Due to COVID-19, many professional associations in student affairs have moved some, if not all, of their work online.
For anyone who has been affected by the abrupt moving of courses online — even through a layoff or furlough — professional associations can feel like life rafts that keep us connected and growing within the career area we love.
Professional associations are great resources not only for supporting SA pros but also for providing an outlet for professionals to give back. If you’ve found yourself wondering how you can give back to your colleagues, continue professional development while job searching, and get the most out of your membership within an association, this post is for you.
How do you get involved in the era of Zoom meetings and social distancing? As a new professional who has felt the urge to meet more folx in my area, develop myself professionally, and give back to the field that I care about so deeply, I’ve been there.
Here are my top tips and tricks to break the metaphorical ice and become a professional association expert.
1. Do your research
If you haven’t already, research which professional association your values align most with or is most applicable to your career aspirations.
Ask yourself these questions:
- What are the impressions I’ve gotten in the pasts from associations I’ve interacted with? Did I attend and appreciate a free webinar, enjoy what they shared on social media, or learned about something awesome an association was doing?
- Where are my colleagues, mentors, and supervisors getting involved? What are their thoughts on each association? (In a field that values connections, use your connections!)
- Is there a certain specialty area I want to work in that has a professional association? (For example, NODA for orientation pros or NACADA for academic advisors.)
- What opportunities are there for involvement? Is there a minimum amount of membership time before I can volunteer? What are the ways a new professional can get and stay involved?
- What am I looking to get out of membership? (Some associations offer mentorship, social activities, and knowledge communities that may interest you.)
- Am I looking to stay regional or go national… or even international? (There are pros and cons to each. Broader associations offer more opportunities to connect across the globe while local associations tend to offer a more tight-knit community feel.)
2. Look introspectively
Take a good look inward at your values, along with your professional strengths and opportunities for growth to help you decide where and how you would like to get involved.
Ask yourself these questions:
- What am I hoping to get out of my professional association? (Do I hope to gain friends, connect with mentors, or gain experience with conference planning?)
- What do I value and what values do I hope to see my professional association reflect? (What are large themes in my practice that I’d like my professional involvement to also share?)
- What do I bring to the table? (Am I an expert at something that may benefit an association?)
- What am I hoping to learn? (Am I hoping to gain new skills or absorb more knowledge, or both?)
I found this last question particularly helpful as a new professional. The field of student affairs is so vast and there is so much to learn. Reflecting on my goals and needs has helped me narrow down what I want to get out of my memberships without committing to too much.
3. Search, search, search!
Associations and networking groups in higher education are always looking for volunteers and providing their members with a variety of professional development opportunities.
Here are some places to begin your search:
- Explore ACPA chapters (based on state or region), ACPA task forces, ACPA communities of practice, ACPA coalitions, and ACPA commissions.
- Survey the NASPA Volunteer Central (national volunteer search database) and NASPA knowledge communities.
- Search other associations for your current or future functional areas, such as NODA, NACADA, and NACA.
- Volunteer with a national or regional conference planning committee.
- Check Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and other social media sites for professional associations’ pages.
- Facebook groups have also become very popular for volunteer and professional development opportunities including SAPros, Student Affairs Professionals with Disability, and Student Affairs Graduate Professionals.
- Keep an eye out within your own social networks for opportunities, such as writing a guest article for a blog or joining a webinar as a panelist.
4. Join and connect
Whether you take on a recurring volunteer role or tune in to a single webinar, professional development opportunities both large and small can improve your practice and your experiences in the student affairs world.
Here are a few best practices to make the most of your involvement:
- Take time to connect with others. Introduce yourself through the chat feature in a webinar, send an email to a colleague who has a board position you aspire to, and reach out about future digital conference opportunities.
- Give back to the field by contributing to webinars, posting about the field of student affairs on social media, and writing in a blog on the latest trends.
- Only commit to what you can. With there being so much to do in professional associations, try to avoid committing to more than you can juggle, considering your personal and professional obligations.
- Share your contributions. Add stories about your involvement to your resume, LinkedIn page, and other social media accounts. Show off what you’ve done and let it help you towards your future goals!
I know that getting involved in professional associations can feel daunting to new and aspiring professionals, especially while self-isolating, but doing so can help you stay connected to the field of student affairs.
With creativity, resourcefulness, and hard work, you can build confidence in yourself as a professional through your chosen association(s). You can not only give back to the community that supports you, but connect with other SA pros across the globe, find your niche within the field, and cultivate your own professional development.
How have you gotten involved with associations remotely? Connect with us on Twitter @HelloPresence.