Years ago, I had the opportunity to attend my first-ever NASPA Annual Conference as an undergraduate student due to my involvement in the NASPA Undergraduate Fellows Program (NUFP). It was that first NASPA conference in Orlando, Florida that immediately signaled to me that this would be my professional home in student affairs. Since then, I have attended the NASPA Annual Conference every year, receiving new insights and relationships during each conference. Thus, when I had the chance to attend the Annual Conference again recently with the help of the Jim Rhatigan Fellowship, I was excited to see what I would learn (and hopefully contribute) in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
As mentioned previously, the Annual Conference has been a mainstay in my professional involvement since my time as an undergraduate student. Yet, it has held various meanings to me depending on where I am in my professional career. As an undergraduate, it represented the chance to finally connect with people who held similar passions as me. As a master’s student, the Annual Conference challenged me to think about how I could digest knowledge that I learned from sessions and presentations, applying it to my own roles and institutional contexts. Now, as a doctoral student, I am passionate about the opportunity to co-construct knowledge with attendees in the sessions that I lead and in the volunteer roles I serve in within the professional association.
This past NASPA Annual Conference in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania was particularly influential to me because it was the start to the 100-year celebration of the professional association. Consequently, I attended sessions remaining aware of how far the student affairs profession has come. More importantly, however, it also challenged me to consider how the profession can continue to grow. For example, as a researcher who is particularly interested in the experiences of queer and transgender students on college campuses, I participated in sessions with practitioners who advocate for these populations at their respective institutions. The approaches that I have heard since my first Annual Conference progressively evolve to center these collegians, while at the same time, interrogating how institutions themselves construct programs and policies that marginalize these students. Thus, I walked away from this NASPA Annual Conference with a renewed sense of energy to think through these questions in order to effect change in higher education. Similarly, I also left reflecting on how I can continue to give back to professional associations by volunteering at and beyond the Annual Conference.
Having the opportunity to attend NASPA Annual in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania as a Jim Rhatigan Fellow meant the absolute world to me. On a financial level, it alleviated the stress that is often present as I try to find avenues to fund my participation in the conference. On a more personal level, it reminded me of the investment that NASPA puts into its constituents. Therefore, I hope to put the same level of investment into the professional association and the field of higher education as a whole.
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