From March 5-9, I had the incredible opportunity to attend the ACPA NextGen Conference and ACPA-College Student Educators International annual convention in Montréal. ACPA is an international professional student affairs association, and the NextGen Conference was two-days for future student affairs professionals, or new professionals to learn about the field, career and professional development and make connections. I was lucky to be given a scholarship from the ACPA Commission for Wellness for the NextGen conference, which also allowed me to participate in the main convention with over 3000 professionals from around the globe.
In one word, it was amazing. However, it was such a big experience I need a few more words. So, my very first professional student affairs conference was…
While I haven’t doubted my choices in pursuing a career in student affairs and higher education this experience definitely affirmed this. I frequently end up in one-sided rants about higher education, student leadership or student affairs with friends and family because I have made my life revolve around this field and my career. However, being in an environment where I was surrounded by 1000s of other individuals who are passionate about this like me, was absolutely incredible.
The values and practices of this field were also amazing to see, and helped affirm my passion for social justice and inclusivity. More often than not, people introduce themselves with their names and pronouns, they transformed all the bathrooms in our conference spaces into all-gender bathrooms and there was great respect given to the Aboriginal land we were on. It was incredible to see this community give these important topics the respect they deserve.
… A Little Overwhelming
Going into this weekend, I thought I would be fine. I’ve been to conferences before, and even planned a few of them. But none this big. And not with people that I have looked up to for years.
From the sheer amount of educational sessions and professional development opportunities to choose from, the major FOMO I experienced, when having to decide between these choices, the amount of people, and the long hours made this experience tiring and a little overwhelming. I was able to meet, shake hands and talk with student affairs folks from around the globe that I’d been following on Twitter for years – it was like meeting celebrities for 5 days straight.
However the only reason I didn’t burnout or breakdown was the people I met. This group of professionals, unsurprisingly, were the most supportive and welcoming group of people I’ve met. These “celebrities” I met were just regular people who shared a passion for student success like me.
Starting the conference, I knew I had passions for communications, student leadership and institutional efficacy. However in those 5 days, I learned and was able to vocalize my passion for mental health services reform, the decentralization of student success and I found a new passion:
Latino/a/x student success.
The student affairs field and post-secondary system is very different in the United States. There are full university departments, centres and legions of staff members in the institutions dedicated to Latino/a/x students. There is little to no dedicated institutional support systems in Canada. I learned that the national U.S. high school dropout rate for Hispanic students dropped to 12% in 2012. In the same year, the TDSB reported a 40% drop-out rate among Spanish-speaking communities. Something needs to happen.
I’ve been reflecting lately on my Latino identity and attending educational sessions on Latino/a/x student success and retention, attending the Latino Network open meeting and networking social made something click in my brain. Both academically and professionally I want to advance the work and support systems for Latino/a/x students in Canada during their post-secondary careers.
I learned a lot that week. It reignited old passions, helped provide clarity on my path, and made me find new professional and academic aspirations. As I continue the job search, as I contemplate when (not “if”) I’m going to go to the US for grad studies in the field and as I finish my undergrad, I’m not 100% sure what path will lead me to my dreams. I do know whatever path I take, I’ll be completely okay because I’ll be in a supportive environment, with amazing and passionate people, and following what I love to do.