As we approach the 2023 ACPA Convention and begin celebrating 100 years of the organization, we have a chance to engage in reflection across all areas. This reflective practice is helpful not only for those who engage in the practice but for the ACPA membership as a whole. We can use the experiences and insights of our colleagues to look for the future. It is in this vein that we offer this article. As three interns for the past three ACPA Presidents, we reflected on shared questions. Our hope is that this will give insight into our experiences and, more importantly, give insight as we all look to the future. Whether you are thinking of applying to be a Presidential Intern, thinking of running for ACPA President and considering how you might offer opportunities to your interns, interested in this aspect of ACPA’s leadership, or something else, we hope you will find this article helpful.
Wayne Glass was a Presidential Intern with Vernon Wall who was ACPA President, 2020-2021
Rachel Clark was Presidential Intern for Danielle Morgan Acosta, ACPA President, 2021-2022
Abi Case is a Presidential Intern for current ACPA President Andrea D. Domingue, 2022-2023
How and why did you first get involved with ACPA?
Wayne Glass: My journey with ACPA began while I was a graduate student at Iowa State University from 2013-2015, with my first “exposure” to ACPA being around the Fall of 2013. I recall reading Learning Reconsidered One and Two as a part of my introduction to the Student Affairs Graduate Program, with ACPA being mentioned. Prior to moving forward, it is important to note I “grew up” with NASPA and became a member in 2010 or 2011 as a NASPA Undergraduate Fellow (NUFP). Thus, I was actively involved in Student Affairs Organizations before going into Student Affairs professionally.
My first co-curricular experience with ACPA was joining the ‘Standing Committee for Graduate Students and New Professionals’ (now known as the Graduate Students and New Professionals Community of Practice (GSNPCOP) as an Ambassador in Spring of 2014. The Ambassador role served as a gateway to a plethora of experiences with ACPA (e.g., Convention Planning Team, Coalition Directorate Leadership, etc.). In essence, I was (and still am) passionate about positively contributing to the human experience. I also wanted to “pay it forward” to those will come after me.
On a more “superficial” level, I love making new friends and colleagues, and wanted to build a community within an organization that ended up meaning more to me than I would have ever anticipated.
Rachel Clark: During my first semester of pursuing a Master of Education in Counselor Education – Student Affairs, I was looking for involvement opportunities outside of my graduate assistantship at Clemson University. I remember debating options on Clemson’s campus and through my graduate program and promised myself that I wouldn’t say yes to opportunities just to fill my schedule and add to my resume. I would only give my time to an opportunity that aligned with my professional goals and values.
Through the recommendation of a trusted mentor and friend, I found out about the Presidential Intern position for APCA’s then Vice President, Danielle Morgan Acosta. I knew of national level organizations in the higher education field as an undergraduate but didn’t have any experience or real knowledge of what an organization like this looked like, operated, or stood for. My introduction to ACPA happened through an information session, conversations with my mentor, and an interview with Danielle. I quickly realized this was an organization and a role that aligned with my personal goals of advancing my own professional development, learning more about current outreach, advocacy, and research within higher education, and improving upon my leadership skills and knowledge of ACPA and higher education as a field.
Abi Case: When I came to grad school, I had little knowledge about basically everything in student affairs, so I was unfamiliar with ACPA until I came here (to Clemson). I heard about ACPA in one of the first few weeks of my master’s program last fall. A faculty member (the Dr. Tony Cawthon) told us about several student affairs organizations, and since I wasn’t entirely certain which functional area I most hoped to pursue post-graduation, the fact that ACPA was an all-areas-of-student-affairs generalist association intrigued me. I’m pretty sure I tell this to everyone, so this is no secret: I was convinced I wanted to go to convention and get involved with ACPA when I found out they had a drag show during the conference.
How did you learn about the ACPA Presidential Intern opportunity?
Wayne: Past President, Donna Lee and Past ACPA Presidential Intern, Da’Shaun Scott are the reasons I initially applied to serve as one of the Presidential Interns. I genuinely love and value both of their spirits, and wanted to recreate the same experience for Vice President, Vernon Wall.
Rachel: The ACPA Presidential Intern opportunity was actually one that found me. Joshua Leidy, a current mentor and friend of mine from the University of Virginia, who then was serving as one of Vernon Wall’s Presidential Interns, sent me a personal email with the position description. He invited me to join in on the information session he was co-hosting with Wayne Glass, Vernon’s other Presidential Intern. I couldn’t say no and here I am today, a testament to the power of personal invitation and encouragement.
