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

How I Work

With a hefty nod to the folks at Lifehacker.org for the idea and questions, we’ve decided to share a little bit about how the bloggers at SA Women Talk Tech work.

by Valerie Heruska

Location: Bloomington, IN
Current Gig: Assistant Director for Residence Life, Academic Initiatives
One word that best describes how you work: organizedchaos
Current mobile device: Smartphone: iPhone5. Tablets: iPad 2
Current computer:  MacBook Pro with a 13″ monitor. Clearly I drank the Apple juice.

What apps/software/tools can’t you live without? Why? 

I love Feedly, especially for personal purposes: saving recipes. I also use Evernote on all of my devices for work meetings and I can easily transfer notes that I take into emails to my colleagues and students. I’m use I’ll figure out more uses for both, but for right now, this is how I use them.

For my running, I use Nike+ GPS and for when I am in a new place, I use map my run online and transfer my route to the app. on my phone.

My workflow is like this: 

  • I take every single agenda for a meeting I receive as an attachment in an email and automatically drop it into Evernote. It allows me to type my notes into each of my Evernote agendas and I am able to use tags to figure out what I need.
  • I have a gigantic dry erase board in my office which stores all of my random ideas and also a huge checklist of things that I need to do. I also resort to using beautiful post its to tack things up on the board as well.

What’s your workspace setup like? 

I have a beautiful cherry-oak desk, in an office with no windows.  I have a monitor, which a stand so it is at eye-level. I also have a stand for my iPad and frequently bring my MBP to my office when I am working on graphics. I like to surround myself with things that inspire me: books, plants, pictures. I have a duo coarkboard and dry-erase board, which is great for putting my favorite things near me, without cluttering my small office space. I also have a small desk lamp and a standing lamp because the fluorescent bulbs give me migraines.

What’s your best time-saving shortcut/life hack?

Do something during your day that makes you happy. Also, if you’re in an office with no windows… or even if you aren’t… go outside and take a walk. Move around often and clear your mind. Don’t sweat the small stuff… seriously, let it go.

Besides your phone and computer, what gadget can’t you live without and why?

My nutribullet. I make some really tasty (and chock full of energy) beverages for any time I get the craving for something sweet. It’s definitely something I  enjoy having and it keeps my blood sugar at even levels so I can be productive at my best time: the morning.

What do you listen to while you work? P

I have a pandora station that I named after me: Valtastic. It features the following artists: Joss Stone, Amy Winehouse, Nikka Costa, and soulful voices.

Women’s Running Magazine. I wish I had more to say about reading, but I haven’t been able to get to the library. 

Are you more of an introvert or an extrovert? P

What’s your sleep routine like?

I’m usually in bed by 10PM and shortly asleep thereafter. I’m usually up at 5:30/6AM. I get up around 5AM when it is lighter out in the morning.

Fill in the blank: I’d love to see _________ answer these same questions.

Kerry Washington as Olivia Pope.

What’s the best advice you’ve ever received? P

Why not go out on a limb, that’s where the fruit is. – Mark Twain

How I Work

Ageism in Student Affairs Technology

by Kristen Abell

Recently I read an interesting article about ageism in the magical land of tech – Silicon Valley that highlights some of the difficulty of being an older male in technology start-ups in a field that treasures a young bro mentality (and never mind the fact that this article focused ENTIRELY on ageism in regards to men – that’s a whole other post or five). Because I work in technology within student affairs, this of course started my mind churning about how ageism plays a role (or doesn’t) when it comes to our field.

I’d love to hear perspectives from other campuses, but if your campus is anything like mine, then the assumption is that the younger you are, the more you “get” technology. And by technology, I think what I’m generally talking about here is the web and computers – at least based on what others seem to perceive it as. Have we not coined the term “digital native” in higher ed?

And yet, when I look at who holds the main technology positions on campus, it is generally middle-aged or older men (and the occasional woman, but mostly men). So maybe we don’t hold to the ageist perceptions of Silicon Valley entirely. That being said, I know that when I start talking technology at student affairs conferences, at the ripe old age of 37, I’m usually either the youngest person in the room (for the 101 sessions) or the oldest person in the room (for the more in-depth sessions – nothing like having a Ferris Bueller joke fall flat because no one in your session has seen it).

