Applying Tina Fey’s Rules of Improv to a Graduate Assistantship | Jaclyn Kulls

Written By Jaclyn Kulls of Florida Atlantic University

Improvisation (referred to as simply, “improv”) is a learned art form, much like the realm of student affairs within higher education. Improv is a process through which individuals cultivate creativity and actively practice collaborative strategies to produce effective outcomes and solve complex problems (Rossing & Hoffmann-Longtin, 2016). Professionals within higher education must also actively practice creative problem-solving and collaborative strategies when it comes to the myriad of issues, projects, deadlines and crises within higher education. Comedian and actress Tina Fey (2011) wrote about her rules of improvisation in her book, Bossypants, which can easily be applied to fields outside of stage comedy. The purpose of this article is to demonstrate how Tina Fey’s rules of improv can assist new graduate students to be successful in their graduate assistantships.

The Power of Agreeing

“The first rule of improvisation is AGREE… Start with a YES, and see where that takes you” (Fey, 2011, p. 76). By saying “YES” to opportunities, graduate assistants demonstrate their commitment to the overall mission of the office. Not all opportunities will be presented in a neatly wrapped package with a fancy bow and an envelope full of instructions. In many cases, graduate students must use creative-thinking and problem-solving strategies to create new processes and demonstrate efficiency. Saying “YES” to ideas and projects aligns new professionals with the office leader’s vision, placing them in a unique and rewarding position for professional development. Although it is easy to say “No” as young professionals who are trying to balance life, work, school, and professional activities, this reply may make others think that you are unwilling to work hard or participate in department initiatives. Although it can be challenging for new professionals, embracing the unknown and saying “YES” to new things can transform ordinary graduate assistants into the go-to collaborators. These go-to individuals are the ones who are often promoted first or develop networking connections that can lead to future opportunities in the profession.

The Art of Contribution

“The second rule of improvisation is not only to say yes, but YES, AND… It’s your responsibility to contribute… your initiations are worthwhile” (Fey, 2011, pp. 76-77). As graduate assistants, it can be difficult to overcome insecurities or stigmas in which we feel like we are “less than” seasoned professionals. We may remain silent in boardrooms and meetings, thinking that our ideas are unworthy. Other times, we may speak up only to be shut down or criticized for challenging authority. It is important to remember that while your thoughts, ambitions and ideas are indeed important and worthwhile, there is a proper way to communicate these ideas and contribute to the overarching goals of the office.

Balancing the ability to contribute can be difficult, but there is a middle ground between speaking out of place and remaining silent: learn how your department communication channels work, and then, use this information to your advantage. Bringing up a new idea or disagreeing with an existing one in a meeting full of executives may not be the most advantageous way to contribute. The best way to say “YES, AND” is to present to your supervisor an innovative idea AND outline a plan for achieving it. Then, your supervisor can pass the message through the appropriate for consideration and possible implementation by the office director. By making it a habit to say “YES, AND”, you will be seen as a willing and engaged office participant a person who both understands and can navigate office politics.

The Role of Confidence

Making statements, the third rule, “is a positive way of saying, ‘Don’t ask questions all the time.’… Whatever the problem, be part of the solution” (Fey, 2011, p. 77). While it may feel like a natural reaction to question processes and the “why’s” behind programming, it does nothing to contribute your talents to your department or institution. No one wants to be around the person who constantly points out mistakes or questions authority, yet contributes nothing new to the field. To be a “YES, AND” person, you must find confidence within yourself and your abilities. Start with small contributions and then work your way up to larger ones.

Tina Fey (2011) writes, “MAKE STATEMENTS also applies to us women: Speak in statements instead of apologetic questions” (p. 77). Some women tend to increase the pitch of their voice at the end of a statement, transforming it into a question: “I’m here to give a presentation on resume writing…? I work closely with employers so I know what they look for…?” This will cause your audience to question your experience and credibility. This transformation in tone is called “upspeak” and it can damage your reputation and perception as a future leader (Baldoni, 2015). Leaders are expected to be confident and make statements. Confidence not only comes from one’s presence, but also one’s tone of voice (Baldoni, 2015). The next time you approach your supervisor with a solution to a problem, try saying, “I have an idea,” instead of “I think I have an idea?”

Lessons From The Field

The final rule of improv is, “THERE ARE NO MISTAKES, only opportunities” (Fey, 2011, p. 77). Professional development generally occurs in two ways: by learning something new and applying it, or doing something wrong and learning from it. Within higher education, professionals view themselves as lifelong learners, and therefore, are prone to making mistakes. Your graduate assistantship provides a safe space for you to make these mistakes and an opportunity to grow both personally and professionally. Your supervisors are there to guide you and can assist in your transformation. Take advantage of this and seek mentors who are not afraid to challenge you and push you to try new things. The important takeaway here is not to steer away from making mistakes, but to meet them head on and remain open-minded enough to change your actions in the future.


