Membership with NASPA or any other professional organization for me is a way to stay connected. Staying connected to the information, staying connected with the resources, and staying connected with others. Throughout the past year, I have come to cherish the connections that I have made over the years, and appreciate the new connections made. Through these challenging and unprecedented times, our connections have been challenged more than ever but have become more important than ever.
Challenges have come at us in more ways than we could have ever imagined. Our ability to plan for the future, think ahead, and project the future has been hindered. We are concerned about the now. How to get through the semester, month, week, and even day. Over the past year, I have felt that professional connections sometimes become less of a priority as we all try to navigate what is happening at our home institutions. When I see fewer connections being made outside of campuses I see fewer collaboration opportunities, and our spaces get lonelier.
I think about the individuals that have been challenged the most on our campus are the students. I could never imagine going through my college experience like they are going through. For students, the connection is gone. The opportunity to collaborate and connect has more barriers making students decide to be individuals. The “Virtual Fatigue” is here and unfortunately doesn’t have an expiration date in sight.
When it comes to campus programs, academic courses, and the overall campus experience many different options we explored were with the hope that they would stay a 2020 problem. We were hoping to get back to some “normalcy”, but it’s very clear that right now we have to re-write the playbook. We must adapt, adjust, and change up the traditions. Instead of doing what may have worked in the past, we must find what will work in the now. COVID has required that we take creativity to a different level. For years we have been required to be creative with budgets, creative with opportunities, and creative with changing student priorities. But sometimes you just hit a roadblock on how to be even more creative. There are many times that I have hit that roadblock. Times where I am not sure what we can do, should, or need to do. I run out of answers for the students and run out of answers for the administration. What has helped push me through these times are the relationships that I have build through NASPA and other professional associations. Collaboration and connection with those colleagues have become more important than ever.
Knowledge sharing leads to collaboration, leads to more opportunities, creating an ultimate greater experience for your students. Below are how I have utilized resources in my role, especially over the past year. I hope that my experience can shape or spark action in your life.
Connections I have used
Regional or State Associations – This has been a great time for me to connect even further with state and regional associations. With more opportunities being virtual and discounted for attendance, it has allowed for me to experience opportunities that previously had financial, locational, or time barriers. State and regional associations are a great way to collaborate with colleagues and institutions that are most likely in similar situations. Every institution is unique of course, but involvement with regional and state associations allows for you to find others on some sort of common ground. I have found great comfort and connections with individuals from the state and regional involvement.
Social Media – No matter your feelings about social media, it has been a great way to connect with others come across the country. Based on my browser history, you would think that I am on Facebook all day long and not working. But what I am doing is following student activities professionals groups, student affairs professionals pages, and position-based groups for best practices and questions being asked. I have been able to learn from others that are asking the same questions or going through similar situations. I also use these accounts to further my creativity by seeing what others are posting. Social media has been inspirational for myself and students to create new programs, activities, and structures. I highly recommend that if you are a new professional start following programs, associations (example: NASPA IV-West Facebook page – shameless plug!), and pages in areas you are interested in.
Local colleagues – Connection with local colleagues has been essential to the challenges and triumphs of the past couple of years. In my past role, I was part of the MIAA Fraternity & Sorority Life and Friends advisors group. This group consisted of FSL professionals from institutions that were part of the Mid-America Intercollegiate Athletics Association, plus other institutions from the region that wanted to connect and collaborate. This group originated as a local support group to discuss topics pertinent to our communities but has since grown into a group of friends. A couple of meetings and phone calls focused on business has grown into daily group messages and Snapchat stories about life. These connections are informal but have value in being there for professional and personal items. They have helped each other through the ups and downs of the year, new jobs, and new opportunities.
The other local connections I have utilized are collaborations with institutions in the same tough or neighboring communities. Yes, sometimes they are rivals or on the surface have few similarities, but a connection in similar departments is invaluable. Talking through resources, common practices, and similar used vendors can allow both institutions to grow. You can also find opportunities to collaborate in the community, utilize the same projects, and connect with each other's students. We all are living in the same space, so we should work together to find ways to help our student's experience be the best it can be.
I am learning every single day something new. I contribute that growth to the connections that I have made outside of my office and campus. I am a huge proponent of there is no reason to reinvent the wheel. Alterations can be made, but you can learn from others so we don’t make those changes blindly. The great thing about our profession is that we are all willing to help each other, but it takes you asking to get that help. Build those connections, find those collaborators, and create the best experience possible for your students.