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Getting Involved: A Virtual Connection Becomes a Real Connection

Student Success Supporting the Profession Equity, Inclusion and Social Justice Student Affairs Partnering with Academic Affairs
May 22, 2024


Getting involved with professional organizations such as NASPA has many benefits, including expanding our networks and collaborating on cross-institutional projects. But trying to do the latter proved difficult pre-pandemic. Working virtually only recently became the norm. So, modalities such as conference calls were the default. Unfortunately, they could be ineffective, with individuals inadvertently talking over each other or interrupting one another. Another factor was that it was easy to disengage from the meetings because not seeing each other allowed for anonymity, resulting in obscurity. 

But now we have Zoom, TEAMS, and Google drive which address the gaps of conference calls. First, we only hear each other, but we also see one another. Like a mullet, it can be business on the top and party on the bottom by dressing in a nice shirt or blouse and pajamas for the bottoms. For some teams, wearing the institution’s baseball cap is ok on casual Friday! For those of us who normally wear make-up to work, you can adjust your settings for certain color lipstick, blush, and eyeshadow, meaning you don’t even have to wear make-up! The best factor is that we can share documents and our screens in real time. With the technology benefits of virtual meetings, we can collaborate across institutions by first getting involved with the many opportunities NASPA has. Here is a real-life example.


The Aileen/Sabina Example 

Aileen and Sabina met through the SAPAA knowledge community as the academic advising liaison and professional development co-chair, respectively. One of SAPAA’s goals is to have members present at conferences, and in less than six months of meeting, Aileen and Sabina started collaborating on a proposal for the national conference in Seattle, Washington. They had regularly scheduled Zoom meetings and used Google Docs to work on their proposal in real time during the meetings and on their own. Through their planning meetings, Sabina and Aileen discovered many mutual, personal interests and similar experiences within higher education. They found themselves chatting about so much more than just their proposal and quickly realized they wouldn’t get as much work done within their hour-long meetings as they initially thought.  But that was okay, it just meant they got to meet more often.

Both Sabina and Aileen had experience in advising and a passion for DEI work, so they decided to fuse both into a proposal titled, How to Enhance Connections With Minoritized Populations as Student Affairs Practitioners Working in Academic Affairs. Their proposal was accepted! They continued to work together to adjust their presentation based on the selection committee’s feedback. (Feel free to check our presentation via this link!). The day came when they finally met in-person at the conference after working together for over six months! (Spoiler alert: they are the same height!)


Aileen's Experience

Prior to joining the SAPAA leadership team, I served in a leadership position within a different knowledge community pre-pandemic when monthly meetings were held via telephone.  We never saw each other’s faces, and it was challenging to have a collaborative conversation without talking over someone.  Once I started my leadership position with SAPAA, I was pleased to see that we were meeting via zoom.  It was so helpful to connect both professionally and personally when we could see each other.  And connecting more deeply with Sabina was the cherry on top. We went from being SAPAA acquaintances to collaborators, and now to friends. When we first discussed partnering on this proposal, I wasn’t sure how everything would work when we hardly knew each other and weren’t even in the same time zone.  But I learned that we can always find common ground by remaining adaptable, open-minded, and remembering to mix in some fun.  And Sabina is a lot of fun!  I’m grateful for this experience of working with her, and I’m looking forward to another future adventure together.


Sabina's Experience  

Partnering with Aileen was perfect! I felt just as productive as when I collaborated in-person with colleagues to submit a proposal and present at a conference. I also felt that Aileen and I organically became friends from this process, similarly to how I have made friends from working with others in-person. Our hourly meetings would run so quickly. The saying that times flies when you’re having fun accurately describes our meetings. I think the key element is being open to collaborating with others, regardless of the modality. Two other crucial factors that transfer from in-person partnerships to virtual ones are holding oneself responsible and accountable for delegated work. Lastly, colleagues need to be organized and plan for meetings. 


Overcoming Limitations 

While we’ve shown the benefits for virtually collaborating, there are limitations to being mindful. First, ensure that you have Wi-Fi if working from home. Second, emailing a working document among team members can get confusing because some may not know which is the most current and work on an outdated version. It can also be cumbersome, especially when you are trying to find the most current email that has the updated document. A solution is for everyone to have access to a shared document. A point to note is creating a plan if there are many team members to avoid inadvertent changes to the live document. The last limitation is that all team members should know how to use the technologies, from the platform being used for the meetings to the space where shared documents are found. Not all team members have to be experts, just proficient. It is nice when some have ability in technologies and can teach others. 


While we hate the overused word pivot (ugh!), we feel it is the best one to describe how we suddenly had to become proficient in using technology for mandatory remote work because of the pandemic. This new norm has made it easier to collaborate across institutions and between student and academic affairs. Aileen and Sabina encourage you to get involved with NASPA by volunteering on a planning committee or KC.