Chelsea O'Brien, Communications Co-Chair
April 10, 2017
The 2017 Symposium on Military-Connected Students was the first conference I’ve attended that focused specifically on student veterans. Every conference before, and since, are more general practitioner conferences with sessions focused on different student populations and levels of professional experience. It was an incredible experience to be surrounded by professionals who share similar interests.
Part of the experience was the location, which was Washington DC. The location provided an amazing background for the conference, especially since the conference was within a few blocks of the National Mall. The schedule was set with evenings free, which allowed for attendees to explore or take time to recharge.
One of the main things I realized is how broad of a spectrum professionals occupy when it comes to serving student veterans. Some campuses are so far along, they’re at the “what’s next” phase, expecting to come away with new ideas and a vision of how to push forward. Others came to the conference because they were satisfying a personal curiosity without serving in an official role at their institutions. As someone on that spectrum, I found sessions that fulfilled the needs of those starting resource offices as well as providing more experience professionals with new ideas and practices.
Another main takeaway is our collective need for more data. It was something I heard again and again throughout sessions and from multiple attendees. Many, if not most, practitioners are frustrated with the lack of data-driven practices that we can show to our leadership teams. A good number of professionals need to talk about how investing in student veterans benefits a campus and as a whole we don’t have numbers for those conversations.
I also had the unique perspective as not only a first-time attendee but as a VKC board member who had some input in the planning of the conference. I had a big, scary white button that identified me as someone who others could talk to about the conference as a whole, not just as someone interested in working with student veterans. This allowed me to meet many more people than I normally would, since several people approached me because of that white button.
One of my favorite parts of the Symposium was meeting and spending time with colleagues who I know virtually, either through Twitter or email, and through different VKC meetings. It was great to put faces with names, sneak in a hug or two, and build stronger network connections. I exchanged phone numbers, had a few drinks, went for a couple of walks, and took a ton of notes (and photos).
I returned to campus reinvigorated and ready to have more conversations about working with student veterans.
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