From the President: Convention Address

From the President: Convention Address

Kathleen Kerr
ACPA President
University of Delaware

Hello ACPA-College Student Educators International and happy summer. This is my first opportunity to contribute to Developments as ACPA President so I’ve decided to share with you an edited version of my Presidential Address, delivered at the ACPA Annual Business Meeting in Las Vegas in March. It’s a speech that I spent my entire Vice Presidential year considering, as it articulates my view of the Association, and where I believe we should go in the next 10 years, when we will turn 100 years old. The full address can be found on the ACPA website.

Presidential Address

I’ve learned a lot this year, serving as ACPA Vice President. I was determined to learn the Association’s history, study our current state of being, and ponder what is next for us. In this column, I will share with you some of my insights about our past, our present, and our future.

Along the way though, I also learned that in Wisconsin, you serve milk with every meal; in Minnesota there is no cold weather, just bad clothing choices; in North Carolina, you’ll find an airport with the best rocking chairs; and in New Jersey, the innovative spirit is alive and well. I learned that Wi-Fi on a plane is a godsend and parenting by text message can be quite effective. I also learned that Hawaiian sunsets can only be matched by Hawaiian sunrises, and it is worth the early hours, and good for the soul to make sure you are sitting on the edge of the ocean to see as many sunsets and sunrises as you possibly can. Wisdom.

I’ll never forget when I was in my second year of graduate school at Indiana University; I was talking to my father about my impending job search. At the time, he was the Dean of Students at Ocean County College in Toms River, New Jersey (yes, I am one of the few people who has a parent who has understood for my entire career what I do for a living). He offered me three pieces of advice:

  1. Never forget your foundational training in counseling and use it in every setting possible.
  2. Remember there are more than two sides to every story, more like 5 or 6 sides.
  3. Pick your battles wisely and decide first if it’s a penny fight, a nickel fight, a dime fight, or if it’s worth a quarter.

Advice shared with me by a man who was mentored by Betty Greenleaf and Bob Shaffer (two student affairs pioneers). Those words have served me well for almost a quarter of a century. Wisdom.

As we turn 90, we must look forward. David Starr Jordan, an educator, peace activist, and past President of my alma mater, Indiana University, once said, “Wisdom is knowing what to do next; virtue is doing it.” So we need to ask ourselves some very important questions: What will we accomplish before we turn 100? How will we be leaders in higher education in the 21st century? How are we determined to distinguish ourselves? How will we make thoughtful and intentional choices to move forward in ways that allow us to be both knowledgeable in our old age, and virtuous? Wisdom.

Let me be clear. The responsibility to articulate a vision for our future does not rest in my hands. As I was thinking about our future, I spent a lot of time thinking about the ACPA 2013 to 2016 Strategic Plan, approved by the Governing Board in September 2012. It resonates with the voices of our members, with your voice. Authored by the Governing Board and International Office staff, but only after we hosted dozens of meet ups, we collected input via the membership survey, and we spoke with past ACPA Presidents. The Strategic Plan was then vetted by our assembly and entity group leaders, and modified once again. It reflects this Association’s current collective wisdom.

The six strategic priority areas reflected in it will sound familiar to you:

  • Career Development;
  • Professional Development;
  • Leadership in Higher Education;
  • Social Justice;
  • Research & Scholarship; and
  • Association Performance and Excellence.

They are familiar because they are foundational to who we have been, who we are, and who we will continue to be. They are strategic because within the plan we have articulated goals and strategies that are innovative, brave, and exciting. These steps will expand and enhance the strength of the Association, help us to better meet member needs & better serve students on our campuses.

Some work is already underway.

This winter, the ACPA Innovation Advocate selected Innovation Team members and together they have identified the first recipients of ACPA Innovation Grants, intended to support projects that are innovative, improve the effectiveness of ACPA, and support its strategic goals and objectives.

At this convention, we have launched the ACPA Involvement Team (ITeam) to increase member involvement in the Association.

We have launched a Policy Advocacy Task Force to quarterly review salient issues in higher education and student affairs, and identify strategies for ACPA policy advocacy and leadership.

Hopefully many of you had the opportunity to participate in conversations in Las Vegas about the progress of the Credentialing Implementation Team. This group is preparing to launch a pilot Registry that allows participants to monitor and reflect upon their professional development and will decide on next steps for this project in the coming months.

The ACPA Sustainability Advisory Committee has been revitalized and will promote and support sustainability education and sustainable policies and practices throughout the entire Association.

Utilizing technology, we have expanded a mentorship program in which relationships are formed and focus on professional and career enhancement via #SAGrow.

But there is much more that we must do:

  • We must find better ways to connect with our international colleagues and be better prepared to serve the international students on our own campuses.
  • In light of the increasing challenges many of us face on our campuses around student mental health issues and certainly in light of the national debate around gun control and mental health, we must provide leadership and education to our members in this area and we will utilize this year’s ACPA Think Tank to do so.
  • Before we are reacting to it, we must consider the implications of what has become the omnipresent opportunity for online learning.
  • We must reinvent our annual convention and other professional development offerings so that they are educationally inspiring, energizing, and distinct. We will offer you that in Indianapolis in 2014. For those of you in the Mid-Atlantic Region, I invite you to join us for an institute we are calling “ACPA Vision Day 2013,” which will take place on the University of Delaware’s campus in October, at which we will explore issues of leadership and innovation in higher education in the 21st century.
  • We must create vital, accessible, and affordable professional development opportunities connected to our professional competencies for all levels of experience and articulate pathways for member professional and career enhancement.
  • Since faculty members are a critical constituency within the association both as professionals with substantial knowledge and skills to contribute in the areas of research and scholarship and as mentors to the next generation of student affairs professionals, we must continue to find exciting ways to engage and support our faculty colleagues.
  • We must partner with other Associations in order to enhance the professional development options for our members and to broaden our leadership platform.

We must do these things, and we will do these things, not because these are my Presidential initiatives; they are not. We will do them because our 90 years have brought us to a place where we understand their importance, and we understand our obligation and ability to lead. Amazingly, my father’s advice from 23 years ago applies to us as an Association as much as it did to me in graduate school. We must move forward remembering our foundation; we must remember to always consider multiple perspectives; and we must choose our battles wisely. Our new strategic plan does this. Wisdom.

As George Bernard Shaw said, “We are made wise not by the recollection of our past, but by the responsibility for our future.”

It is fitting that 90 is the granite anniversary. Granite: solid, valuable, beautiful. But we must not confuse our solid foundation with rigidity, staleness, or an inability to be nimble or innovative.

In fact, having a solid foundation, knowing our core values – that we are committed to research and scholarship, professional development, social justice, equity, inclusion, member involvement, career development, and quality member services and experiences – this allows us a sort of freedom. It allows us to reinvent ourselves on top of that foundation. Reinvent our convention; reinvent our professional development; reinvent our place in higher education.

There is a poem about the freedom that comes with age, “Warning,” by Jenny Joseph. It starts like this, “When I am an old woman I shall wear purple. With a red hat which doesn’t go, and doesn’t suit me. And I shall spend my pension on brandy and summer gloves. And satin sandals…”

This poem is about the confidence that comes from knowing who you are and your place in the world. Knowing what to care about, what to attend to, and what to leave behind. It’s about wisdom. 90 years old. This is our opportunity to wear more purple. To innovate and to reinvent ourselves. We are granite, we are wise, we are ACPA.

Please e-mail inquiries to Kathleen Kerr .

Follow Kathleen on Twitter @acpaprez

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