Author: Morgan Hanson
For the past three years in a row, I have been fortunate enough to not only attend but to present at the annual NWASAP conference. I was barely 25 years old the first time, fresh out of graduate school in a new full-time resident director position. My associate director gave me the option to attend the conference with one stipulation: if I wanted to go, I had to create and submit a presentation abstract. I went for it.
When my abstract was accepted, I was filled with a sense of pride and dread (heavier on the dread side). What was I doing? I had been in this professional position for less than five months. What right did I have presenting to people who may have been in the field for decades?
The answer to that question was that my selection as a presenter had nothing to do with my age or experience or position title. NWASAP as a conference is the picture of egalitarianism: if your idea is well thought-out, interesting, and useful, then in the eyes of the board and the attendees you have every right to present. Why? Because everyone who attends NWASAP comes with the understanding that they are there to learn, to dialogue, to brainstorm, and to connect. In fact, NWASAP traditionally has several built-in networking opportunities (including dinners and forums) to help the new professionals meet and ask questions of folks who are already established in their careers. Thus, you will have structured chances to meet and learn from folks who may give you good advice, good feedback, or (in my case) even a job.
To explain: this summer, I am leaving behind an amazing residence life job at one university (full of faithful NWASAP supporters and attendees) to pursue a new residence life adventure at another great university (also full of faithful NWASAP supporters and attendees). This happened because during the fall 2015 NWASAP conference, a now-friend and I attended each other’s conference presentations, and then we got to talking. That friend introduced me to other folks from his university, including their Director of Residence Life. That friend told me he thought I would be a great fit at his university, and he and I exchanged email addresses. We kept in contact. That friend shared a job opportunity with me. In July, that friend and I will also become co-workers.
My fellow new professionals, you may receive wisdom that attending large national conferences is the best thing to do, but I challenge you to think carefully about what you hope to gain from a conference. NWASAP can offer a lot of things immediately—regardless of your age or experience—including great opportunities to meet people in your field of interest, to strengthen your resumes by presenting, or even to run for and receive a position on the NWASAP executive board. Give it a shot—I’ll see you there!