Abi: I may have seen something on social media, and knowing myself, I’m sure I thought it didn’t apply to me—that self-doubt or imposter syndrome, of like, “I wouldn’t get that; great opportunities aren’t for me.” But then one of my professors, Dr. Rachel Wagner (we really have the best faculty here at Clemson!), actually came up to me at the ACPA convention this past spring (2022), and, now I’m paraphrasing here, but she basically said “Hey, I think you should consider applying for the presidential assistant role. The next ACPA president, Dre, is one of my homies from grad school. I think you’d like her.” Which couldn’t be truer—I’ve loved Dre!
How did you go about putting together application materials for the position?
Wayne: Writing and public speaking are skills I have loved throughout my personal and professional life. Thus, from what I recall, I spoke from the heart and integrated my years of graduate, professional, and ACPA experience throughout my Application Materials. I was in my third year of working full-time in Student Affairs when I began my Presidential Intern journey, with five years of experience working with ACPA. Therefore, I felt I had a lot of knowledge, experience, and skills to positively contribute to the position and Vice President/President/Past President, Vernon Wall.
Rachel: My timeline to put together applications materials was quick. The deadline to apply for the position was only a few days after the information session I attended. I devoted an evening to writing up my responses to the application and dove into ACPA’s website to learn more about its mission, values, and Strategic Imperative for Racial Justice and Decolonization. Josh and my graduate program advisor, THE Dr. Michelle Boettcher, kindly offered feedback on my resume. I’m still not sure how, but everything managed to be turned in on-time.
Abi: With a hope and a prayer! Just kidding. Surprisingly, the application process wasn’t too stressful. I think I submitted a resume and maybe something else that I have since forgotten. Then, I was required to respond to four questions about the position and myself. In line with the position description, I did try to highlight relevant experiences on my resume. As for answering the specific questions, as cliché as this sounds, I took a few days to review the position description, think through what positive and challenging experiences in student affairs I’d had thus far, skills I have and skills I wanted to cultivate, and what motivates me in this field. I wrote and rewrote my responses multiple times in a word document (always save responses in a different place so you don’t accidentally submit incomplete applications too soon!), and finally, I asked a trusted friend to review before applying.
What did you hope to learn through this experience?
Wayne: I wanted to learn more about what the Governing Board and Finance Committee did/does. These were entities I had only heard about but did not understand what actual contributions they made to ACPA and the membership.
The older I get and the more experience I acquire, I have found my level of organization and structured work ethic has only enhanced. As a result, I hope to bring these skills into working with Vernon’s network, organizing his schedule in-and-out of Convention, planning large scale professional development opportunities for ACPA’s membership, and communicating with various constituents that (in)directly impact Vernon’s three-year reign.
Rachel: Thinking back to my mindset when I applied for this role, I hoped to achieve three simple objectives. One, gain exposure and hands-on experience in a professional student affairs environment. Two, improve my strategic management and social media skills. Three, learn more about ACPA as a working member of the Association. I firmly believed, and still believe, in the benefits of experiential learning and I wanted to take advantage of opportunities in the different professional competency areas, as well as supportive network connections, that this work offered. I also wanted to improve upon my foundational skills of coordination, scheduling, and managing social media within the context of a professional organization. Lastly, I saw the Presidential Intern position as one where I would be positively challenged in my own knowledge and skills to grow as a college student affairs professional within ACPA and higher education.
Abi: I most hoped to learn more about the history of student affairs as a profession and ACPA’s role in that history. Since my road to this career is fairly nontraditional and I am so new to the field, I am just in this place of constantly wanting to grow and learn as much as I can. Additionally, I have super smart professors who keep reminding us in our master’s program to build our student affairs competencies through various opportunities. So, the competencies in which I hoped to build fuller comprehension were “Law, Policy, and Governance” and “Leadership.” Sitting in on governing board sessions and other meetings as a Presidential Assistant has definitely opened my eyes to the intricacies of organizational governance and what radically inclusive, service-oriented leadership can look like.
What have been some of your key experiences in this role?
Wayne: Working with Joshua (Josh) Leidy as a Co-Presidential Intern, navigating a Convention right before the pandemic shut the world down, managing a virtual Convention during the heat of the pandemic, and planning, organizing, and coordinating the 2020-2021 President2President Series.
Josh Leidy is, by far, one of the best humans I have ever had the privilege of working with. We were there to support one another throughout the three years we navigated the Presidential Intern role, and I never would have imagined a close friendship coming to fruition from this experience. Additionally, the President2President Series provided me/us an opportunity to work with college Presidents and Chancellors around the United States to construct Webinar Opportunities for ACPA’s Membership. This project provided me structure and something to work on while I was navigating six months of unemployment due to the pandemic.