            Improvisation may have comedic roots, but when applied proficiently, it can become a powerful tool for working in higher education. Graduate assistants and new professionals within student affairs should remember to be strategic with their initiatives. Say “YES!” to things even when you cannot see how it will benefit you. Say “YES, AND” to demonstrate your professional commitment and collaborative mindset. Make statements with your actions and words to show confidence and to be seen as a rising leader in the field of student affairs. Do not be afraid of change or trying new things because they will help you grow and learn from mistakes in the future. These rules of improv can help graduate assistants and new professionals succeed in their careers through the basic tenets of collaborative strategies, creative problem-solving, and open-mindedness.


Baldoni, J. (2015, July). “Will ‘upspeak’ hurt your career?” Forbes. Retrieved from

Fey, T. (2011). Bossypants. New York, NY: Little Stranger, Inc.

Rossing, J. P. and Hoffmann-Longtin, K. (2016). Improv(ing) the academy: Applied improvisation as a strategy for educational development. To Improve the Academy, 35(2), 303–325. doi:10.1002/tia2.20044

Moving Up in Higher Education | Woosly Calixte

It can be challenging to get your foot in the door to start your career in higher education, but it can also be equally challenging to advance your career once you have started. Through my five years as a higher educational administrator, I have been blessed with opportunities to learn and obtain skills and knowledge that have allowed me to continuously grow professionally and advance my career. The purpose of this article is to share four strategies to propel your career forward as a higher education professional.

Written by Woosly Calixte of Florida Atlantic University.


Embrace Opportunities to Learn

Embrace the opportunity to learn everything you can as a new professional in higher education. Be the person who volunteers to take on additional duties and projects. Also, get in the habit of doing more than what is written in your job description. For example, my first position was at Broward College as a part-time Administrative Specialist for the Dean of Students. It was not my ideal entry-level position, but I knew I had to start somewhere. Beyond doing regular clerical duties, I took the initiative to learn the functionality of the office. I was fortunate to get first-hand learning experience about the process of student conduct, disciplinary appeals, and crisis management. I also took the initiative to ask my boss to observe a few student conduct meetings and got a better sense of how to manage critical situations. This was a great way for me to learn and develop my skillset.


One of the most important things that you can do as a young professional is to intentionally build and nurture your professional network. Ask good questions of people that you interact with daily, including inquiring about the most rewarding and challenging aspects of their jobs. Be sure to ask for any advice they might be willing to share as well. Networking is not as scary when you realize that it isn’t about you – it is about learning from experienced professionals and figuring out how you can be of service to others. I have been intentional about building great relationships and have learned so much by listening to the great career advice that I have received. One of the most important pieces of advice I received was to return to school to pursue my Master’s degree in Higher Education Leadership to become qualified and prepared to move up into senior level administrative positions.

Seek out Mentors

It is important to have mentors to guide you and help you to advance your career. Golden (2016) defines mentoring as a professional activity, a trusted relationship, and a meaningful commitment. There are different types of mentors one can have: a wise leader, teacher, peer, and/or confidant. You want to have a variety of mentors with expertise in different areas of your career and life. When I stepped into an administrative role, I asked one of my supervisors, Dr. Johnson, the Associate Dean of Academic Affairs, to be my mentor. He took me under his wing, invited me to join departmental meetings, and showed me the qualities and skills I would need to be a great leader. He also encouraged me to read to stay up-to-date in the field and has helped me define my career goals and aspirations.

Get Involved

It is important to get involved on local, state, regional, and national levels. Cherwin (2010) suggests that joining professional associations can help advance your career. It is also important to join campus committees and take on leadership opportunities whether on your campus or within a professional organization. Keep in mind that early on in your career it can be easier to get involved through state or regional levels of professional associations. I am currently involved with the Emerging Leaders Group for Broward College and Brothers en Humanidad. The Emerging Leaders Group provides opportunities for leadership development, access to college and community leadership, and opportunities for networking. Brothers en Humanidad is an organization that cultivates mentoring and leadership programs for Black and Hispanic/Latino male students to increase completion, retention, and enrollment rates. My involvement with these two initiatives has already benefitted my professional career. Through the Emerging Leaders Group, I have met and worked alongside senior administrators and Brothers en Humanidad provides me the opportunity to reach out and mentor minority male students and to help foster their educational success.

In summary, advancing your career in higher education administration is about intentionally embracing opportunities to learn, building your network, seeking mentors, and getting involved in professional organizations.  Implementing these strategies can propel your career in the right direction.



Cherwin, K. (2010). Why join a professional association? Retrieved from

Golden, C. (2006). Cultivating careers. Boulder, CO: EDUCAUSE.