I’d also be remiss if I didn’t mention the classism inherent in our perception that all young people understand technology – we’re making an assumption that all of them have access to the latest and greatest gadgets, tools and toys.

I’m curious – do you feel there is ageism when it comes to technology in student affairs? Are we similar to Silicon Valley, or do we differ in our inclusivity? Please share your thoughts!

Ageism in Student Affairs Technology

Learning to Let Others Lead

By Kathryn Magura

My campus has seen a lot of changes over the last year, and my department in particular has seen a lot of seasoned staff leave. The result has been some restructuring of positions (all good, from my perspective), and new leadership at all levels. As someone who has been a part of the department for over a decade, it’s been refreshing to see new staff come in with new ideas on how to serve our students.

As my role within the department evolves, I have had the opportunity to take on supervision of more professional staff. When you move from supervising students to professionals, the change in needs and structure is vastly different. I think both groups can take a lot of your time, but the needs are different from that time. Please don’t take that to be whining – I love spending time with all my staff. 🙂

A unique perspective I’ve had recently is bringing in new professional staff to take over roles I used to perform. You would think there would be a lot of ego involved in ensuring the tasks happen exactly the way I want them to (you know, the way I used to do it. Also known as the right way.), but I have been pleasantly surprised with myself that this simply hasn’t been the case. I’ve been reflecting about why this is, and it occurred to me that one of the biggest tenants of leadership is learning to let others lead.

It’s not about making sure the tasks get done the way I would do them, it’s about ensuring the staff have the training and skills to get the work done the way they want to. I make myself available to answer questions, and let my staff know that if they want my opinion I will share it, but I let them determine when they need my help, versus assuming they need my knowledge to thrive. Allowing them the autonomy to do it their own way allows them to take ownership of the work and experience for students and staff they serve.

As we continue to bring in new staff, I hope to continue refining my skills in learning to let others lead, so they feel true ownership for the work they are doing. I’m not saying I’ve perfected this skill by any means, but I am saying I appreciate the benefits of humility in leading others.

So what do you think? What does it mean to you to let others lead?

Learning to Let Others Lead

#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].

Unconference
“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.

Subconference
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

Highlight A Woman: Stacy Oliver-Sikorski

By Kathryn Magura

Hello everyone! Today I have the pleasure of highlighting a woman who has not only been a pioneer of advocacy for women in Student Affairs, she is also a good friend of mine. Stacy Oliver-Sikorski has been a mainstay in the Student Affairs community on Twitter. Surprisingly, Stacy has never been featured in this series, so consider that glitch fixed!

  1. Tell us a little about yourself, and how you use technology in your professional role? I currently serve as the Associate Director of Residence Life for Student Success at Lake Forest College, a small, private liberal arts college 30 miles north of Chicago. In my role, I work primarily with housing operations — including room assignment processes , academic programming, and student conduct. Technology is imperative in my role. If our office is a bus, my role is serving as the computer in the engine. I work intently with our student information system, our conduct software, and we recently started the implementation of a housing software solution to assist with assignments and operations.
  2. What advice do you have for women looking to get into a career path of leadership in technology? Very simply, you can’t break it. People, especially women, are intimidated by technology and afraid of breaking something. I jump in, feet first, and start testing the limits of our solutions. I ask questions when I don’t see a function that would be helpful for me. I try new things. I always have a test student in each of our systems so I can run through a series of processes before launching something more widely. I meet regularly with Tonja, my colleague in IT, to talk through what I have going on in my world and what ideas she has for helping. I regularly ask her to teach me things so I can do them for myself, rather than letting her do them for me semester after semester.
  3. SLOWhen you were younger, did you ever see yourself pursuing a career in technology? Absolutely not. I’ve always been a nerd, but in different ways. This position is the first place that all of these separate interests have collided into something that finally makes sense for me.
  4. When you were younger, did you ever see yourself pursuing a career in technology? Absolutely not. I’ve always been a nerd, but in different ways. This position is the first place that all of these separate interests have collided into something that finally makes sense for me.
  5. What are some barriers for women in technology? Women are afraid to ask questions, afraid to look stupid in front of others.  But it’s through asking those questions that we learn. Women are also not always given access to technology in the way men are, even from the time they are young. Open doors for yourself, tear down walls. Even if you don’t have the solutions, asking the right questions is a perfectly valid reason to claim your seat at the technology table.
  6. Who are your female role models (student affairs or otherwise)? Oh, you don’t have time for this list. Deb Schmidt-Rogers at DePaul University is who I aspire to be; Anne Lombard at SUNY-ESF is my cherished mentor of 11 years; Kristen Abell at UMKC is someone whose courage and passion is awe inducing; Kathy Collins at Michigan State University is a force in this field and in my life.
  7. If you were one of the seven dwarves, which would you be and why? Sneezy. I’m allergic to EVERYTHING. I sneeze twice every morning while eating a banana, and I have no idea why (neither does my allergist). 🙂