Rachel: For the past two and a half years in this role, I had the privilege of attending, observing, and serving as an extra set of eyes and ears at ACPA Governing Board, Strategic Planning, Bylaws, and Audit and Finance meetings. Running the @acpaprez social media accounts and having the opportunity to offer perspective and insight on matters that Danielle brought to me and my two other Presidential Interns, Valerie Olivares and Gaurav Harshe, strengthened my social media skills and improved my knowledge of and confidence in broader higher education matters.
However, working as a Presidential Intern at ACPA22, with Danielle serving as ACPA’s then current President, was by far the most professionally and personally significant experience I’ve held in this role. With ACPA21 being held virtually, I experienced my first ACPA Convention through a computer screen. Being physically present in St. Louis, MO allowed for far greater engagement and connection with my team, Danielle, the Governing Board, and other ACPA leadership, as well as Convention volunteers and attendees. Simultaneously serving as an assistant, coordinator, and representative for Danielle enabled me to witness events and conversations that I wouldn’t have access to as a general attendee, and uniquely network with other higher education professionals. It was incredible exposure to several facets of the ACPA community, and just a whole lot of chaotic fun!
Abi: Several experiences come to mind. I mean, I haven’t even completed a full year in the position, and I’ve already gotten so much out of it! One of the most exciting things I have been a part of is Dre’s Presidential Task Force on 21st Century Employment in Higher Education. We met together as a task force at NC State back in July 2022 to deliberate and craft ideas for the next directions of our work. That work culminated in the Report on 21st Century Employment in Higher Education which was sent out to members toward the end of November 2022. Another great experience was the Presidential Symposium with our ACPA President, Dre, and the President of ASHE, Dr. Joy Gaston Gayles. The other president assistant and I got to participate and live tweet the event. (Speaking of the other president assistant, let me take this moment to shout out Mattea Carveiro, a literal dream of a person!) Along with Dr. Domingue and Dr. Gaston Gayles, the symposium discussion included Dr. Wilson Okello and Dr. Joan Collier as well, and as we live-tweeted, we practically quoted them every few minutes—so much wisdom and power from these four wonderful folks!
What will you take away from this opportunity?
Wayne: I have learned that, if the opportunity presented itself, I would sincerely thrive as a Personal Assistant; in-and-out of higher education. I genuinely love working with humans (most of the time), creating spreadsheets, responding to emails, scheduling people, and managing another person’s professional life.
I appreciated the opportunity to work with a plethora of professionals who have holistically invested their lives in assuring ACPA operates as effectively as possible. There are so many moving pieces to the organization that folks are unaware of and being able to “see behind the curtain” was a gift.
While we were unable to attend Long Beach for ACPA 2021, I appreciated the opportunity to navigate a site visit and work with a fierce group of humans affiliated with the ACPA 2020 Convention Steering Team.
The tornadoes in Nashville during ACPA 2020 will never be forgotten.
Rachel: As ACPA23 and the end of Danielle’s presidency approaches, my decision to join ACPA as a first-semester graduate student was beyond worthwhile. Similar to what I hoped to gain from this experience, I have three simple takeaways. One, higher education is complicated – individual and localized experiences are just as important as global ones. Two, massive professional and personal growth happens in this role. Three, there are an inspiring number of brilliant minds devoting time, energy, and thought to the most complex issues facing our field and I am privileged to have witnessed their work in action.
Abi: I recognize I am very new to the field, but even so, there are times when I get caught up in the narrow focus of my singular institution and think: “Look at all of the problems our students are facing; that our profession is facing. When will things change? Are they ever going to change?” It can be really defeating. Having the opportunity to work so intimately within ACPA and witness the advocacy, empathy, and changework that members put into the association as well as on their own campuses sustains my excitement for pursuing a student affairs career. Students and my fellow professionals reinvigorate my spirit and renew my tenacity to keep pushing for vital, liberatory changes in higher education.
Do you recommend others consider this role? Why or why not?
Wayne: Absolutely. I would recommend any graduate student and/or professional to serve in the role. You will likely gain skills and experiences that your Graduate Assistantship and/or full-time role will not be able to offer. Plus, it was a lot of fun, and we are able to meet thousands of individuals throughout the field of Student Affairs.
Being involved in “something larger than myself” is how I have navigated my entire life. Therefore, I think being able to put your “stamp” on an experience and person’s life is liberating.
Rachel: Absolutely! I’d highly recommend a position like this to higher education professionals. From my perspective, it is slightly better suited to those who are at an earlier point in their careers due to the amount of professional exposure and knowledge you gain through the role, as well as when responsibilities peak during certain times of the year, i.e. ACPA Convention. However, the perspective and insight of those farther along in their careers would greatly benefit the role’s responsibilities. The overall time commitment ebbs and flows, where some weeks are busier with meetings and duties than others, but is very manageable while earning a degree, working an assistantship with a practicum, etc. Plus, the introductions and connections can’t be beat.