Pushing Through Grief | Julia Angle

Written by Julia Angle of Florida Atlantic University

At some point, we all experience grief: a loved one dies, a relationship ends or another type of loss leaves us devastated. During these moments, we may feel lost, unable to deal with even the simplest aspects of daily life.

How can you attend class, write a term paper, or go to work when even getting out of bed in the morning proves challenging? The purpose of this article is to suggest specific ways to push through the grief by briefly reviewing its five common stages before offering suggestions to not only work through the sorrow, but to harness the power of the pain to move forward.

Five Stages of Grief

According to Elisabeth Kübler-Ross’s classic book On Death and Dying (1973), there are five stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance.  The first stage, denial, “functions as a buffer after unexpected shocking news, allows the patient to collect himself, and with time, mobilize other, less radical defenses” (Kübler-Ross, 1973, p. 34). The second stage is anger: accepting reality, yet with an inability to act rationally. Oftentimes, loved ones become the target of such aggression. Bargaining is the third stage. It is less hostile, rather a coping mechanism used to provide hope. The fourth stage is a period of lost hope and sadness; it is depression. During this time, people may search for meaning or question why they should continue at all. Yet it is through the final stage, acceptance, people discover the path forward. The loss is replaced with a ‘new normal.’

While understanding the five stages of grief is important, they are not the reason we persevere.  “They are tools to help us frame and identify what we may be feeling. But they are not stops on some linear timeline in grief. Not everyone goes through all of them or in a prescribed order” (Kessler, 1973, para. 2).  Acknowledging and accepting the uniqueness of your grief as well as allowing yourself time to grieve is only half the battle.

Moving Forward

The first step in moving forward is to give yourself a deadline of sorts. There is no magic formula or set timeline for grieving.  Consider giving yourself three to seven days, but no longer to ‘hide away’ or ‘fall apart.’  Allotting too much time before returning to your normal routine may make it difficult to return to classes, your job and other responsibilities. It is important to note this is an individual decision and represents an initial step and by no means ends your struggle or grief.  It may simply assist in accelerating the grieving process.

There will be days when you do not feel like getting up or being an active participant in your own life, but get up anyway. “No matter how you feel, get up, dress up and show up” (Brett, 2010, para. 10). Allow yourself to be sad.  It does no good to tell yourself you should not feel sad when you feel sad. “Research on thought suppression has shown trying to avoid a thought makes it even more active in your mind” (Halvorson, 2013).

Know you will have good days and bad ones. Surround yourself with friends and family when you can. Seek professional help if needed.  Remember there is no race to the finish line because there isn’t one; go at your own pace.

Using the Pain

Once you have climbed out from under the covers, begin to use the pain in positive ways. Turn angry energy into productive projects, including something requiring physical activity such as cleaning out the garage, planting a garden, mowing the lawn, painting a picture, or working out. Transform the sadness into inspiration to write or create a work of art. Do something that “makes you feel strong” (Buckingham, 2015). Identify those activities you look forward to doing and that make time pass quickly.  Remind yourself how strong you are, and in time your memories will bring smiles instead of tears. These suggestions only offer some ways to promote the healing process.


Grieving is a normal response to loss, especially when a loved one dies. Eventually, the loss can make you stronger, more resilient, and more compassionate. However,

“the reality is that you will grieve forever. You will not ‘get over’ the loss of a loved one; you will learn to live with it. You will heal and you will rebuild yourself around the loss you have suffered. You will be whole again but you will never be the same. Nor should you be the same nor would you want to” (Kübler-Ross & Kessler, 2005, p. 290).

Grief holds no prejudice; it requires no specific age, gender, or race nor does it schedule itself conveniently around our lives. Students may find it especially difficult to focus during a tragedy. Yet perhaps with the use of tips highlighted in this article, they may push through the grief and get back to the task of living.



Brett, R. (2010, April 11). Lesson 46: No matter how you feel, get up, dress up, and show up for life [Web log post]. Retrieved from

Buckingham, M. (2015, March 26). Re: Trombone player wanted, chapter 2 [Video blog comment]. Retrieved from

Halvorson, H. (2013, June 04). How successful people reach their goals. Retrieved from

Kessler, D. (n.d.). The five stages of grief. Retrieved from

Kübler-Ross, E. (1973). On death and dying. London, England: Taylor & Francis [CAM].

Kübler-Ross, E., & Kessler, D. (2005). On grief and grieving: Finding the meaning of grief

            through the five stages of loss. New York, NY: Scribner

Helping Community College Graduates Adjust to a Four-Year Institution | Michael L. Arias

Written by Michael L. Arias of Florida Atlantic University.

