May 31, 2007

NACURH Blog, Day 3: Jitters

This is not the first time I've been up late before a conference starts. This has probably happened a lot actually. You think about all the stuff that's gonna happen, all the surprises, both good and bad, the things you should've gotten done. My former RHD and friend LT commented to us that in the end, hosting NACURH is like having a know it's coming, you know it's gonna be a lot work, you just prepare what you can and go with it.

By GLACURH 98 hosted at Michigan State University, things here at Oshkosh were growing pretty steadily when it came to our conference experience. We had been averaging a high number of delegates. We had been continually trying to bid for awards and present programs. We had two great NCCs carry us through those early years (Jim Droste and Jason McKean). But an idea arose...many of the same students who started attending conferences since WURHA 97 (at UWO) now wanted to try their hand at hosting a conference.

Although no offense meant to my former colleagues or to our current home region, GLACURH, but at the time, our region was notorious for scrutinizing Conference Bids. Not all NCCs at the time participated in heavy critiques, and I think many of them asked fair questions. But there was a short period where the bidding schools did not receive the bid at GLACURH (this meant that they or others had to rebid at No Frills in January).

But here we were, ready to host, writing the bid, getting together the largest delegation we ever had (32 I believe) and it was hard not to think about it. I helped write the bid, and know that putting it together is not always the easiest. We thought of everything as a group. We so wanted to host, but we so didn't want to go through the ringer.

I believe that one of the key elements to getting us through this process was how we approached the conference theme. The theme was Leadership Luau, a slightly common leadership conference theme, so we knew that folks were going to go Hawaiian, literally, or do something tropical, etc. We thought: well, Hawaii, tropics, Caribbean, pirates. Before Pirates were made chic by Johnny Depp, here was our Oshkosh delegation shopping for black clothes, vests, stripped shirts, and eye patches.

But we didn't want to just show up all decked out like we walked off the poop deck. So we got creative and on a sweltering afternoon in the USRH office, Jim and I created the 'got pirates?' themed t-shirts, with the Top 5 Things A Pirate Would Never Say on the back. I do believe one of them was "Arrr, do ye ever get that not so fresh feeling?" and my favorite "That Angela Lansbury is a delightfully whimsical lady."

(side note, as I've grown older I'm surprised how we got 'away' with certain things...although nothing offensive was on this shirt, it was funny to see that in the corner of the shirt we were 'sponsored' by SEPCAO (the Society to Enhance Pirate Culture Across Oshkosh)...those were the days)

We were the 'got pirates?' shirts on Friday, created a bit of whimsy ourselves, then busted out as pirates the next day. It was fantastic. The bid team did a great job, everyone had fun, and I think in the end, regardless of how things would've turned out we went in with the attitude of "we know this is going to be work, stressful, and give us the jitters, but let's just have fun."

It's easy when you start off and there's no expectations. As you start to meet those expectations and set the bar higher, things get a little scary. What if you fail? What if you lose credibility? I think in the end, you're destined to fail once or twice. You're destined not get what you wanted. But I think you swing into it like a pirate boarding a ship.

There are a lot of schools, and individuals, bidding for things at this conference (and other conferences throughout the year). I wish them the best of luck. I wish them the best rest they can get. Cause the jitters of anticipation can get to you. In the end, just as LT suggests, just go with it. It's the journey that pushes you forward, helps you learn, causes you to grow, and challenges us to keep trying, even if we failed.

Last Rando Thoughts:
-We did the get the conference that year and it felt good, but we didn't get NACURH the first time we tried. We also bid for a GLACURH back before WURHA 97 and didn't get that either. The embers of those conference ideas were re-sparked for future leaders to pick up where they left off, and forge ahead.

-We actually were this close to having a Star Wars themed conference for GLACURH 99. I have to mention this because I think back constantly to what that would've been like. Stormtroopers as Security, Darth Vader leading Roll Call, and Chewbacca reading the Top 10 awards...yeah that would've been cool.


May 30, 2007

NACURH Blog, Day 2: Firsts

Firsts are really difficult for most everyone on this planet. Oddly enough, there have been a few moments in my life where I've jumped in head first, kersploosh, and learned to tread water or swim. As we were working on stuff today I realized that every year, no matter what kind of wrap up report you get, or how much support you have from many folks, NACURH hosting is something you don't grasp fully until you do it.

Like all first time experiences there are some common themes. Of course, a lot of this dates back, for me, to my next Conference Memory: WURHA 97, Soaring to New Heights at UW Oshkosh.

It was weird for my second conference to be here at home. There were some strangeness with having to move some belongings only a couple of blocks (the travel to conferences is easily one of my favorite aspects no matter how good or bad the travel is). And it was weird to know where everything was on campus to some degree (I've always liked exploring new campuses). But, there's that sort of 'home court advantage' you feel as a delegate knowing that many of your friends and colleagues are around you.

That was most helpful since that conference had two firsts for me.