Abi: 100%. Can’t recommend enough. Why? See all other responses. 😊 But to answer this question and in summary of what else I’ve said, this role is a phenomenal opportunity for graduate students and new professionals to learn more about student affairs, historical and current issues, organizational governance, law and policy, and service/leadership work in the field, among many other areas in which I’ve gained deeper knowledge. Apart from the great learning experience, my favorite thing about being involved in ACPA is that I’ve met some of the most dynamic, passionate, truly amazing people. I love them dearly. You’re connecting with folks who are similar to you as fellow student affairs professionals, but they offer such valuable, interesting perspectives because you’re all at different institutions across the nation (sometimes across the world). If nothing else, I recommend this role for the community you will develop.
What other volunteer experiences with ACPA or other organization would you recommend for graduate students?
Wayne: There are so many. Definitely Graduate Students and New Professionals Community of Practice (GSNPCOP). I also recommend the Coalition for Sexuality and Gender Identities (CSGI), submitting a Convention Proposal/physically attending Convention – if you are able, finding ways to get involved with ‘NextGen’, and attending Webinars listed in the ‘eCommunity’ Newsletter. You get out what you put in to ACPA. However, please do not feel morally obligated to do everything. Find “something” that speaks to your soul and stick with it if it continues to serve you.
Rachel: I would recommend ACPA’s Graduate Students and New Professionals Community of Practice. They’re a fantastic way for those pursuing Masters degrees and/or newer to the higher education field to get involved with varying levels of investment. You have the autonomy to decide how involved you’d like to be. It’s also a useful channel for meeting other individuals across the country with similar interests. The higher education world is a small one, and the more genuine connections you can make, the better.
Though I personally didn’t get involved with these opportunities, I would also recommend looking into regional ACPA and NASPA groups. These tend to be smaller in size, making them slightly more accessible to form connections and find out about professional development opportunities. Additionally, I have to plug [email protected]! ACPA24 Convention in Chicago, IL will be an honoring and celebration of 100 years of ACPA leadership in and service to the higher education and student affairs community. As a current volunteer of the Convention Experiences planning committee, I would highly, highly recommend if you’re able to volunteer in some capacity with this event in a little over a year.
Abi: My inclination is to not actually offer any specific volunteer experiences (with the exception of the presidential role, and I have not personally been involved but have heard wonderful things about the “Graduate Students and New Professional Community of Practice, or GSNPCOP, and their Ambassador Program—check them out!). We each have different identities, different backgrounds, different areas of interest or skill, or work in different departments and institutional types, so the experiences I’ve enjoyed within ACPA may not be the same experiences readers are looking to join. Instead, I would simply suggest searching ACPA (or other organizations) for volunteer and professional development opportunities that spark life for you personally—whether it’s about functional area, shared identities, community of practice, or a particular passion project. I think wherever you find involvement, you’ll also find an amazing, supportive community committed to doing invaluable, transformative work in student affairs.
Any other thoughts, suggestions, insights, or words of wisdom?
Wayne: ACPA should be an organization for the people, by the people. Thus, be the person you want, need, and/or desire to see in Higher Education and Student Affairs. Ask questions; reach out; make connections; learn as much as you can about as much as you can; always strive to be better to do better.
Rachel: Remember that your journey is your own. Find community where you can. Join what fulfills you. Invest where you feel called. At the end of the day, recommendations are just that: recommendations. However, it’s just as important to surround yourself with good people who will think of you, support you, and advocate for you in your professional career. If you need encouragement or gentle push in a certain direction, these will be the people you can rely upon.
Abi: One of the greatest lessons I’ve learned from applying for and serving in this position is that even if doubts creep in that something is not for you and you don’t belong, it is for you. You do belong. You don’t have to gatekeep yourself. You can do hard things! And look, I’m stealing this directly from RuPaul’s Drag Race, but:
- Your inner saboteur is loud, but it is not accurate, and
- “If you can’t love yourself, how in the hell you gonna love somebody else?”
Wayne Glass (he/him) is an alum of the University of West Florida and Iowa State University. He has worked in housing at Macalester College and the Julliard School and is currently a Mental Health Counseling graduate student at Teachers College, Columbia University.
Rachel Clark (she/her) is an alum of the University of Virginia and Clemson University. She currently works as a Student Engagement Coordinator at the Georgia Tech Alumni Association.
Abigail Case (she/her) is a second-year graduate student in the Masters of Education in Student Affairs program at Clemson University. She currently serves as the Graduate Assistant for Transfer Student Engagement and Transitions within the Department of Undergraduate Studies.