Transfer students are typically non-traditional students with a wide variety of needs, academic preparation levels, and aspirations. The transition to a four-year institution is often a challenging adjustment for transfer students. Student affairs professionals can help new transfer students by engaging them directly through targeted programming and services.

My own experience as a transfer student was a rocky one. Although my first experience on a large public university campus was positive, after attending the transfer orientation, I was left on my own. Feeling disconnected and self-conscious because I was older than most students, I spent my first weekend on campus at home playing video games. It turns out that students between the ages of 21 and 25 are twice as likely to leave after their first and third semester (Ishitani, 2008, p.407). My grades suffered that first year and I later learned I suffered “transfer shock” (Hill, 1965, p. 202). Transfer students need to build community to help ease their transition and be successful at their new institution. Therefore, the purpose of this article is to provide suggestions for helping community college students transition and adjust to their new four-year institution.

Transfer students are more likely to assume services are not available to them, so it is important to advertise and promote extracurricular opportunities to them. Here are specific suggestions for involving transfer students on campus:

Transfer Student Programming: Does your institution offer any programs that cater directly to transfer students? The first step is identifying programming that may already exist on campus for transfer students. The next step is to survey transfer students to find out what services they need and what times would be best for them to attend events. It is important to engage transfer students within the first few weeks so that they can connect early with other students as well as faculty and staff.

Learning Communities: Four-year intuitions would benefit from participation in transfer student learning communities. These communities would allow transfer students to build relationships with other transfer students by taking two or more classes together. Ideally, programming would be provided to inform and engage transfer students in student organizations and leadership opportunities.

Social Media: A dedicated social media site for transfer students, such as Twitter or Facebook, can be established to connect keep transfer students connected. Posts on social media can direct students to campus resources for student involvement. For example, the first place I looked for engagement opportunities was the student union on campus. Many student affairs offices are located within or central to the student union. Events promoted at the student union would be easier for students to find.

Tutors: Transfer students need to be continually reminded about tutoring services that are available on campus. Transfer shock is a real phenomenon, so transfer students need to be encouraged early and often to seek help.

Athletics: Attending athletic events allow transfer students to get excited and feel connected to the campus community. Consider having a tailgate event prior to the event specifically for transfer students.

Timing of Events: Transfer students may not be on campus during regular hours and are often unaware of clubs, organizations, and groups on campus. Scheduling an open house for representatives to present to transfer students directly may make them more inclined to become more involved.


Transfer students want and need to be part of your campus and gain new experiences. The challenge is to offer them a variety of options for becoming involved. This population is underserved and needs to have programming developed specifically to meet their needs. By tailoring events for transfer students, student affairs professionals will have the opportunity to help them successfully integrate into the campus community.



Hills, J. (1965). Transfer shock: The academic performance of the junior college transfer. The Journal of Experimental Education, 33(3), 201-215. Retrieved from

Ishitani, T. (2008). How do transfers survive after “transfer shock”? A longitudinal study of transfer student departure at a four-year institution. Research in Higher Education, 49(5), 403-419. Retrieved from

Six Reasons to Encourage Students to Meet with Their Academic Advisor | Karen Burrell

Six Reasons to Encourage Students to Meet with Their Academic Advisor

It takes a village to graduate students and student affairs professionals play an important role in that village. Student affairs professionals are critical in terms of helping students make the most of their out-of-classroom experiences and often develop close relationships with students. Academic advisors are another important source of help and inspiration to students; they are equipped to help students make meaning of both their in-class and out-of-class experiences. Today’s academic advisors do more than just help students schedule classes, yet many students misperceive their role as limited to helping them to register for classes. As trusted institutional representatives, student affairs professionals are uniquely situated to encourage students to meet with their academic advisor on a regular basis and to help students understand the role of the academic advisor. Therefore, the purpose of this article is to inform student affairs professionals about the many services that an academic advisor can provide and highlight the advantages of doing so.

Defining Academic Advising

Although there is no official definition of academic advising, for purposes of this article this definition captures the essence of academic advising:

Academic advising is a developmental process, which assists students in the clarification of their life/career goals and in the development of educational plans for the realization of these goals. It is a decision-making process by which students realize their maximum educational potential through communication and information exchanges with an advisor; it is ongoing, multifaceted, and the responsibility of both student and advisor. The advisor serves as a facilitator of communication, a coordinator of learning experiences through course and career planning and academic progress review, and an agent of referral to other campus agencies as necessary. (Winston, Enders, & Miller, 1982, p. 17)

Student affairs professionals can help students understand the broad nature of services that academic advisors can provide. When the academic advising process is practiced in a positive way, students’ learning experience is enhanced.

