted more of

I’ll admit I spent most of the day fulfilling my volunteer duties in the Career Pavilion, meaning I only saw the keynote addresses and attended one workshop.  So conversations like these could have happened in other spaces, but I found them glaringly lacking from the general conference dialogue and social media backchannel.

Breaking out of the gender binary

Everywhere I turned, there were examples of dualistic gender thinking.  In general sessions, female attendees were celebrated while male allies were thanked for their presence.  Every statistic was presented with just two options (ex: 70% of Google’s workforce is men and 30% women).  An announcement that some of the men’s restrooms had been converted to women’s facilities elicited a big cheer from the audience, and I couldn’t help but think why some couldn’t have been converted to all-gender spaces.  The result of these binary practices: our nonconforming community members were unacknowledged and rendered invisible.

Gender + any other aspect of diversity

I know this was a “conference for women” so it is expected we’d talk a lot about gender, but could we please acknowledge some other aspects of our identities?  While listening to the main stage speakers, I noted less than a handful of comments that directly addressed aspects of diversity other than gender.  And of those comments, most came from women of color.  By not addressing intersectionality, the female experience was painted with the same (white, middle class, well-educated) brush.  “Leaning in” and trying hard were touted as the keys to happiness and success while dynamics of privilege and power were unexamined.

Random things that got me thinking


  • The items in my participant swag bag included two office supplies and four body/cosmetic products, including one item for children (sunscreen). I wonder how these giveaways were determined and what conversations happened around those decisions.
  • A Nursing Mother’s Room was available for attendees.  Although I did not utilize this space, I tracked it as one of the event’s inclusion efforts and was glad to share its location with the woman who was balancing her pumping equipment and bottles on the edge of the bathroom sink.
  • An emphasis on making connections was built into conference process and content.  Intentional spaces for informal conversations were available in the exhibit hall and general session area, Twitter handles for all speakers were included in all conference materials, and almost every major speaker described women supporting women as essential to success.  In these ways, networking was framed with a relational perspective as opposed to a transactional one.
  • All the resume reviewers were volunteers from local colleges and universities.  It was nice to see higher education professionals recognized and sought out for their expertise in career support and guidance, especially in the business-driven environment of Silicon Valley.  I even consulted with someone who currently works in corporate HR and said she brought her resume because she valued the advice of career services professionals.
  • One last thing: shoutout to Kathryn Ward who also represented Samuel Merritt University as a resume reviewer and drove us both around the Bay Area that day!

Have you attended a conference like this?  What were your takeaways?  What would you like to see at a “conference for women”?

Reflections from #LeadOnCA

Presenting at Conferences: How to Pick a Topic

By Kathryn Magura

It’s definitely conference season in Student Affairs land. A simple check of my Twitter feed will result in a significant number of updates from colleagues at some conference or other, chatting with some colleague they only see once a year about some amazing session they attended. My next conference is not until the end of June, so at this point I’m sitting back observing and reflecting about what I’m seeing from those I admire who are currently attending conferences.

One of the things that I think about a lot is program presentations. As soon as program sessions are announced for conferences, I can be found scouring through them to see what sessions I plan to attend. As I did with my entire college course catalog, I usually have my entire conference planned out before I step foot on-sight for the conference. While I enjoy connecting with friends and colleagues at conferences, I truly appreciate being able to say that I learned something in a session. I love it when during a session I have an “A HA!” moment where something the presenter said got the wheels turning on how to improve a process or implement a new feature on my own campus.

Over time, I have gotten more excited about actually presenting at conferences as well. When I first started attending conferences as a new professional, I was frequently annoyed that none of the sessions seemed relevant to my work. Then a wise mentor reminded me that the only way to change this was by actually contributing sessions of my own. Ever since, I have challenged myself to go against the norm in traditional programming sessions to try and bring something unique and valuable to my colleagues. So what’s my process for finding a session to submit?

