September 20, 2016
Recently I attended the NASPA Symposium on Military-Connected Students in Orlando, Florida. While there I presented a poster session, and dutifully networked with colleagues. As a veteran and higher educator it was one of the most rewarding professional experiences I’ve had in higher education. While there are many professional development opportunities in student affairs, the NASPA Symposium on Military-Connected Students was a unique opportunity to connect with like-minded professionals from across functional areas, regions, and backgrounds – because that’s what NASPA does. NASPA creates opportunities for higher educators – not just in student affairs – to learn from each other. NASPA helps bring us together.
On the first night of the conference, after the poster session and evening networking ended, I headed to the hotel restaurant for dinner. While sitting at a table waiting for my food I noticed a group of people seated across from me. They were laughing, eating, and swapping stories. They looked like they were having fun. I realized the group included the NASPA Veterans Knowledge Community (VKC) Chair, Chair-Elect, and other people involved in NASPA. As I watched them I kept thinking that I wanted to be at that table. I had ideas, experiences, and concerns I wanted to share. I wondered why I wasn’t sitting with them, and then I asked myself why I wasn’t more involved. Sure, I was proud of my poster presentation, but what was stopping me from taking the next step?
After the conference I diligently followed-up with all of the new colleagues I met. Sometimes my e-mails went unanswered, and sometimes my new colleagues were eager to connect with me. I still wondered though, how could I get a seat at that table? How could I put myself in a position to share my thoughts, concerns, and ideas about our student veterans and military-connected students? I had a voice and I wanted to use it, so I knew I needed to put my fears and self-doubt aside, and put myself out there.
I reached out to new colleagues and other people I was acquainted with through networking. I introduced, or re-introduced in some situations, myself. I shared my story, my background, and my interest in becoming more involved in NASPA. I offered my help wherever it was most needed. I put those nervous, discouraging, self-doubting thoughts aside, and that’s how I found out the NASPA VKC needed volunteers.
Now, as the new Region IV-W NASPA Veterans Knowledge Community Representative I feel like I’ve finally taken a seat at that leadership table. Am I comfortable yet? No. Will I be in time? Yes. That’s the best part of NASPA and our community of colleagues, we’re willing to share our experiences, learn from each other, and help each other grow.
As both a veteran and higher educator I am excited about the growth in interest, support, research, and programming for our student veterans and military-connected students. We’re not there yet – but we are making progress! It’s exciting, and there is still work to be done. Even more so, I am excited about the leadership I see among women veterans in higher education. As veterans, our military experiences can sometimes define us, but we can’t forget that our individual experiences and identities are not all the same. Just because Knowledge Communities or a Symposium on Military-Connected Students exists, doesn’t mean your voice isn’t needed.
In some way or another we all have expertise. Don’t let self-doubt, nerves, or disparaging thoughts stop you from sharing your expertise, concerns, or ideas. Involvement doesn’t have to be an all-encompassing, life consuming effort, that’s what partnerships are for. That’s why we have committees, boards, communities, and groups. That’s why we have colleagues, colleagues who sit with us at the table, on the other side of the computer, or on the other end of the telephone. If you want a seat at the table, whatever table that may be, go for it!
Crisann Hanes, M.Ed. is an Academic Counselor at Oklahoma State University-Tulsa, and United States Marine Corps veteran.
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