 

Thank you for sharing your story, Stacy!

Highlight A Woman: Stacy Oliver-Sikorski

I’m Shivering – Either Winter is Coming or There’s a ‘Chilly Climate’ in Student Affairs

By Niki Messmore

I’ve been fortunate to have some excellent women mentors both as an undergrad at Bowling Green State University and during my masters at Indiana University. Indeed, I feel fortunate with how many women I’ve been able to work with in student affairs. But this summer I began to think about gender representation within higher education. Student affairs is a field that is predominantly female, yet many of our senior student affairs officers (SSAO) are white men (Engstrom, McIntosh, Ridzi, & Kruger, 2006).

So the question I have to ask is “Why aren’t there more women in senior student affairs positions?”

It seems strange, does it not? The field appears to embrace diversity and social justice – after all, “Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion” are one of the core competencies of student affairs. So why is there a disconnect? Even from a mathematical standpoint, if there is a larger population of women within the field then one would assume that more women would be senior officers.

Is there sexism in student affairs?

I’ll be honest with you: I don’t have an answer to these musings. I think this an area that we need to discuss as a field (#SAchillyclimate, anyone?).

There is a lack of research that analyzes the lack of female representation in SSAO positions, according to Yakaboski & Donahoo (2011), but here is a starting list of possible explanations

  • Institutional Sexism: According to Acker (1990) organizational hierarchies are male dominated and the institutional structure demands conformity to male norms. Simply put, men are more likely to be seen as best representative of university leadership and women are not seen ‘as a good fit’ for leadership because they do not fit into those male norms; if anything women must assimilate in order to get promoted (Dale, 2007) – or get put into a ‘binder full of women’.
  • Retention: Dissatisfaction due to sex discrimination and racial discrimination causes women to want to leave their positions (Blackhurst, 2000)
  • Female Socialization: girls are taught to be nice and take care of another person’s needs over their own and not ask for things for themselves. This results in women not asking (or even realizing they can ask) for raises and promotion (Babcock & Laschever, 2007).
  • Not on the ‘Right’ Track: Women, through their own volition or due to the institution, tend to work in roles that do not lead to SSAO positions. For example, studies show that Black women are concentrated in student affairs roles that are directly responsible for promoting diversity initiatives (Howard-Hamilton & Williams, 1996; Konrad & Pfeffer, 1991;Moses, 1997, cited in Belk 2006)
  • Fewer Mentors: With few women SSAO, there are fewer women to mentor other women, creating a full-circle affect (Sagaria, & Rychener, 2002, as cited in Stimpson, 2009)

What are your thoughts?  Do you agree with any of these explanations? Which ones would you add? How does the intersectionality of race, sexual orientation, ability, and other identities affect the promotion of women in student affairs?

Taking it further, if you identify as a man, do you think there is anything you (or your university) does that contributes to a chilly climate for women? What have you seen on your campus?

And if you identify as a woman, have you experienced any of these challenges to promotion or know someone who has?

Please leave a comment below. I welcome you to also join me in a conversation on Twitter (@NikiMessmore) under the tag #SAchillyclimate. Let’s talk this out. I’m interested in your experiences.

 

**”Winter is coming” – a pop culture reference from Game of Thrones. See the meme here

I’m Shivering – Either Winter is Coming or There’s a ‘Chilly Climate’ in Student Affairs