  1. Check the list-serve: Most of our professional organizations have list-serves where we can bounce ideas or questions off each other. Sometimes a question will generate a lot of conversations, which could turn into a great program session at a conference.
  2. What’s in the media? Social media has made it easier to share articles and research relevant to our field. Sometimes those articles influence change in our work, which would make a great session.
  3. What’s in the courts? Similarly, litigation can impact our work significantly as well, and could make a great panel discussion or presentation.
  4. What makes you think? Is there a topic you keep coming back to? Something that continually comes up in staff meetings? A trend you are seeing with the students you serve? Turn that into a program proposal and share it with others!

So how do you decide on a topic to present about?

Presenting at Conferences: How to Pick a Topic

#SAsubCon: Dissonance at Work

By Niki Messmore

There’s a stigma surrounding conferences. Sure, everyone loves the chance to meet up with old friends, have a drink, and learn new practices/research, but there’s this tendency for an eye-roll to surface at the mention. Critiques state that the format is too scripted and there’s not enough engagement. This resulted in the movement of the ‘unconference’. And now it appears that academia may be moving into a new phase, initiated by MLA graduate students organized over Skype, called a ‘subconference’.

I can’t help but wonder if Student Affairs is ready for this new type of conference that discusses issues within the profession [spoiler alert: I think we are].

“An unconference is a highly informal conference” (THATCamp) with several main characteristics. 1) The agenda is set at the beginning of the meeting instead of beforehand; 2) Everyone is expected to participate and there are no formal presenters; 3) The cost is inexpensive or even free.

Or as THATCamp explains it, “An unconference is to a conference what a seminar is to a lecture; going to an unconference is like being a member of an improv troupe where going to a conference is (mostly) like being a member of an audience”. Lisa Endersby wrote up a great reflection of her experience at #SATechTO if you want an insider’s perspective.

There are some unconferences already making an impact in Student Affairs, such #SATech Unconference, Boston University’s Confab, and grad-sponsored events. And now this year at ACPA’s Convention they are implementing PechaKucha sessions, which are a form of unconference facilitation.

So what is this new version of a conference? It’s similar to the format of traditional conferences. The MLA Subconference program features panels, presentations, meals, and socials. But the subject matter is not your average conference.

The organization states that “Our aim is to take a recognizable and traditional form and produce a necessarily urgent call for conversation, information sharing, and, ultimately, action. This is a Call for Papers that doesn’t stop at Papers, but only starts there”. The topics presented included key issues in higher education, such as student debt, organized labor, and adjunct issues.

Does Student Affairs Need a Subconference?
Disclaimer: I’ll be up front with you. I began in a student affairs/nonprofit hybrid position and recently transitioned out of education-based nonprofit administration to graduate school in a student affairs program; set to graduate in May. I’ve only attended ACPA 2013. So while I’ve been reading The Chronicle for the last 7 years, I’m unable to wholly understand SA conferences and interests at the level of someone with different experiences.

Do we discuss higher education issues at places like ACPA, NASPA, ACUI, etc? Sure. It’s kind of our thing, after all. But I think, based on reviewing past programs, we (as a field) are much more comfortable with discussing how to work with our students then we are with each other or the field itself.

Not saying it doesn’t happen – there are a good number of presentations, panels, and roundtables that address different needs within our community. But it is never the focus.

So then we have to ask, do we need a subconference? Do we need to address issues within the profession and the system of higher education? Should we?

We do and we should.

There’s great conversations happening about the profession in pockets around the country, on Twitter, in blogs, and in literature. Wouldn’t it be wonderful to get people into a room? To really get down and dirty, talk these issues out, and start setting action plans?

(I know the rebuttal – SA folks are always too busy and there’s an issue with people taking ideas from a conference and actually working on them. I’m an idealist but I’m not foolish. But with the right people, the right energy, and the right level of plan making…well, I think we could make things happen. Call me an optimist).

What Issues Would Be Discussed at a Subconference?
Creating dissonance is what we do best – we just have to get comfortable with being uncomfortable during these discussions!