It was the first time I presented a program. I remember that after GLACURH 96 I was constantly thinking of programs to put on at the next conference. I came up with a leadership program combining improv games and leadership basics. It's funny because I think back to my original hand was this poorly proofread six page packet of block writing and stick figure comics.

5 people showed up to my first program. I remember feeling a little disappointed at first. Since then I've realized that in your first time out with any new initiative, activity, or hobby, you take what you get, and build on it. I must've done something right, because I also received my first Top programming award. Which was cool, but what was cooler was the chance to present the program again. But that would have to wait.

The second first I had conflicted with the Top 5 program session. I was a part of a three person bid team soon after my roommate and then NCC, Jason McKean, handed me a written bid and said "you're about three hours." Admittedly, he asked me the day before, but I was going to do it myself (a little over cocky, I thought how hard would it be to go in there and speak about this report). But Jason told me three hours before hand that it would be a lot easier to go in with at least two others.

My friends Art and Latham joined me. It was a quick cram session, some freaking out in a hallway and then we were 'thrown to the wolves' as we presented then got hit with a volley of questions we weren't expecting. I've helped write and plan presentations for close to a dozen bids in my life. But I wouldn't have changed what we did that day.

You see part of what's great about first time experiences is that you DON'T know any better. There's no overanalyzation of what you do, or second guessing. You go from the gut and speak from the heart. That day the three of us had fun. And I'm happy that I got through that bid in my second conference because it taught me so much about conferences, bid writing, and taking risks.

Along the way there's many small things I've looked back at NACURH planning and thought, I wish I would've done that differently. In the end, it's the joy of doing something for the first time. You get the good and the bad. You learn to trust your instincts as much as you trust a process. And you find ways to have fun with it. I'm more than 99% sure I will not be advising another NACURH...but if I did or if I helped plan any future conference, it would not the same. The thrill of taking a risk and having it pay off is huge.

Lastly, we're working with a lot of volunteers, staff members, regular conference staff, many other departments on campus, outside business, schools, delegations, advisors, and I want to say thanks for being patient and understanding at times with what we're going through. We want to put on the best conference for you, and I'm proud of the work the staff has done. But it helps to hear support and empathy from colleagues, schools, and conference partnerships. And it helps to have volunteers who will stick through even through the awkward down times.


May 29, 2007

NACURH Blog Day 1: Introduction

Since I was a sophomore in college I have had the privilege to attend NACURH related conferences. These conferences will easily be the top thing I will miss most about working in Residence Life, since they encapsulate so much of the other areas I enjoy. These conferences have also helped me learn a lot about who I am and inspired/created so many opportunities for me. For the next week (as I've also lagged as a writer recently) I am going to do a blog a night, writing both about the experience of this conference in its final stage and the Top 8 Memories I've had from conferences (traditionally each conference has Top Program Session # and it usually changes...for the purposes of the week and in honor of that wacky tradition I chose 8 despite there being well over that number).

Before I begin to reminisce a bit, allow me to explain some basics and give a little history of how we as a conference staff got here.

NACURH stands for the National Association of College and University Residence Halls. NACURH Inc. is actually a non-profit leadership organization which does three main things: 1. holds these fantastic conferences which provide leadership opportunities to those students and advisors who work in the residence halls, 2. supports and sponsors the National Residence Hall Honorary (NRHH) a group that recognizes the hard work students do in residence life, 3. maintains a bevy of information called the National Information Center (NIC) where student leaders can request reports from other students about any topic or any student activity.

NACURH is made up of a National Board of Directors (NBD) whom are all students and vote and manage the policy and structure of the organization. They break down into Regional Board of Directors (RBDs) for each of the 8 regions (each region is based upon a geographical section of the U.S., Canada, Mexico, and Australia). Each school gets a representative to NACURH known as a National Communications Coordinator (NCC). The NCC is also in charge of getting together delegations to attend the conference.

NACURH also corners the market on acronyms if you couldn't tell.

Conferences are usually 3-4 days long, include programming sessions, keynote speakers, roundtable discussions, philanthropy events, entertainment, delegation activities, and an awards ceremony recognizing those schools that have went above and beyond.

Some states/provinces or combination of states/provinces have Sub-Regions. These organizations are not recognized by NACURH but serve in the same function (they have a board, NCCs bring delegations, there are awards, etc.). There are also conferences which just serve as business meetings, thus no delegations are taken, but the NCC attends to represent their school. Sometimes these conferences are referred to as No Frills, but also have other names.

For the sake of reference, as a student/advisor here at UW Oshkosh, we are in GLACURH (Great Lakes Affiliate of College and University Residence Halls), and WURHA (Wisconsin United Residence Hall Association). GLACURH has a No Frills business meeting and WURHA has two business meetings called BLT (Bringing Leaders Together) and French Dip. When I was an advisor at Arizona State, we were in the IACURH (Intermountain Affiliate) and at Mizzou we were in MACURH (Midwest Affiliate).

