NASPA12 Reflections – Thoughts from a Community College Professional
Our final reflection on NASPA 2012 comes from, Dr. Karen Archambault, Director of Student Services for the Branch Campus and Higher Education Centers for Brookdale Community College in New Jersey.
I should probably preface this post by saying that I truly love attending conferences. I have never felt “forced” to participate in professional development and I love the opportunity to learn new things; I have never attended a conference after which I didn’t implement a new idea or a new project. If nothing else, I feel enthusiastic afterward — I am always encouraged by the sheer number of ideas that people have and always walk away with the sense that my colleagues across the country are doing amazing things and that, perhaps, I could do more as well.
However, in my past 6 1/2 years at the community college — the first half of my career was spent at senior institutions — I have had to become more intentional when it comes to applying ideas from NASPA to my work. The majority of participants are from senior institutions and presentations often focus on areas of student affairs that are less a part of my community college experience, especially with regard to residential life. As I approached this year’s NASPA conference I was apprehensive about whether the expenditure of time and money would be worth the investment to my institution. All of us must be aware of such things — resources, especially things seen as expendable like professional development, are decreasing as rapidly as public funding if not more so and we must recognize the need to spend those funds well.
And so, at this year’s conference I refused to allow preconceived notions about individual sessions to dissuade my enthusiasm and was committed to finding value in my presence. I focused, though, on what is perhaps the most important part of professional development but the part that is most difficult for which to use institutional funding. I decided to focus on me, and on connections to other individuals who were working at (or wanted to be working at) community colleges. I went out of my way to meet other CC professionals; I presented on community college women’s leadership. I had meals with a current mentor and a new mentor to talk about CC leadership and CC mission. I asked questions of those at senior institutions that challenged them (I hope!) to consider the community college perspective and the need for greater integration of our profession. I was saddened to see how few people there were at the Community College reception, but those limited numbers allowed for more meaningful conversations. I reconnected with someone I consider to be a personal touchstone and met several new people whose perspectives have the potential to influence my future and our collective higher education landscape.
And so, I walked away from the conference with several lessons. First, we must never underestimate what we can learn from each other — institution may influence our perspective, but it need not limit or define us. All of us need to do what we ask of our students — to seek and find the connections between individual experiences and the greater picture. Second, asking questions and seeking enlightenment from our colleagues is part of professional development. We cannot underestimate the importance of the connections we make and the relevance of those connections to our every day lives and the meaning of our work. And finally, community college professionals must step up. It is unfair for us to say that we are not enough of a part of the NASPA landscape and to expect someone else to increase our numbers. We have a voice on the executive board, we have had regional chairs who come from our sector. Now, we must push open the spaces for our voices and for our experiences (and those of our students) and, perhaps most importantly, we must see the connections between our own work and that of our senior institution colleagues. Our worlds are not so different and our challenges are shared.