  • Graduate School Curriculum – this is a hot topic among the #sachat crowd. Are knowledge areas like technology being incorporated? Or how about the research going on right now by folks like Dr. Lori Patton Davis and Dr. Shaun Harper exploring how issues of diversity are inserted into the curriculum? We collectively need to improve drastically in both of these areas, especially the latter.
  • Discrimination in Student Affairs – we live in a society that issues privilege to certain identities and oppresses others. It is difficult to unlearn these toxic teachings. So how are we addressing issues that face professionals who identify as people of color, women,  transgender*, low SES, LGBT, international, ability; etc within our own field? We can’t avoid the fact that the majority of SA administrators are white men.
  • Politics & Student Affairs – our colleagues in k-12 and other areas of higher education are active in unions and politics. I’m not proposing a union, but I do think there needs to be an discussion of why/how student affairs should be more involved in politics. After all, if legislatures are deciding issues that directly impact us and our students, like financial aid and state funding, shouldn’t we be encouraging active citizenship?

There are other ideas I see commonly discussed…the schism that can develop between researchers and practitioners; student affairs v. faculty; the future of student affairs; student loan debt; higher education funding; how we use our funds; social justice; and so on. What would you want to discuss if the #SAsubCon become a thing? Let me know in the comments or via Twitter at @NikiMessmore.

And Finally…

Two years ago Eric Stoller asked “Where are all the Radical Practitioners?” Let’s hope they (and frankly everyone, even those who would never identify with the term ‘radical’) meet up one day soon at a #SAsubCon.

#SAsubCon: Dissonance at Work

The SATech Un-Conference Series

By Kathryn Magura

This past weekend I had the pleasure to participate in the first of the 2013 SATech Un-Conferences hosted on the Oregon State University campus. I highly recommend taking the opportunity to attend one of these un-conferences if you get a chance. Not only are they free professional development, they’re a great way to network with colleagues in your area.

Before I get into the details of my experience, let me take some time to explain what an un-conference is. An un-conference is basically an attendee-driven conference. There are no program proposals to submit months in advance that usually result in stale or out of context presentation sessions. There are rarely keynote speakers, and there is no true prescribed format for the day. People come and determine on sight what they want to discuss. Furthermore, if a side conversation starts, that’s totally fine and even welcome. Basically, creativity and an open mind are all that are required to attend an un-conference.

So where did the SaTech un-conference begin? For that I will link you to Ed Cabellon‘s post on how he started the un-conference program, and how the idea for multiple un-conferences this year began. Side note: Ed is amazing, and I do hope you’re all following him on Twitter. If you aren’t, you are missing out on one of the most genuine and talented Student Affairs professionals out there!

Since Ed was able to convince Ann Marie Klotz to bring one of the SATech un-conferences to Oregon State, I had the pleasure of being part of the planning committee. As our group came together to plan out what would become the first of the SATech un-conferences of 2013, there were a lot of unknowns about what this would look like and who would even come. As it turns out, Ed was very wise to think the Pacific Northwest would be a good venue for an un-conference program. Sure enough, as the day grew closer, we had over 120 participants registered to join our conversations!

As we started our day for the SATechOR un-conference, there was an energy and excitement in the air. Personally, I was eager to connect with professionals who had found ways to utilize technology as a way to enhance services on campus. We began the day introducing ourselves to our 100+ colleagues in attendance and explain why we were all there. I was amazed to hear the variety of reasons listed for why people chose to attend our un-conference. I was also humbled to see how many people from my own Oregon State community decided to participate in this day of collaborative learning.

I encourage you to read through the Twitter backchannel of posts from the #SATechOR un-conference to see the conversations that took place last Saturday. Feel free to add your own thoughts to the conversation, as the learning should continue even after we leave the confines of the un-conference setting.

Before I wrap up this post, I want to send a thank you to Ed Cabellon for seeing his vision for this un-conference format through to fruition across the country this year. It was wonderful to see this un-conference become a reality on our campus, and I look forward to participating in the conversations that happen at the other un-conference locations over the next few months.