Lastly, in order to host any of these conferences, a school has to bid for them. This is a two step process. A school writes a bid which contains a mock up, so to say, of what the school would do if they hosted the conference (usually contains a tentative schedule, theme, general idea of how to run things, and a budget). The school also provides a bid team of anywhere from 2 to 25 students who present the written bid, allowing a board, or group of NCCs, to ask questions to help determine if that school will receive the bid.

Over three years ago, some students were interested in bidding for NACURH to come to UW Oshkosh. After working on a bid for two years, an initial bid team traveled to Syracuse to present the bid. At the time three other schools bid as well. That year, UC Berkeley was chosen to host. Last year, some of those same students with many new ones bid again, and received the bid. Since then, those students, many advisors, and other constituents in and outside our university have helped plan this four day event (starting Friday the 1st, ending Monday the 4th).

Phew! There will be a quiz on this starting tomorrow.

My own involvement in NACURH has been as a delegate, NCC, RBD Member, Advisor, Alumni, and now Conference Advisor. NACURH 2007 marks my 25th conference overall (not including business conferences). I've been blessed to experience many different aspects of the conference and NACURH. And I've met a number of great people along the way. Coming up with 8 great memories (in no particular order) is tough but also fun to look back on a wild and exciting journey.

#8: GLACURH 1996
With so many great conferences and memories, it's difficult to choose which have had the most impact on my life and are the fondest memories. Also noticing that I've written a lot, my first favorite moment was attending my first conference GLACURH 1997. The theme was Makin' Waves and the University of Evansville (Indiana) was the host.

From the start of our delegation meetings I had no idea what I was getting into. I know that I was learning cheers, and we were trying to do a lot of coordinating. I know that we had to leave at 4 in the morning. I know that the van ride there and back was ridiculously long. I know that when we got there, there was miscommunication with the hotel staff, and we didn't have our rooms ready. The hospitality rooms (places where delegates can get free food) ran out of food before 9pm. I know that during breakfast every other delegation was cheering REALLY LOUDLY and it was kinda annoying. I know that I was tired from getting little sleep and not eating the best.

I know that when I left the conference I was so excited to attend another one, because the spirit and mood of those who attended the conference, was so positive (no matter what the obstacles), that I wanted to share in that experience again. I understand now, as a conference advisor, that you plan for things you hope will work out. And sometimes they don't. But the joy of these conferences is that students are happy to support each other and recognize each other, that as long as you have place for them to sleep, eat, present programs, and have some fun, the bad stuff is not as big to them.

That conference, perfect or not, got me hooked on attending more. Got me thinking about how I could get more involved. And got me to believe in the power of people who think positively and believe they can help the world. Thank you Evansville staff for a lasting experience!

I know were not going to have everything covered for NACURH 2007. It would be nice not to have one thing go wrong. But as we've planned this conference, stuff has not worked out. Some things have been last minute. And people do get stressed. I want us to put our best foot forward. And I know that the conference staff, advisors, and volunteers are ready.

I'm content if a delegate walks away from NACURH 2007 and considers it their GLACURH 1996. Because that means that the conference spark is still alive and well. And that means that another delegate will be inspired to return.


May 11, 2007

Small Thoughts

My grandmother passed away recently. I've written about her before. She's been a great inspiration in my life. Her funeral was Thursday, I had a chance to see many relatives and friends whom I haven't seen in ages. My mother and uncle both had great speeches at the service. Their words inspired this posting.

Somewhere, at one point, someone decided to sculpt a lemon into a cookie jar. They must have caught on, and were purchased by many. They also must have been an item which some folks decided would be better placed at a rummage sale. According to my father, that is where this lemon cookie jar was found. Cost: less than one dollar.

Every morning, a huge group of people rise, get dressed and go to work at the Chips Ahoy cookie factory. They make a zillion cookies. They get shipped all over the world. They're just cookies. You've seen them at the store. Probably even bought them.

Just a cookie jar.
Just some cookies.

A whole group of people who mass produced cookies and one cookie jar have probably never met this one woman who somehow made a jar full of cookies a symbol of love and caring. In addition to my grandmother having lived through every major tragedy and triumph of the 20th century, and lived through her own tragedies and triumphs, she had the ability to make a simple cookie jar magical.

Ask any one of her grandchildren. Or any guest to her house.

I've talked before about the power of small, doing small things that can have a huge impact on people. My grandmother was really good with that. In fact many of the folks at her funeral reminisced about playing cards, doing a jigsaw puzzle, going on walks, cooking dinner...a whole range of activities, all fairly simple. My grandmother didn't make tasks complicated, or make a big deal about life. If something bad happened, it happened, and she rolled with it. Even her waning days, she rolled with it.

To my family, cousins, aunts, uncles, extended family I used to see at Christmas Eve, the up North relatives I used to see almost every summer as a kid, and the friends of my grandmother I say to you, look at the small things that reminds us of the joy of life, look at how to do small things for people, for yourself that bring them the joy of life.

Find that lemon cookie jar, fill it with cookies, and let the world share in your kindness.