What I Learned "Crashing" a Conference

I've recently been feeling in a bit of a rut and disconnected from the greater higher ed community. I knew I needed to do something to feel refreshed.

Knowing NASPA was coming to Philly, I reached out on social media to see who I knew that was going. That has always been the most valuable part of conferences to me; growing and maintaining my professional network. It also is always cool to meet people in person I know purely through digital means.

It would have felt like a missed opportunity to not see folks who would only be a short drive away. I never really felt concerned about "crashing" the conference (not paying to attend but meeting people who did). I didn't try to sneak into any sessions or anything. It just does not make sense to me to have to pay exorbitant fees to end up mostly just hanging out with people anyway and skipping the tired old sessions they offer. 

I've written before about my disdain towards national higher ed conferences like ACPA and NASPA. We're in need of a major change with how we provide professional development with these gatherings, which is (and probably will be) a whole other blog post. The cherry on top to all this was that most of the people I met with spoke with displeasure about the session offerings. This feeling is pervasive and indicative of where things are right now when it comes to professional development in higher ed. It's too expensive, it's not relevant, and it isn't giving many people what they want (or need) to grow professionally.

Regardless, what I ended up learning through this process is that you have to sometimes just do what you know is right and what you need. I learned the value of personal (and professional) relationships and that it's important to cultivate them in person when you can. I learned I have great people in my corner and that it doesn't matter how long it might have been since you saw someone last, they'll still be happy to chat if you reach out. I learned that nothing will ever change until we disrupt the status quo.

I feel like I might continue this renegade trend as much as I can. I'd be happy to welcome others as we subvert these outdated paradigms and blaze our own way making experiences that are more valuable and accessible.

I'd love to hear other's thoughts on this. Please reach out via the comments or on Twitter (@HigherEd_Geek).

#SAGeeks - A Life of Geekiness

I've been pretty geeky my whole life. From playing video games for as long as I can remember, to old photos of me reading Spider-Man comics as a kid, to pretending to be all my favorite superheroes with my brother and my friends when we'd play outside as kids. I've always been obsessively into the things I love, wanting to know everything I can, and always appreciated learning and doing well in school. I was kind of awkward and quirky, which led to me not having the best time making friends, but I could at least always escape in the worlds of my favorite video games.

Life was hard for me at times because of my geeky tendencies. I'd sometimes rather engage in my own personal interests then go out and do anything else, or care to connect with other people based on what they were into. I eventually grew to appreciate my own enthusiasm for what I was into, and work to appreciate the same energy and passion in others. People love to talk about what they're into, so I found a way to connect and make friends even if we didn't share my niche interests.

Reading books like Geeks Shall Inherit the Earth and Nerds helped me come to terms with my geeky personality. It wasn't a flaw, like I felt for so long (especially during my hormonal teenage years). It was an asset I could use to my advantage. I could showcase my geek pride in my office and it would help me, not hinder me. There were other people who struggled like me, I wasn't the only one.

Creating this site and being a part of programs like Rutgers Geek Week and connecting with professionals in higher education who care about this stuff has really helped me develop as I continue through the early phase of my career. While I don't know what the next few years will exactly look like, I at least have a lot more confidence in myself and have a positive outlook for the future.

This #SAGeeks series will seek to shine a light on others like me who live an especially geeky life and work in the realm of higher education and student affairs. They geek out about a lot of different things; theater, board games, professional wrestling, comics, and much more. They'll talk about the highs and lows of being geeks/nerds and proudly featuring your passions. You'll hear from professionals all over the country. I encourage you to reach out and geek out with them!

Also, shout out to my editors Jenn Osolinski and Lynne Meyer who approached me with the idea in the first place. And check out my resources page for more geeky goodness.

Geeky Office Décor Series: Tyler Miller

This week we're featuring the awesome office of Tyler Miller, Assistant Director for Housing & Residential Services at University of California, Santa Barbara.