P.S. Don’t you think my colleague Jeffrey and I make these un-conference t-shirts look good?




The SATech Un-Conference Series

Other Professional Development Opportunities

By Valerie Heruska

Conferences are a great time for us in student affairs. You have the opportunity to learn, meet new people, and have a really enjoyable time growing professionally. For those who are able to attend, this opportunity to develop and learn is priceless.

For those of us who aren’t able to make it to ACPA in Vegas or NASPA in Orlando, here are some links that provide alternatives to professional development.

Some of my favorite blogs:

  • This one. Okay I may be biased because it’s a great blog to read. There is information a plenty about different topics for women (and men) who are interested in tech. Go back into the archives and become inspired.
  • BostInno. I love BostInno because I think there should be a similar one in every large city. BostInno highlights the awesome tech and up and coming entrepreneurs in Boston. From faculty, deans, and students who are making an impact on our community, BostInno highlights the awesome things that they are doing.
  • Blogs by Ed Cabellon, Laura Pasquini, or Joe Sabado. These people know how to do it right. They all have a heavy focus on social media and technology in student affairs and they are seriously doing some great things to push our profession forward.

Miss the backchannel? That’s okay! Just Storify it! There is so much material coming from our national conferences, that if you’re in the office, you don’t have time to read it all. If you do have time to read it all and want to reference it back – Storify is the best way to go. Storify allows us to create “Stories” based on hashtags, users, etc. You can go back and filter out some specifics, but then you have the opportunity to share and reference the backchannel.

I hope you all find some use for these links and enjoy learning!

Other Professional Development Opportunities

Traveling Technology Frustration

This semester, I’ve been traveling quite a bit — and in fact just returned from the annual National Women’s Studies Association conference, held in Oakland this past weekend. We have written before about traveling with tech (see here, here, and here for examples), but one thing we haven’t yet addressed is how frustrating traveling with technology can be.

For me, this frustration is primarily due to the lack of consistently good and cheap wifi or cell signals. Having long ago replaced things like paper guides, books, and even conference programs (NWSA had a great app available) with my phone, access to wifi or a cell signal is key. BUT, at least here in the U.S., that is not something one can rely on. Conference hotels are notorious for price gouging and crappy wifi — and cell service in conference ballrooms can be weak or non-existent, which means that while I can use my phone as a personal hotspot, the connection is not always good enough to do so.

All of this means that trying to keep up with work while on the road can be difficult (if you don’t believe me, take a look at my inbox) and that providing conference backchannels can be equally frustrating. “Tweet!” the conference organizers say. “How should I do that with no connection?” I reply. Some large conferences (MLA, for example) are able to provide wifi to the entire conference, which makes things MUCH easier (and it tends to be better — I’m convinced that hotels save their good connections for the high-paying conferences as opposed to individual guests) >Many (most?) other conferences, however, cannot afford to do so, leaving us with the problems described above. Until they can or until hotels catch up with the times and provide better wifi, I’ll be leaving the auto reply on and getting back to when I can.

Traveling Technology Frustration

Blog Prompt Monday: Technology during conference season

by Meghann Martinez

It is that time of year! Whether you are going to a drive-in down the road or flew the length of the U.S., you are likely expanding your professional development in the SA world over the next couple of months.

So the big question is: What is in your bag? I am going to run down what is in my conference bag as far as technology goes. Please leave comments about your tech must haves for conference season.

Backpack or Bag?

This is always a tough one for me. I tend to choose backpack if I am not currently job searching. If I am job searching I try to choose a “professional” looking bag whether is a briefcase or other type of bag. Whichever I chose must involve lots of pockets and expandable storage area.

Main Attractions

Laptop, mobile phone, iPod Nano and iPad

Yes, I need the iPad and the laptop. I may forgo the laptop this year however since I am not job searching or presenting. Resume edits can be done on an iPad but it’s not pretty. iPad will be loaded down with city maps, public transportation maps, agenda and movies. Nano is rocking my newly minted “spring break” mix to wake me up and get me from place to place with pep in my step. The phone will be pre-loaded with a QR code reader and Bump. This will help during Expos and Meet & Greets with exchanging contact information.


