It’s been two weeks since I began my excursion to #SEAHO2015 in Mobile, Alabama from Raleigh, North Carolina (#SEAHO2016)…and little did I know that the traveling “struggle” would be real. During the continuous flight delays, I found myself thinking, “this better be worth it!” Then, I immediately reflected back on my very first SEAHO experience, and knew that this would also be 100% beneficial. Even though this time around was drastically different due to my participation in the SEAHO Placement (R.I.P.), it was nevertheless a professional development opportunity that I will forever cherish.
I could reflect on my specific conference experience, but the broader take-away meanings and pieces of advice would be more impactful for future endeavors. Although SEAHO is its own acronym, I would like to capitalize on this occasion to share my own interpretation:
SERVE. This action should be no stranger to you. As Student Affairs Educators/Professionals/Practitioners/Administrators/People, we practice service in our day-to-day work. Whether serving students, colleagues, supervisors, department, division, institution, and /or field, we advocate for giving back (or paying it forward…whichever way you would like to look at it). Assistance is needed all around, and at the conference is no exception! Every minute counts. I encourage you to carve a portion of your professional development schedule to offer your time, body, and mind. Volunteer on site. Join a committee or council (and be active). Submit a program session proposal. However you define “serve”, I hope that you are acting upon that verb.
ENGAGE. Now, before I scare off all the introverts, I can wholeheartedly relate to the initial hesitations surrounding this word. Those around me know and respect my much-needed “sponge-squeezing time”; and, as a little piece of self-disclosure, engagement is an area that I am continuously working on. I do want you to be re-energized as well, so just be sure to understand when you should be “actively on” throughout the communication platforms you are comfortable with (in person, social media, email, etc.). Maximize on your opportunities (flashback to ample time spent in the airports). This also includes the brief encounters as well, such as casual elevator talk and food lines. Keeping conversation simple in these circumstances is like having your foot in the door, where it is much easier to reconnect later on. Or, make your voice heard through our virtual world – feed the Twitter bird! No one else understands how you operate interpersonal connections better than you, so engage with others that make most meaning (and sense) to you.
APPLY. It might be my inner graduate-student-self thinking this, but remember that concept of “theory to practice”? Well, SEAHO-to-practice can be a catch phrase too! While we may not consciously think about it due to exciting reunions with colleagues/friends (Shout to my FSU Family), we are ultimately at SEAHO for professional development. Part of our responsibility is to take what was shared and learned, through informal and formal interactions, back to our students, our departments, our institutions. This could be technological initiatives, societal and social justice issues, administrative practices, assessment measures, staff development (get it, Beyoncé), any combination of the above – and more! Two quotes come to mind when I think of application. One is “no need to reinvent the wheel”, just strive to incorporate your professional twist. The other is “I have not failed; I’ve just found [a way] that won’t work”. Very crucial components of growth are effort, challenge (sometimes failure), and improvement.
HIGHLIGHT. I want you to take the perspective of “highlight” meaning “emphasize and accentuate”. Plan ahead. Set goals. Prioritize opportunities. When the conference days arrive, it feels as though time turns into the Incredible Flash – zipping away at the speed of light. One minute you’re in route to the opening ceremony, the next minute you’re checking out of the hotel. You thought you were going to have an ample amount of time to attend every program session, reunite with your networks, connect with those you have not yet met, partake in professional development opportunities (Shout out to Case Study Partner!), grab that extra cup of joe, and maybe even engage in some personal wellness time (#SAfit). Is it possible? Perhaps. Is it practical? Well…I’ll leave that up to you to decide. Do as much prep work as you can prior to being on-site. Look up the conference schedule, block out times for professional development, pencil in those catch-up sessions with others, carve out time to self-rejuvenate. In other words, set yourself up for (on-site) success!
OBSERVE. This verb is applicable to all learners. Similar to stepping into a new departments or institutions of employment, it’s important to get acclimated to the conference environment each year. The location changes, the shared knowledge changes, the people change. Take a moment to utilize your observational and active-listening skills to absorb all the information and stimuli unfolding in front of you. When communicating with others, listen to what is being said (or not said) while catching onto the subtleties and non-verbals; then, interpret how you see fit. Whether you are making decisions on who to network with, which institutions to seek out, or what new knowledge can be gained, practice LBD: Learn Before Doing.
From an undergraduate student leader having the “aha moment” of Student Affairs to the current graduate student status (while navigating the entry-level job search process), I hope this reflection provided some purposes for you as you move forward in saving the world - let’s be honest, you are an Everyday Hero. If nothing else, just think S.E.A.H.O.