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Tips for First Time NASPA Conference Attendees

New Professionals and Graduate Students Graduate New Professional Undergraduate
January 11, 2022 Alex Schmied

On a warm fall day of my senior year, I was tabling for a few student organizations with my friends at the Involvement Fair. Lost in a mix of “Senioritis” and early nostalgia for the end of my undergraduate career (or just amazement that I had gotten this far; I’m a First-Gen student), I let my mind wander and thought, “man, I wish I could do this forever”. When I snapped back to reality, I saw one of the Dean of Students headed my way. After a quick exchange of hellos, I ever-so-gracefully blurted out “I think I want to go into Student Affairs! Can you help me!?”. And within 24 hours I was applying to the NASPA Undergraduate Fellowship Program with my new mentor.  

That same year was NASPA’s Centennial celebration, my city was hosting the Annual Conference (a mere two miles away from my off-campus apartment), and my institution was hosting the Undergraduate Conference! Wins all around. However, the comfortability in my surroundings made me a little too comfortable. I went into my first conference full steam ahead, determined to do it all, and came back incredibly exhausted and ill. I don’t want that to happen to you! Here are my top three tips to enjoy the Conference to your full ability. 

Tip 1: Know Yourself. I like my alone time, my sleep, and my breakfast. In that order. NASPA will pack an incredible line up for attendees filled with sessions, poster presentations, talks, socials, and more. Pick the ones that are important to you and make sure you take breaks. I couldn’t go to a later session and get to socials without being cranky. I set a stop time and let myself go back to my room or stop somewhere to recharge. I also know when to call the night. I love hanging out with colleagues I may not get to see all the time, but if I don’t get to sleep, I can’t show up as my full self the next day. Lastly, I love breakfast. I will go to local grocery stores and stock up on fruits and cereal for the next few mornings so I’m not rushing to find a quick bite to eat before sessions start. These sound silly, but it’s how I center myself for the long week ahead. Oh, and don’t forget your water bottle. 

Tip 2: Get the App & Use It. Do I really need the app if I have the conference book? Yes. Absolutely. The app is easier to navigate and details all the sessions. I will grab a conference program for my bookshelf back at the office in the event I need to quickly find a name or a session I went to in the future. But the app is a life saver. The app will let you filter by name, date, time, and competency. Make sure to pick a few sessions per hour - you’ll want a back up in the event the session is canceled, the room is filled, or you’re just not feeling the one you picked. Leave time to travel in between sessions and remember to plan around meal times, snack times, and breaks. 

Tip 3: Remember Your Professional Development. As mentioned, the app will also outline other opportunities besides sessions. Make sure you pick sessions and events that will help you learn and grow across various competencies, functional areas, and management levels. Events that end with “and Friends” means you can go! You’ll meet people you never thought you would and have opportunities you never thought you’d have. I picked my graduate school because I met the whole cohort above me and the program director after accidentally stumbling into a reception. 

All in all, make the conference work for you.There are plenty of engagement opportunities whether in person or virtual. I know we are eager to return to “normal” after our ongoing year and a half of the COVID-19 pandemic, so please take care of yourself, and know it’s okay if this conference feels a little harder. I’m so excited to be a part of your first Conference preparation and hopefully, I will see you there!  

Author: Alex Schmied (she/her) serves as the Alcohol & Other Drug Prevention Coordinator at Temple University and is a member of the NPGS SC Communications & Marketing Working Group. She enjoys running, crafting, and exploring the city of Philadelphia with her friends and family. You can connect with Alex on LinkedIn or Instagram