Act 3: #Cacuss2013 – The Perspectives of Four First-time Attendees

By Jeff Burrow, David Ip Yam, Cristina Peter, Josie Steeves and Josh Regnier

Next week we will begin to share some of our slidedecks from the conferences we have attended recently. Stay tuned!

Today we want to share the experiences of four first-time Cacuss attendees. We asked them to reflect back on their time at Cacuss, two weeks after the event.  They have different roles, at very different institutions. For those of us who have been to Cacuss many times, I think its valuable to think about how those new to this ‘family’ are experiencing it for the first time. They have shared their contact info and position, so please follow them on twitter and keep the conversation going.

David Ip Yam: Office of Student Affairs, Glendon College at York University @davidipyam

If I had to summarize the main take-away from #CACUSS2013, one common thread sticks out to me: the value of holistic and integrated approaches to student development and service delivery. Imperative to such an approach is the creation of intentional partnerships and the breakdown of traditional and artificial silos. Some keys to such a shift are effective leadership and the development of sustainable and collaborative relationships across the campus – a community working together, for the students. In this sense, #CACUSS2013 was not only filled with informative sessions, but it was also a kind of experiential learning process. To explain, I was energized all week by the natural sharing of ideas, resources, and struggles with my new connections and colleagues: SAS movers and shakers from different campuses. Don’t get me wrong, the sessions helped to frame the “out of session” conversations but it was the experience of reaching out to others that I found to be most valuable. It was through these conversations that I was able to build relationships, to form new partnerships, and to be a part of a community of practice – some of the goals of SAS. I’m grateful for having met such people. Many of the conversations that I had and that I will continue to have will fuel my passion until next year, in Halifax. Thanks for the experience everyone!

Cristina Peter: Campus Life Co-ordinator, St. Michael;s College in the University of Toronto @smccampuslife

I didn’t know what to expect from my first CACUSS experience; I thought it would be a very interesting work conference that might have some useful takeaway’s and I was looking forward to doing some networking with individuals in similar roles from across the country. What I did not except was the inspiring energy and passion that came with the conference. This was not simple sharing of best practices; not your regular work conference. The theme of the conference was absolutely perfect: this was an incredible collection of individuals who were extremely passionate about and capable at working with students to truly promote the best higher education they could for their students! It was the first time I actively realized that I had found my calling in working with like-minded individuals in the field of student services. Melanie Koenderman’s session, ““Come Alive” – integrating personal passions into your professional role to create an exceptional environment for students” helped me focus this main idea that I took from participating in the conference. Although we often spend our time worrying about work-life balance, I also realized that myself and many colleagues are so passionate about what we do, there really can be no distinction between what we “leave at the office” and what drives us to keep pursuing new learning to bring into our fields, or new connections with other colleagues for opportunities of enrichment of collaboration. What a fantastic community I have entered into, a group of individuals so passionate and excited by their work that it offers such fulfillment both in professional and personal life!

Josie Steeves: PhD Candidate, Education – University of Saskatchewan @josiesteeves86

As a first year Education PhD candidate studying higher education, I was not sure what to expect when I attended CACUSS 2013. I had heard rumours of CACUSS back in my student government days but had never experienced it first hand. What I found was a resource for relationships that is just starting to be tapped. The possibilities for collaboration between SAOs and faculty/graduate students is endless having myself made connections that I’m sure will prove invaluable in the future. Although I didn’t find a lot of ‘answers’ in an academic sense, I sure came up with a lot of questions that I’m excited to explore. The conversations that began in Montreal I anticipate will continue with an end goal of improving student affairs and services and ultimately higher education in Canada. I hope CACUSS continues to recognize the importance of faculty and graduate student involvement.

Josh Regnier: Student Engagement Coordinator, Yukon College @mulungojosh

As I began my position as Yukon College’s Student Engagement Coordinator in 2012, I had many inspired ideas for programs and initiatives that would diversify the programming at the College. I had volunteered in student affairs for years, and I thought I knew the kinds of activities that would engage students. I didn’t know at the time, but my ideas were built on some typical assumptions about the post-secondary experience being that of the middle-class, 18-24 year old student.

The student demographic at Yukon College was much different than what I had anticipated. The average student was not 18-25, single, heavily involved in student life. The average student was a mature student with a family, a First Nation student from a remote community, a student studying a trades program to gain entry into the workforce. This forced me to re-evaluate my idea of effective programming. The only problem was that my experiences were limited to the more traditional idea of student engagement.

Meeting Student Services professionals at CACUSS 2013 opened the doors to a variety of information that is necessary to meeting the needs of a diverse student population. I was able to attend workshops on indigenizing student services spaces, learning about how to support trans-students, and about the unique needs and struggles of mature students. While there is still a need to expand the amount of knowledge sharing about services for marginalized or underserved groups in our institutions, CACUSS provided a platform for sharing best practices among diverse institutions – learning that would almost certainly not happen without this conference. Cat Criger, a First Nations Elder who presented on Indigenizing student services, summed up the value of learning about diversity. He said “Every bird has its own song to sing. It’s hard for a bird to sing another bird’s song and it doesn’t sound as good. But we need all the songs in the forest to create the music.”

Thanks to David, Cristina, Josie and Josh for sharing. We really appreciate it.

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