Here's what Tyler had to say about his space:

"As you can see my office isn’t the typical “professional” looking office. I have a ton of stuff. The reason for this is during my day. Most of the people who come into my office are students and/or people who work with students. My office is meant to be a “conversation starter.” Generally someone comes in and finds something they can right away connect with me about without me digging and asking a lot of questions. Whether it’s my Dunder Mifflin shirt, my Batman, Star Wars, Doctor Who stuff, or my sports memorabilia, there is generally something for everyone. You can’t see it in my pictures, but I even have a working 8 track player with 8 track tapes. There are also tons of pictures of my previous staffs. Again, you can’t see it, but one of my former staff members was such a Doctor Who fan, as part of a secret Santa gift exchange she designed a painting where she wrote my families name in Gallifrayen. The people who come into my office and connect with me aren’t always the people who would connect out in the halls. It is a “safe space” for discussing all sorts of pop-culture questions such as “what do you think about Ice-Man coming out?” or “Did you hear what happened with the Bat-woman comic book?” I am able to discuss social justice issues in the safe context of pop-culture and comic books, and it opens a new world for me. Finally – I love sharing the process of critical thinking as we discuss topics such as “who would win – Batman or Superman?” (Batman, obviously) or “is there anyone Batman couldn’t beat?” (No, obviously).

So there ya have it."

What I really like about Tyler's office is the diversity of interests showcased as well as Tyler's emphasis of critically analyzing pop culture like comic books (I always joke that I take my entertainment very seriously). Looking for the deeper meaning in the stories we all share is an amazing way to connect. Those emotional bonds are a powerful positive force for us to feel understood, not just through the story but also through others understanding it (and us) as well.

Many thanks to Tyler for sharing his space with us.

Stay tuned for more awesome offices in the coming weeks!

Thanks for stopping by!

Geeky Office Décor Series: Dan McDowell

This week we're featuring the office of Dan McDowell, Residence Director at Stonehill College.12053125_10205323796474555_105078933_n Here's what Dan had to say about his office:


"I recently moved to my new office in June and slowly but surely I’ve been adding my own personal nerdy touch to it. It started with bringing a growing collection of Funko POPs from a variety of fandoms like Game of Thrones, Harry Potter, and (my largest collection) The Avengers, including my recent additions of Miles Morales and the new Thor. Since they are the first thing students usually see when they walk into my office they are quick to ask questions about them or my interests. It’s been especially helpful during conduct hearings- particularly with students I haven’t sat with before. In one meeting I was able to spend a good 5 to 10 minutes discussing the upcoming Deadpool film with a student which I think humanized me and allowed the student to feel more comfortable and open throughout the remainder of the hearing.


They have also been a great tool connecting to RAs. It isn’t unusual for RAs from other areas to stop by and say hello when visiting friends or coworkers in the area. On one occasion an RA and I were able to chat about the comics we were both reading which led to a variety of other conversations involving shared interests and a stronger relationship. Finally, the latest additions to my office are my Star Wars Lego sets and decor. I had bought them over the summer just before moving and had intended to keep them in my apartment, but quickly discovered after moving I just didn’t have anywhere where they would be a good fit and so they came to my office. They have been a great conversation piece and allowed for me to share a bit more of my interest in science fiction with my residents and RAs as well.

Showing off my geekier interests in my office has been an incredible way to connect with students. Even something as small as my Game of Thrones-themed “Where’s the RD?” sign (not pictured) has residents stopping by to discuss their excitement over a shared interest and is able to jumpstart a conversation about any communities they’ve found on campus- whether friends or a club- that tie into these interests. It provides incredible leverage in breaking the ice with residents and helping them find new ways to get involved.


Now that I’ve started showing off my geeky side, I don’t think I’ll ever go back!"

What I really like about Dan's office (besides the Star Wars Legos and Marvel Funko POP! toys) is the simple, positive effect some small tweaks in his office had to change his interactions with students. I've had a similar experience, even with some staff members who pass by my office. I feel like there is no downside to bringing some of our authentic selves into our work spaces, it always gives the benefit of genuine connections to those around us.

Many thanks to Dan for sharing his story and space with us!

Stay tuned for more awesome offices in the coming weeks.

Thanks for stopping by!