Reflections from NASPA Region IV-E Regional Conference

A few weeks ago, I spent a few days just outside of Chicago attending the NASPA Region IV-E Regional Conference. I was there primarily as the regional representative of the Technology Knowledge Community.  As the regional representative, I had two primary duties:

  1. Attend the Knowledge Community Gala before the opening dinner.  At this event, each KC has a table where he or she places information about the KC, augmented by a poster, candy, giveaways, or whatever else he or she deems necessary (a determination that seems to widely vary from KC to KC).  The KC rep then hangs out near the table to answer questions, encourage new members to join, etc.  I thought that I had a decent spread this year with much of it focusing on our new website (go check it out; it’s pretty snazzy).
  2. (Co-)Host a table at Monday morning’s breakfast.  Many tables were specifically designated as being focused on topical discussions and most (all?) of the topics were germane to two or more KCs.  Each table therefore had one or more KC representatives to help run the discussions.  I was partnered with our representative from the Sustainability KC and our topic was “Economy – sustainability and technology.”

My table at the Gala was sparsely attended and my breakfast table even less so.  Nationally, the Technology KC is a niche KC that only appeals to a small percentage of NASPA members.  When you get down to the regional level, the number of NASPA members interested in the KC and its topics is even smaller.  When you go all the way down to the number of people who attend regional conferences, that number is very small indeed.  And when you factor in the type of people likely to attend the regional conferences (i.e. it’s not a random sample of the regional membership), the number appears to virtually disappear altogether.  So it’s not surprising (although it is disappointing) that very, very few people indicated an interest in the KC and its topics at this year’s Region IV-E conference.

I’m not particularly bothered by the lack of interest in the Technology KC at this conference.  But I am very bothered by the lack of full-time faculty members and researchers at the regional conference.  I am bothered by the fact that the practitioners and scholars inhabit such radically different worlds that they have completely separate conferences (e.g. I can’t imagine there is much overlap between the attendees of NASPA and ACPA conferences on the one hand and ASHE and AERA on the other).  At this particular conference, the attendees seemed to be predominantly Master’s students, entry-level practitioners, and some mid- and senior-level practitioners.  I am particularly bothered by the fact that so many younger practitioners were being professionalized and implicitly and explicitly taught the norms of the profession at this conference, norms that now include the absence of “serious scholarship” (I place that in quotes out of deference to the quality research carried out by many dedicated practitioners but I think you get my point).

I don’t want to to go to this conference next year.  I don’t think there is much I can get out of it given the lack of overlap with the topics and approaches that interest me.  But I also feel guilty, knowing that I have a lot that I could contribute to the conference and its attendees; I only attended two sessions but I was honest-to-God complimented on and thanked for the comments I made and the insights I shared.  In this instance, I don’t know how to marry my interest in linking practice with research and my need for professional growth, particularly on my very limited (financial and temporal) budget.  And that tears at me and challenges me in a way that I don’t quite know how to match.

Economy – sustainability and technology