Six Advantages for Students that Connect with an Academic Advisor

Here are the top six advantages for students who meet with their academic advisors:

  1. Academic advisors can assist students in identifying their strengths, such as public speaking, writing, management, and/or caring for others.
  2. Academic advisors can help students explore career choices. Selecting a major and career can be overwhelming for students, but academic advisors can educate students about both major and career options. They can also connect students to resources available in the career center, as appropriate.
  3. Academic advisors can connect students facing financial hardship, homelessness, and/or abuse with the appropriate campus and community resources.
  4. Academic advisors can advise students about how to interact effectively with faculty members. This is especially important for students that may be feeling overwhelmed with their scholastic responsibilities. Often academic advisors know the professors and can give students tips about how to approach their instructors.
  5. Academic advisors can serve as students’ advocate when students are facing difficulties. Bad things happen to good people and academic advisors are ideally situated to help students notify professors when there is a death in the family or financial hardships are impacting their academic performance.
  6. Academic advisors are experts on the academic curriculum. If a student wants to study abroad, please be sure to refer them to their academic advisor so that they can strategize a plan for completing their coursework in a timely manner while also studying abroad.

How to Refer Students to Academic Advisors

Student affairs professionals should be prepared to show students how to determine who their assigned academic advisor is. If students are apprehensive about going to meet with the academic advisor, please consider helping them to brainstorm questions to ask the advisor. If, a student affairs professional knows the advisor well, please encourage the student to mention the referral.


Student affairs professionals can help students optimize their educational experiences by encouraging them to meet with their academic advisor. Academic advisors can help students with identifying their strengths, exploring career choices, connecting students to the appropriate campus and community resources, interacting effectively with faculty members, advocating for students when they are facing difficulties, and strategizing a plan for completing their coursework while studying aboard. It takes a village to graduate students, so let’s all work together to ensure that students take full advantage of the resources available to them on campus.



Ender, S. C., Winston, R. B., & Miller, T. K. (1982). Academic advising as student development. New Directions for Student Services, 17, 3-18. doi:10.1002/ss.37119821703


How to Get the Most Out of Attending a National Convention

Republished from an 8th Vector past edition (February 2015)

Dr. Dan Calhoun SCGSNP Faculty in Residence

For many graduate students and new professionals, attending a national convention can be a challenge both financially and professionally.  Many grads and entry-level staff may shy away from going to such a large event, since the combination of high costs and presence of major Student Development theorists and researchers can be intimidating.  However, if you are fortunate enough to have a supportive environment that allows for convention attendance, do not let these things turn you away from missing a wonderful professional development opportunity. There are ways to work around some of the travel and lodging expenses (sharing a room, travel grants and/or payment plans (like this one for grad students), driving instead of flying, etc.) and the well known folks who you might encounter are almost always approachable.

In short, if you have the chance to attend one of these larger level professional gatherings, I strongly encourage you to do so.  Below are some tips I have compiled from 15+ years of attending national conventions.  If you want to make the most out of your time, here are some things that I suggest you do:

1.)   Volunteer
One of the best ways to meet people and get the lay of the land while at a convention is to volunteer.  It takes many people to successfully plan and implement an event of this magnitude, and organizers are ALWAYS looking for new people to help. There are two main ways in which you should can volunteer your time as a grad student/new professional at a national convention:

a.     As a General Convention Volunteer – being a general volunteer means that you could help out almost anywhere – you might assist with check-in, sit at an informational table, help presenters get organized, etc.  The best part of this type of volunteer work is that you get to meet a lot of both new and seasoned professionals in a low risk environment – plus, you usually get some extra swag for your nametag!.

b.     At Career Central/Placement Center – what better way to learn the interview process than by helping out there BEFORE you actually interview?  Career Central can be an intimidating place if you do not understand how it works.  As a volunteer, you can help better understand the layout, communication system between candidate and employer, and other nuances of this process without any of the stresses associated with actually interviewing.  Trust me, when it is your turn to interview, you will be glad you volunteered in Career Central first! If you will be a candidate this year or are planning to search next year, this is a great way to network with colleagues across the country who may even be able to help you find your next position!

2.)   Attend the Opening Session and Featured Speakers
Often times national conventions bring in several featured speakers that have made a significant contribution to the field of higher education and student affairs.  Typically, there is an opening speaker, a closing speaker, and a few other speakers sprinkled in throughout the convention.  Due to travel schedules it can sometimes be difficult to get to see the speakers at the beginning and/or end of the convention, however, if it is at all possible you should really try to be there for these events.  The speakers are almost always recognized individuals who have some unique perspectives that both motivate you and challenge your thinking.  Past speakers include (but are not limited to) Mitch Albom, Al Gore,  Brené Brown, and George Stephanopoulos.  When would you ever get the chance to see individuals like these speaking directly on topics that are relevant to what you do?

In addition, the opening speaker is often part of a larger kick-off for the convention.  Think of it as kind of like a pep rally to get everyone excited about what will be happening over the coming days.  Side note – following the opening speaker, be on the lookout for hors d’oeuvres and other snacks for those of you on a tight budget!

