Candid Conversations at the 2018 NASPA Conference

Jillian Liota

November 7, 2017

In 2009, Brandy Propst attended her very first NASPA conference in Chicago, armed with the conviction to participate in and take advantage of every program and session that she could. It was at that conference that she first became aware of Candid Conversations (then called Panel of Listeners), a mentorship program designed to “provide women with seasoned professionals, to get insight into being a woman in higher ed, work/life negotiation and balance, and navigating campus politics,” according to Propst.

Candid Conversations has been around for quite some time, and the face has changed slightly, but the heart remains. Hosted by the NASPA Center for Women, Candid Conversations is one of the few mentorship programs available within higher education. “It was refreshing to be able to speak to a woman and get their opinions, suggestions, and advice on how to navigate my career,” Propst said of her experience during the 2009 conference. “To be able to have the opportunity to meet another woman in this field that has something in common with you, with one or a few of your identities, and to get their insight… It was life-changing.”

Propst participated in Candid Conversations for several years before joining the Center for Women Board as the Candid Conversations Chair and sees the program as instrumental in connecting burgeoning young professionals with other women in leadership. “Senior Student Affairs and President level positions are typically populated by men. Having a mentor program provides an opportunity for women to be talked to and mentored by other women, whether it is just at the conference or extends on,” she said.

The Center for Women has officially launched their mentor registration page and are hoping to get a flood of interest from women in higher education across the country. Propst urges women to consider signing up, regardless of their professional level. “Even if you’ve never attended NASPA, you’re new to the field, are a new professional… you have something to give and share with women in the field. It’s not about minimum experience or being at a certain level. The criteria isn’t as important as the experiences, and how you can share that with others.” The only criteria that mentors need to meet? Identifying as a woman.

Recruitment for mentors is a fairly simple and straightforward process. Visit the NASPA Conference Website, click on Attendees, and visit the Mentoring Opportunities page. Mentors will answer a series of demographic information (race, ethnicity, sexuality, functional areas, etc.) as well as upload their resume and a link to any websites or online profiles. Then, mentors sit back and wait for mentees to connect with them once mentee registration opens on January 8th.

“Three years ago, someone physically received a list and then matched mentors and mentees together. But now, NASPA has created an algorithm to allow mentees to pick their mentors. You can see who matches with you based on specific factors, then look at the profiles of mentors and make sure the matching factors are what you’re looking for.” The benefit to this, as explained by Propst, is significant. “As I moved up in my career, I realized I wanted to speak to another woman of color, so I always put that on my application. They may be the one thing you need at that point in your career. Or maybe you’re a VPSA but don’t have a Ph.D., and you’re a mom, so you want to meet another woman who has done it. You get an opportunity to figure out what needs you have and then focus on that.”

A question potential mentors often pose about getting involved in a mentorship relationship is: what do the mentors get out of the experience? Propst was quick to share that the number one benefit to mentors is being able to give back to the profession, along with pulling others up, connecting with other women in the field who you might not have otherwise met, and enhancing your experience as a mentor. “Mentors can also mentor more than one person,” Propst added, “as some people have a little more time than others. And we realize that people like Senior Student Affairs professionals are so far removed, that we give mentors the opportunity to indicate whether they want to mentor a grad student.”

Nerves for first-time mentors isn’t unheard of, so the Center for Women and Propst make sure to communicate with mentors before the conference to help them prepare. “We give them guidelines, but we also want the conversation to be organic.” Among the guidelines are things to think about, like potentially attending a session together, where the first meeting will occur, and topics for conversations. But the entire relationship is up to the mentor and mentee.

The biggest message that the Center for Women wants to be heard? Get involved, whether at the mentor or mentee level. “A lot of women talk about not having a mentor. They want guidance and have a hard time identifying those people in life. Candid Conversations is a way to do that. It opens up doors to a lot of other possibilities.”

For more information about Candid Conversations, and to register as a Mentor for the 2018 NASPA Conference, visit the Mentoring Opportunities page on the NASPA Conference website.

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