Feels So Good to Be Back! | Holmes

written by: Aja Holmes

My first ACPA convention was in 2002, I was in my final year in my master program at Illinois State University also my first time in California. That convention was in Long Beach (or LBC according to Snoop Dog).  I stayed on the Queen Mary cause all of the other hotels were booked so ACPA extended their hotels block- yep I stayed on a ship! Since 2002, I have virtually attended every ACPA convention- pun intended.   This will be my 21th consecutive ACPA convention. So, to the Big Easy, here I come.  To be in community is exciting and scary all at the same time. With COVID, it changes so much and so fast, it makes it hard to make any solid plans.   I am not letting COVID run my life anymore.  I am excited to be in community, as I reflect on conventions, before COVID, I offer some tips to help you get ready for ACPA 23 in New Orleans.


ACPA Over the Years


I love that each ACPA convention is different and unique; from the various speakers, diverse program offerings as well as the city in which the convention is held.   I have traveled to places in the US that were not at the top of my must-see list.  On a personal note, if I have family or friends in the city where the convention is going to be held, I try and see them, even for a short visit.


When ACPA convention was in Minneapolis in 2003, I was able to visit with my mother and my extending family, she made us some food since we were all just starting in our careers, so money was tight. She made sure our hotel room was full of snacks and food to helped to make our money stretch that convention.


In 2005, in Nashville, I got to sing on the stage of the Grand Ole Opry.  OK, will not really but I did get to meet the author of Tuesdays with Morrie the sports writer, Mitch Albom, who was our opening speaker, while I was in line waiting to get my book signed, I sang on the stage.  It was great to be in such a historical place. Also, this was the first time I stayed in a Gaylord Hotel resort. I may be the only one who likes those places, it feels like I am in a biosphere, where I can walk around at night and you feel like you are walking outside, but without all the bugs.


When the Joint ACPA and NASPA conference happened in 2007, in Orlando. I just knew I had to go, it was going to be historic. Both of the leading Student Affairs Association coming together to gathering all the bright minds in one place. We heard from Al Gore and Ben Carson.  There were so many programs to choose from, shuttles to keep us cool from the Florida heat, and then there was a little magical place in Orlando where you could extend your stay and see Mickey Mouse.


I think ACPA loves Boston, because we keep going back for more and more.  In 2010, I attended the convention there, I saw the appeal with so many institutions of higher education in one area, makes for a well-attended convention.  When a city invests in the convention center and tourism, you can feel the investment. Being in New England in March, makes for a gamble on the weather, but having a convention center connected to hotels, eateries and shopping, I did not have to brave the weather at all.


In 2013, ACPA partnered with NIRRSA- National Intramural-Recreational Sports Association, in Las Vegas.  That was a fun convention, very spread out over several hotels and we got learn about recreational sports.  We got to hear from Mellissa Harry Perry, Ben Cohen and BD Wong, it was great to hear from such diverse speakers.


In 2016, ACPA went to Montreal, I served on the convention planning team and it was very eye opening as I got to peek behind the curtain to see how conventions were done.  Learned about the Canadian higher education and how we are very similar and shared new ideas each country could use to help our students.  This location was my first time actually visiting Canada. Being on a convention team is the ultimate group project- I also may be the only who likes those too.


Living in California and working for the state, they restricted travel to states with oppressive laws so I was not allowed to use my professional development for a couple of conventions but that did not stop me from attending, it may have shortened my trip but I made an appearance, got to bless the people.


I gave convention work a rest until 2019. This was a welcome back to Boston, giving love to former student affairs professional turned screenwriter and producer, Steve Canals creator of Pose on FX TV show and I had taken on more of leadership role on the convention team with convention experiences.


Then COVID came and shook the very foundation of higher education and ACPA went virtual for our 2021 convention.  We did a pivot to bring a convention like no other. We moved up deadlines to ensure that presentations were recorded and captioned.  We all know that night before ‘let me put the in final touches on my presentation’, not for the 2021 virtual convention. We had to reimagine what convention would like for our colleagues that would be attending from their offices, living rooms, or masks on in university conferences rooms.  This was the ultimate thinking outside of the box, especially how we do land acknowledgments in a virtual setting.  While in the pandemic, ACPA offered professional developments that was accessible, cost effective and virtual to keep everyone safe.


For the first in person conference, ACPA 22 was in St. Louis. As we eased cautiously out of the pandemic, we realize that masks will be part of our life for the foreseeable future. ACPA 22 had a mask mandate to attend the conference. So, I made sure I coordinated my mask with my outfit or seasonal holiday.  There was lots of elbow rubbing the first couple of days till you see someone just opens their arms and throws caution to the wind for a good ole embrace and a release of endorphins.


I start packing for APCA in New Orleans in January!  Yep, I had to make sure I have the right clothes for a convention in the Big Easy where the weather changes and gets warmer throughout the day.  My mind keeps going back to seeing everyone in person, being in community with colleagues.  As we head to New Orleans, I want to share some tips that I have learned over the 21 years of convention attendance.


  • Let’s get Coffee/Tea
    • You hear this all the time while at Convention, sometime it doesn’t come to fruition due to being booked and busy. So, do find the time to meet with a colleague or reunite with an old classmate, we all need connection right now.
  • Be a Tourist
    • Get out and see one tourist thing in the city you are visiting or eat at restaurant that is local and has great reviews.
  • Business Cards
    • Those are still a thang no matter how many new tech apps they come out with to exchange information. Bring yours and start collecting them from other ACPA attendees as you network.  Write down one or two things to help you remember the person on the card.
  • Comfortable attire and shoes
    • There is a ton of walking so if you have to tug, pull down, readjust and limp, you are going to be uncomfortable and it probably should not be worn at a conference.
  • Snacks and Food
    • Carry some snacks with you to help keep hunger at bay till you are able to get some real food; when you get that real food, have a vegetable with your meal, get a side of steam broccoli.
  • Don’t forget your masks
    • We want to everyone to be safe, if you have to wear one, might as well make it cute, funny or match your tie.
  • Buy something new to wear, if you can.
    • I also buy something new to wear at convention, if shoes are your new thing break them in before convention.
  • Stay Hydrated
    • Bring a cool water bottle to carry with you so that you can keep water with you all times.


I hope to see you in New Orleans, when you see me, lets rub elbows and exchange a smile.


Aja C. Holmes, Ph.D. (She/Her/Sis) is the Assistant Dean of Students and Director of Community Living at the University of San Francisco. This will be her 21st consecutive ACPA convention!