3.)   Diversify your sessions
Take the time to thoroughly review the convention schedule and diversify which sessions you choose to attend.  Some sessions allow you to explore topics that may be helpful to your institution or are related to your passion areas in the field, while others may be more geared to individual professional development and self-reflection. Also, do not be afraid to stretch yourself a little bit and attend a session that might be out of your comfort zone.

If there are two sessions that you’d really like to attend that are being offered at the same time, chose the one that best fits your needs and follow up on the other later.  It is acceptable to contact the presenter(s) and see if they had any handouts or any takeaways from the presentation.

When attending a convention of this size, you may have a tendency to stay with your friends or colleagues and go to program sessions a group.  Try to avoid this practice – instead, spread yourselves out so you can attend several different sessions at once as a collective group.  Then, when you reconnect with your colleagues later at the convention or back on campus, you can share the knowledge learned and pool your respective resources. Programs are excellent opportunities for you to learn – take advantage of them in as many ways you can!

4.)   Attend a Standing Committee or Commission open meeting
Almost every professional organization has sub-committees and commissions that work to meet the needs of the various stakeholders within and outside of the field.  Some center their work around the various identities/populations within the profession (such as LGTBQ, students with disabilities, men/males, women/females, graduate students and new professionals, etc.) while others are focused on processes, policies, or functional areas within student affairs (for example Residential Life and Housing, Career Services, and Student Involvement).   All of the standing committees and commissions hold open meetings that anyone can attend.  These meetings are a great way for you to learn more about the goals and mission of the group, what priorities they are working toward, and how you can get involved.  Many times, it is the newest members that help drive the direction of these groups – so go and let your voice be heard!

5.)   Go to some evening activities
The convention can be a whirlwind during the day, so it is tempting for you to go to bed early.  While rest is important, take note of the events that are going on each night after the presentations and interviews have ended.  Most activities will be listed in the convention program, but other events might be announced over social media, at program sessions, or at standing committee/commission meetings.  These events can range from university socials for alumni and friends to comedy shows, dance parties, and other forms of entertainment.  These activities are both informative and fun, so try not to miss what happens when the sun goes down!

6.)   Find the appropriate balance between professional and fun
For many young professionals (and a few seasoned ones) finding the balance between being professional and having a good time can be a difficult task.  Understand that the convention is a time to learn and also a chance to network and catch up with friends and colleagues.  There will be many opportunities for you to socialize on a number of levels.  Make sure you are ready for these so that you can make good choices about your level of social interaction.  Student affairs is a small field and you never know who knows whom.  This can be both good and bad, so be sure you find the appropriate balance to show others that you are fun and have a personality, but that you know how to keep things professional.

7.)   Plan your days and scope out the locations of your sessions ahead of time.
In order for you to maximize your experience, make sure you look over the convention schedule ahead of time so you know what is going on and when.  Often the program guide will be available online before the convention, and if you wish to have a printed copy, they are usually available at check-in.  Please note that the printed version is often not as up-to-date as the electronic one, so keep that in mind when planning out your schedule.  Also, in an effort to encourage sustainability, there typically are not enough printed copies of the program guide for every attendee, so be green if you can!

If you have time, familiarize yourself with the convention layout before you have to attend a session.  Some convention centers and hotels can be hard to navigate, and it would be a shame if you were late to or missed a session you really wanted to attend because you could not find the room!  Use the maps in the program handbook, online, and if you can, download the convention app (such as Guidebook) for your smart phone. Most conventions utilize this technology, and apps such as these have all of the information you will need and allow you to build your schedule so you can have it with you at all times.

8.)   Go to the Exhibitor Area and get some swag
Nearly every convention has a large area dedicated to sponsors and vendors (often referred to as Exhibitors) who are just waiting to meet you and give your free stuff.  Bring your business cards (conventions are one of the few places you actually will get to use them!) for drawings and to pass out to colleagues you may meet.  The exhibitor area also has several book displays where you can get free and/or reduced rates on current and seminal books in the field.  You may want to bring a bag with you, as it is likely you’ll walk away with some new pens, stress balls, t-shirts, and other free knick-knacks and swag.

9.)   Experience the Convention Location!
While it is important to attend sessions, network, and develop professionally, it is equally valuable that you also take advantage of the location of the convention.  Often, national conventions are in places that you may never been, so why not explore what the area has to offer both culturally and entertainment-wise?  If you are in New Orleans, check out Bourbon Street. While you are in San Francisco, take time to visit Alcatraz.  If the convention is in Atlanta, why not visit the home of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. or the Coca-Cola Museum?  Sometimes the convention will provide a list of some opportunities to visit local landmarks, but even if they do not, make sure you get out and see what the convention host city has to offer.

