Northwest Association of College & University Housing Officers

The Impact of ACUHO-I

By Auburn Phillips

As a new professional in the field of Housing and Residence Life, the prospect of attending the 2017 ACUHO-I Annual Conference and Exposition out East was both exciting and a bit nerve-wracking. After all, the last time I attended a conference of this scale, I was a grad student at a United Nations conference in New York and was actually pushed out of the way by someone more important than I. In addition, another grad student responded to my revelation that I was from the University of Lethbridge with a condescending, “Oh. Well. I’m from Harvard.”

Now I was going to be in very close proximity to Harvard. And Brown. And Yale. So I wondered if being from a Canadian University (and not even one of the big ones) might again factor negatively into my experience. Nevertheless, I was eagerly anticipating all of the learning opportunities that no doubt lay in front of me. The fact that I had been awarded NWACUHO’s New Professional Scholarship took some financial strain off my department so I was feeling good about being able to attend something of this calibre and I wasn’t going to let the intimidation factor stop me from getting the most out of the experience.

I quickly discovered that the “intimidation factor” was nonexistent. After connecting with a familiar face from my home province, our first interaction was an incredibly warm welcome and chat with two folks who were excited to learn more about where we were from and reminisce about their positive experiences touring in the Canadian Rockies.  After a very enjoyable 15 minutes it became apparent that these lovely individuals were very high up the ACUHO-I chain – Deb said something about trying to prepare herself for next year, which is when I clued in that she was the ACUHO-I President Elect, and Pat somewhat ruefully admitted that he was also on the Executive Board. In retrospect this stuff was obvious but it took me a while to realize because I didn’t expect an encounter with these folks to feel so natural, unpretentious and truly pleasant.

As the conference progressed, the themes of good people, hard work, and welcome emerged for me. I attended sessions with extensive audience participation and a relaxed tone. We were learning, we were working, and we were supported and supportive in that. I attended the ACUHO-I Fun Run, Walk and Roll where we dragged our butts out of bed for the sake of health and camaraderie, but not to compete (at least not seriously!). The roundtable I attended had participants ranging from ACUHO-I’s Vice President (NWACUHO’s own Alvin Sturdivant) to an insightful undergraduate RA. I loved that Providence’s PRIDE celebrations were included in the conference – yet another sign that being welcoming, supportive and inclusive are key tenets for this area of work. I took extensive notes at numerous sessions, brought home new ideas and strategies on a variety of topics, but I benefitted most from the incredible connections and insights I garnered from simply chatting with and getting to know new people.

My favourite experience was attending a dinner hosted by exhibitor SCION, who have done some excellent work for us at ULethbridge and who extended an invitation to attend a swanky evening with the fanciest cocktails I’ve ever seen. I’d found out earlier that day that I had been shortlisted for the Associate Director of Housing position within my institution. Because I was away at the conference, this meant a video interview with my colleagues back at ULethbridge, from my hotel room in Providence. I was excited but stressed. Serendipitously, I had just attended a valuable session on Navigating Internal Promotions which was unbelievably helpful but also heightened my fear of failure in this pursuit. Now, this evening, I found myself surrounded by folks who, despite only knowing me for a couple of days, were rooting for me 100%, offering advice, encouraging me, giving insight and possibly supplying another cocktail or two. Not so very different from an RA spending a Saturday evening with a resident who needs a bit of relaxation and self-care but has an exam on Monday. The evening, and the conference as a whole, felt a bit like Residence for Grown-Up Professionals. Let’s welcome folks, work hard, help people grow, and have some fun.

Another piece that stood out was the inclusion of students in the conference. A student leader on my team, Brady, attended STARS and came to see Sarah Kay at ACUHO-I with several other STARS attendees. We connected after this inspiring keynote and he was pumped to tell me how fabulous his time at STARS had been meeting other student leaders from across North America. I am delighted that ACUHO-I ensures that these opportunities aren’t just open to professionals, but are also available for our exceptional student staff.

As I finish up, I realize I could have written about the educational opportunities – and they were numerous, very useful and highly appreciated. But these are not what made ACUHO-I stand out to me; I’ve been to conferences with excellent speakers before. But I’ve never been to one where the people were so incredibly kind, welcoming, and willing to help new professionals and students grow and feel at home. And isn’t creating home what residence is really all about?

Auburn Phillips is the Associate Director of Housing Services at the University of Lethbridge. She loves working with good people and strives to positively impact the lives of those around her. In her spare time, she enjoys animal rescue, travelling, running and hanging out with her husband and two dogs. She can be reached at auburn.phillips@uleth.ca

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