This is probably the most important piece for me.

Extension cord, power strip (no one likes an outlet hog), spare phone battery, noise cancelling headphones, VGA adapter, Digital AV adapter & SD card adapter for iPad, USB to mini universal cord, MiFi card.

If presenting most of this is a “just in case” necessity. If you have been bitten by the social media bug and are live tweeting or blogging the conference, most of this will apply to you as well.

If you are streaming check out my previous post regarding a streaming set up and add in a USB hub.

The last item, the MiFi card is because 1) I already own and pay for it so I’m not going to pay extra somewhere else for wireless and 2) It is often more dependable than conference center or hotel wireless. Newer ones have 4GLTE also.

Non-Tech Musts

The days are long so we must be prepared…

Water!- hydration is happiness

Snacks- Carb, whole wheat based/piece of fruit, or proteins (pistachios or almonds)

Pen- just in case all else fails you can still write down information

Umbrella/poncho- It never fails… I can be in Death Valley and it will rain.

Walking footwear- I have to have something to trade out of my dressy shoes. e.g., flip flops, flats, Five Fingers, etc. I put on the professional shoes about a block away. 🙂 If I am not job searching or presenting a nice pair of flats or loafers will do the trick.

CASH! – I cannot tell you how often I forget this one and ATMs in conference centers tend to charge a hefty fee.

So, what’s in your bag??

Blog Prompt Monday: Technology during conference season

Better Together: Social Media and Conferences

By Brenda Bethman

Our Everybody is Beautiful Week kicked off yesterday with a keynote by Susan Bordo on Anne Boleyn. It’s was a great event, but put me behind. Thus you get my response to Monday’s blog prompt today. Our prompt for this week was:

How has technology/social media changed your conference experiences?

For me, social media have changed my conference experiences in two major ways:

First, social media have helped me stay connected with people I only see once a year at the National Women’s Studies Association conference. Previously, we would spend the first day or so catching up and reconnecting. Now that we “see” each other on Facebook and/or Twitter all year, there is less need for catching up and I’ve found that my f2f interactions with my friends at NWSA are richer and deeper thanks to the virtual connections we maintain when we don’t see each other. It’s also a useful way to connect with fellow panelists before the conference, especially when working on social media sessions.

Secondly, I’ve been able, thanks to Twitter hash tags, to participate in the back channel of both conferences I’m attending and others that I wouldn’t be able to attend. At NWSA and the MLA there were active back channels on Twitter which enhanced my participation in the conference. And the #sachat community has several active back channels, giving me insight into conferences I would not attend. I am especially looking forward to the SXSW tweets this week! [Quick note: I’m sorry not to include links for these hash tags. Twitter is being ornery and returning my searches for the tags as having no tweets. I’ll add them in later].

In regard to technology, the hardware itself has also changed my conference experience. I use my iPhone to live tweet, Facebook message or text folks about dinner plans, and to stay connected to home (as needed — sometimes it’s nice to just get away). Apps such as Yelp and OpenTable also help me find places to eat that I might otherwise have missed, and the Maps app has prevented me from getting too lost. My iPad also travels with me and I use it to tweet, Facebook, take notes, and for reading/entertainment on the plane and in the hotel. It’s saving my book as I now carry fewer books in my bag.

How about you? In what ways have your conference experiences changed thanks to technology and social media?

Better Together: Social Media and Conferences

Blog Prompt Monday

By Brenda Bethman

Welcome to “Blog Prompt Monday”! Here’s today’s prompt:

How has technology/social media changed your conference experiences?

We hope you’ll join us in blogging about these prompts with us. I will be posting my response here later today. If you write a response on your blog, please include it in the comments below and tag it on Twitter with the #sawomenblog hashtag – we look forward to reading your posts!


Blog Prompt Monday