10.)  Embrace and Utilize Technology
Get on the technology train!  Learning new ways to engage with technology can help you become a better professional.  Whether it is by following the Convention Blog, connecting via social media such as Twitter and Facebook, or attending Pecha Kucha sessions, conventions offer an opportunity to explore our profession in new and innovative ways. Taking part in live tweets and back channel discussions during the opening and closing sessions or while attending individual programs can be an incredible opportunity to enhance your convention experience, as it provides a more reflective and participative way for everyone to connect and learn.  Similarly, the Pecha Kucha presentations offer a new element to the traditional convention program format, as they allow participants to see a number of speakers and topics in short (6 minutes, 40 seconds) sessions.  Be sure to check them out if you have not yet done so – I am sure you will have the time!

Finally, connecting to the convention via social media not only expands your network, it can give you the inside scoop on upcoming special events, awesome promotions, and convention give-aways. Be forward-thinking and have some fun at the same time.

These are just a few of the tips and recommendations I have for you to maximize your experience at a national convention.  As with anything, your experience will be what you make it – just be sure you do not forget all you learn at convention when you return back to campus!

Dr. Jason Laker SCGSNP Faculty in Residence
My colleague, Dr. Dan Calhoun and I are serving as the 2014-15 SCGNP Faculty-in-Residence.  We are looking forward to seeing our early career colleagues in Tampa.  Dr. Calhoun shared his thoughts and advice about the value of attending and actively participating in the national conference (of course, his good advice is equally applicable to regional and state conferences too).  As I prepare to attend my 22nd annual ACPA conference (That seems bizarre to me…just yesterday I was a Hall Director attending my first one, but I digress), I fully concur with what he shared and my experience over the past two decades resonates.  I remember my first ACPA (1993) and rooming with a friend at a rather ratty motel far off sight and renting a tiny clown car to get to the convention center.  I recall being intimidated by the sea of people who seemed to know their way around the conference and association.  However, attending sessions, volunteering, showing up to Standing Committee and Commission meetings, and the various things Dr. Calhoun recommends did indeed help me ground myself into the situation effectively.  In short, he’s right, and you should listen to him!

I’d like to add to Dr. Calhoun’s advice by suggesting ways to get and give the most to your ACPA membership and a conference experience from a long-term perspective.  In one sense, I’m talking about networking and career planning, but I want to approach this topic in a way that specifically avoids the frenzied connotations associated with these words.  Very often, especially at the beginning of our careers, we get into a habit of trying to meet people who hold advanced positions in the field, in the hope that they can help with our own advancement aspirations.  Similarly, we often join committees and other activities motivated by how it may look on our résumés.  These habits are understandable, but short sighted.  This approach is superficial and uninspiring, fostering primarily instrumental relationships between colleagues and with our work.  I am advocating for a more ambitious and inspiring approach to our career and professional relationships.  Put simply, we should take the time and care to meet as many people as possible because it’s fun to make friends, and we should join or participate in activities because they are interesting and meaningful.  This may seem obvious, but I confess to pursuing the former approach for several years before finally realizing that it was a grind I no longer cared to continue.

Those who know me are aware of my fondness for the book, “The Godfather” by Mario Puzo.  Before you get worried, let me say that the thing I most appreciate about the protagonist, Don Vito Corleone, is that even as a young person, when he was a new immigrant to the U.S., he always believed in friendship.  He made friends with many people regardless of their eminence or financial status.  His long-sighted vision convinced him that if one concentrates on helping others and building relationships, that there will always be opportunities or people to help you out of a pickle in the future.  Obviously that book includes more, shall we say “heavy-handed” elements too, but the wisdom associated with being reasonable and relational offers countless dividends.  I have needed partners for collaborative projects, advice on solving conflicts, help with job searches, and referrals for activities such as consulting and writing over the years, and I have been very fortunate to have so many good people—friends and colleagues—available to help when needed.  Similarly, I have found a lot of joy and satisfaction in offering mentoring and political analysis to others, and working with an enormous diversity of people on various professional activities.

