As one of two #saGROW scholarship winners, I have been thrilled for the opportunity to maximize my professional development opportunities during this academic year. When applying for this scholarship I came up with the following pitch: “Graduate student voluntarily getting foot in the door with LLCs. Program proposal accepted at 2011 ACUHO-I LLP Conference; have no funding to attend and present. Great career opportunity if I can get funding for my efforts. Thanks for your votes!”

Since receiving the scholarship, I attended the ACUHO-I Living Learning Programs Conference in Orlando on October 15, 2011. Kathy Bush Hobgood, Director of Residential Life at Clemson University, opened the conference with a humor-filled keynote. She encouraged conference attendees to make the most of our networking opportunity at the conference. Further, she encouraged us to take time to reflect and consider what we learn in relation to how things work at our institutions and intentionally applying our conclusions when we return to our institutions. Ultimately, by sharing our successes and lending new ideas, we are working together in the LLP community to improve the educational experience for students across the country.

I then co-presented with Mary C. Jordan (MC), Coordinator for Academic Residential Programs at the University of Florida,  Our session, “Utilizing Graduate Students in Academic Initiatives” boasted the tagline, “I want this to be a meaningful experience for you, but I need output too!”  This was a good description of the gist of our program as we focused on discussing the challenge of making the assistantship/internship/practicum experience meaningful for students and productive for the office in which they work. Together, MC and I discussed our learning objectives for the presentation, graduate student development theory, adult development theory, including perspectives in lifespan, development and transition, and brought attention to potentially at-risk graduate student populations. After our conversation about theory, we talked about our experiences with the academic initiatives practicum, supervised by MC, that I completed in Spring 2011. In an effort to interact and learn from our audience during the presentation, the audience members discussed their experiences working with graduate students and the different challenges that arise.

I attended a second session discussing student staff buy-in to enhance the living-learning community experience. Presented by Kari Ceo-Grulke (Ball State University) and Julia Roberts (Davenport University), two perspectives from structurally different programs were presented. The audience also participated in generating ideas and sharing their stories. We discussed materialistic incentives and small budget alternatives, but the creative idea I really related to was the idea of branding. Branding can be used in the material incentives, but I feel like the visual representation of belonging and involvement can be stretched even further. Visual signs of the community can go far when placed strategically in the halls, campus marketing and event marketing. Students can begin to relate visually and associate themselves with a community relatively easily.

After the keynote and two successful sessions, the opening reception presented an opportunity for networking as Kathy Hobgood had talked about. I will admit, networking is not a particular strength of mine even in the best of environments, but I really struggled with it at this particular conference. While the space for standing about holding conversation was adequate, places to sit and eat were not. I needed to prioritize my time to ensure I ate before driving two hours back to Gainesville while also networking, and I’m not sure I did that so well. I look forward to having another opportunity soon to connect with and learn more from the professionals that work in with LLP development.  I learned a lot in the single day I spent at the conference and was able to mingle with the professional LLP community.

I plan to use the remaining scholarship funds for StrengthsQuest certification. I look forward to utilizing StrengthsQuest training to help students and staff alike better understand their own talents as I begin my career in Student Affairs.

What other professional development opportunities should I be connecting with? What is your advice for an aspiring Student Affairs professional?

Katie O’Brien is a Graduate Assistant with University of Florida’s Center for Leadership and Service (CLS) where she works with student development programming and co-advise the CLS Ambassador student group.  In 2010, she earned her Bachelor of Arts in Interpersonal and Public Communication with a minor in psychology from the University of Akron.  She will earn her Masters degree from the University of Florida’s Student Personnel in Higher Education program this May and will hope to work in Student Affairs in Residence Life or Leadership Programs.  Connect with Katie over Twitter or Email!

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