Author: Lindsay Mason, Director / Off-Campus Student Life / Colorado State University
Have we ever needed our near and far colleagues more than now to process through our work-related challenges? I always appreciated the opportunity to meet with colleagues at national conferences, and I am missing those experiences right now. With our current pandemic, conference opportunities are different, and plane travel, in general, is very limited, either due to health concerns or budgets, or both. While I’m excited for the days when I can travel again and meet with colleagues around the nation, I continue to appreciate the local meet-up we host in Colorado/Wyoming.
Decades ago, colleagues from three near-by institutions (Colorado State University, the University of Northern Colorado, and University of Colorado – Boulder), and their respective host cities decided to get together periodically to support each other in their work with off-campus students. It was a short drive, about 45 minutes in between each campus/city, so a reasonable distance for one-day trips. For many years, the group referred to these meet-ups as their TriCity Meetings.
This meet-up has now extended beyond these original institutions to include campuses and communities in Denver and other parts of Colorado, and the University of Wyoming/Laramie. We now call it the MultiCity Meeting.
MultiCity Meeting Structure
The meet-up happens once a semester (fall and spring), and the host rotates each semester. The hosting campus and city work together to:
- Set the date of the meeting (usually done through a Doodle Poll)
- Secure a meeting space (could be on campus or in the community)
- Arrange and pay for lunch
- Arrange an informal activity, which is usually a self-guided tour of something neat on campus or in the community
- Collect discussion topics from attendees and arrange the agenda for the day
The meet-up is informal. The hosting campus/city is not responsible for:
- Formal conference arrangements, such as welcome packets, name tags, printed materials, or any specific formal presentations
The meeting value is created by all attendees. Attendees are responsible for:
- Offering agenda items in advance, which are usually new concerns that have come up in their community they wish to discuss with the group
- Being fully engaged in the moment, brainstorming with each other, asking each other questions to process through a concern, and being vulnerable and admitting what may not be going well in their respective communities
- Engaging, but respecting time, allowing the group to get through the agenda
These meetings rarely have formal presentations, but some attendees have found it beneficial to help set the context of their current concerns. More commonly, it’s just a group of town-gown colleagues sitting around a table for the day, broken up by a lunch or walking tour break.
The informality has a few benefits:
- This day requires minimal (if any) prep from attendees
- It also makes it a low-pressure event to host
- It allows us to move in between task/work-related conversations, and personal conversations easily, allowing us to continue to build relationships
Attending this MultiCity Meeting every semester for years with most of the same colleagues (and having our campus/communities be so close to each other) helps us quickly dive into the details of our needs because we already know the high-level context and history of the respective campus/community. I appreciate the strong bonds I’ve built with these colleagues. For example, it’s been a long time since I’ve sent my friend Jeremy Moore at CU Boulder a formal email since I usually just send a quick text if I have a question. And I know he feels comfortable to do the same. Seeing him, and others at these meetings is like coming home to friends for the day, being with people who know our day-to-day work, and with folks who care about supporting all our communities.
We have temporarily moved our meetings to a Zoom structure, which allows folks at further out campuses/communities to join us, which has been a great addition. I am excited to get back to our in-person meetings since I enjoy visiting and exploring other communities, but Zoom has still been an effective tool in maintaining our relationships.
Other Local Meet-Ups
I reached out to colleagues in other areas of the U.S. to ask about their local meet-ups.
“It really came about due to a request from my VP to find out what colleagues at other schools were doing around working with off-campus and commuter students. I used a list I had gathered of several schools in the northeast with a position or office that worked with commuter students and emailed them to see if anyone would be interested in a zoom meeting. Within an hour I had 17 schools respond that they would like to do that. We had our first zoom meeting on April 3rd. It was open to any position from grads to directors and beyond. If even part of your job description was working with commuters, we wanted you to be part of it. We agreed early on that this would not be affiliated to an organization associated with cost. We wanted this to be a group that was just open and then through word of mouth, others joined. We have a google drive where we share documents, and we have had a handful of meetings with plans to continue.”
Dilnavaz Cama, Department Manager for Off-Campus and Commuter Student Services at The Ohio State University participates in a more formal local meet-up, a Summit, organized through the International Town Gown Association.
“Ohio does host an Ohio Town Gown Summit each year. We had a number of Ohio members attending the ITGA City University Relations conference that found it so beneficial that they wanted to continue having these important conversations at the state level. This allowed conversations to focus on the Ohio region, and members across Ohio who may not have typically been able to attend the international ITGA conference had the opportunity to attend the regional Summit.”
Offering a local meet-up, particularly if you host via Zoom, can be an affordable, beneficial professional development opportunity for you and your staff.
Items to consider:
- Do you want to host this through a national organization such as ITGA or NASPA or keep it unaffiliated?
- What type of colleagues are you looking to gather? How specific or broad do you want to be?
- How far do you want to spread the invitation? Everyone in your state? Multiple states? Only a specific part of your state? What about Zoom calls between colleagues in the same conference? Or at similarly classified institutions, even if they are not near each other?
- Who will host the first one? Who is willing to host future ones? Create a rotating schedule.
Then start reaching out! You likely know at least a few colleagues at other campuses, but if not, just start searching! As Kelly shared above, 17 schools responded within an hour! Ask your contacts to forward the invite to folks they know within your defined boundary.
Do not feel pressure to make this formal, or too frequent. You have to start somewhere, and it will organically grow from there.