So, making an intentional choice to participate in activities simply because we find them engaging, something significant happens.  I was on that treadmill of trying to make sure certain boxes were checked in my experiences, based on my perception of what would look good on résumés or in job interviews.  Once I deliberately focused on activities just because they were fun and interesting, it turned out that my résumé grew faster.  The reason is very simple.  When we approach projects, committees, etc. this way, we tend to exude genuine enthusiasm, show up on time and prepared, and in general give our collaborators a great experience of us.  Then, when they all go off onto other projects and need to recruit help, they tend to think of us as great prospects.  Our reputation as solid and positive colleagues gets around, and I found that I had many more opportunities than I could possibly pursue.  And, with this came the calm confidence to say no to things, which produced better balance and support for

Despite the common experience of feeling lost in the sea of conference attendees, the fact is that our field is actually quite small.  The longer we work in Student Affairs, the more connected we are with others.  For example, immediate past president of ACPA, Dr. Kathleen Kerr and I worked together at the University of Delaware in the mid-90s.  Dr. Keith Humphrey, ACPA President in 2012-13 was a Hall Director when he and I worked together at the University of Arizona in the late 90s.  At that time, Greg Roberts, former ACPA Executive Director, was the VPSA at the University of Saint Thomas and President of ACPA.  I had the pleasure of serving on his Executive Committee from 1999-2000.  As you prepare to go to the conference in Tampa, I urge you to give yourself permission to be social without agenda.  Attend open business meetings of Commissions and Standing Committees, go to sessions on topics that you don’t have much experience in, and approach fellow attendees to ask if you can join them for coffee, lunch, a chat, or whatever.  I adopted many mentors this way, and learned a lot of things that would have been hidden from me if I just focused on my résumé.  Now, more than 20 years into my career, I feel very comfortable in, and familiar with our field, and definitely very connected and surrounded by friends.  I invite you to get off the résumé treadmill and enjoy fellow conference attendees regardless of what title or school is listed on their name badges, and get serious about having fun in the field.


If you have any other questions or want additional advice, please be sure to contact either of the CGSNP Faculty in Residence at the addresses below:

Dr. Dan Calhoun: @calhoundan OR
Dr. Jason Laker: @jasonlakertweet OR

Incorporating Entrepreneurship into Higher Education | Jean Enock Denis

Never has it been more important to help our students reach their full potential while we have them in front of us! Entrepreneurship is a great asset HESA professionals can utilize in our work to make valuable to our students. How are you incorporating entrepreneurship into your time with your students? How can entrepreneurship be utilized better by us professionals? Do you have a side hustle that you’d like to share with our profession? Leave your business in the comments! -Michelle

This piece is written by Jean Enock Denis of Florida Atlantic University

Students are enrolled into colleges and universities to gain knowledge that will allow them to successfully secure employment after graduation. Increasingly, employers are seeking employees who are ready to bring new ideas to the workplace. Therefore, today’s college graduates need to be nimble, flexible, and lifelong learners. Teaching students about entrepreneurship is one way to prepare students to be successful candidates for employment. The Kauffman Foundation defines entrepreneurship as, “the transformation of an innovation into a sustainable enterprise that generates value” (Kauffman Foundation, 2007, p. 4). Higher education can help students prepare to lead, disrupt, and innovate throughout their careers by teaching them the principles of entrepreneurship. The purpose of this article is to explore how student affairs professionals can help to incorporate entrepreneurship into higher education.

Entrepreneurship in Higher Education

Student affairs professionals may introduce entrepreneurship into higher education by segmenting the Kauffman Foundation’s definition of entrepreneurship into a three-step framework: innovation, sustainable enterprise/practicality, and value. (Kauffman Foundation, 2007).


Innovation requires critical and creative thinking. Students involved in leadership positions on campus can practice being innovative through the programs that they develop. Student affairs professionals can challenge students to not just repeat the same program over and over in the name of tradition. Instead, they can be challenged by student affairs professionals to think bigger and bolder by asking students questions like, “If you were charged with completely overhauling this annual event, what would you do differently?”

Sustainable Enterprise/Practicality

Students should be encouraged to analyze the sustainability and creativity of solutions to the problems they encounter. Great entrepreneurs, like Steve Jobs, design products that are complex, yet are presented in a simple and elegant way. Students would learn how to formulate practical solutions. Moreover, solutions must be sustainable. For instance, after the students have come with the innovative way to do the event the student affairs professionals would ask questions such as “how do we deliver this innovative event in a simple and elegant way?” or “how do we create a system that allows us to constantly improve our offerings?”

Generating Value

Entrepreneurship is almost always the result of the search for solutions for the greater good, utilitarianism. Whether it is for a department, a school, a company or a specific industry. Students should be encouraged to analyze the value their solutions will generate.  For example, in planning an event for a campus club, students need to carefully consider what added value this event might bring to members of the club and to the campus. Would this event leave a better image and impression of the club once it is over? Would this event promote the mission and values of the club? Would this event encourage more support for the club?


Training in entrepreneurship is an invaluable tool for college graduates to have as they seek employment. Student affairs professionals are in a unique position to prepare innovators, entrepreneurs, and problem solvers by teaching them the principles of entrepreneurship. The ultimate goal is to help students develop the entrepreneurial mindset that gives them a competitive edge, not only for seeking employment but for their entire professional career.


Kauffman Foundation. (2007). Entrepreneurship in American higher education. Kansas City,

MO: Carl J. Schramm.