This past week I travelled to the annual National Association of Student Personnel Administrators (NASPA) conference in Orlando, Florida. Seven years ago I attended my first national conference also in Florida. At that conference I was a first year graduate student in a sea of over ten thousand attendees. That experience was incredibly overwhelming, I knew no one, was involved in nothing, and had no idea what sessions to attend. I spent most of that conference in my room, and only came out to get food and attend a session that I found particularly interesting. It was definitely not a good conference experience and made me question if involvement was right for me.
Six conferences have past since that day and I have not missed one. My second conference experience was much better because I took a volunteer position on a committee and presented. I was also actively job searching so I started to get to know other participants in the conference. Additionally, it helped that the conference was in Boston, a city I could walk around. Unlike Orlando I felt much less trapped and able to explore on my own. Since that time I have been to Seattle, Chicago, Philadelphia, and Arizona, each conference better than the last. In Arizona I was an award winner and that was an experience all to itself. You can see that post here.
Though last year was a great experience, this year was one where I really felt like a full fledged part of the organization. The reason behind this feeling is active involvement. There is a big difference to me between going to a conference and participating in one. I am a networker through doing, not one through meeting. This means that I will get to know people and develop relationships through the work that I accomplish. At this conference I had all sorts of things to do. I was a member of the regional advisory board, a leader in the knowledge communities, and a member of the 2014 regional conference committee.
All of these activities shifted my experience and brought me to meetings, gatherings, and fun receptions. The difference between this year and last was that I have now served on the board for a full year. I am no longer building new relationships, rather growing ones that already exist. Walking through the conference I was never too far away from someone I knew which makes you feel much more engaged in the conference activities. I also was able to attend over a half dozen receptions, some that had full meals and great conversation. I have never been so busy at a conference and yet so content and energized. As my friend Renee said on Monday night, “If you’re whole body hurts, you know you did NASPA right”.
There is also something to be said about being at my second campus and my second job. With a significant portion of new professionals leaving the field after 3-5 years it feels good to be at the entry point to mid-level, people definitely treat you differently. It seems like an unspoken statement of “Ok, you’re here to stay so lets chat”. This may be something to think about moving forward because a lack of acknowledgment and connections could be one reason why people leave. From now on I will make it my business to help new professionals and first time attendees feel connected to the association. I think I also felt much more confident sitting on boards with people at much higher positions now that I am at my second step. Lastly, being at a new campus means that reconnecting with past colleagues is a new adventure. Spending Tuesday night with friends from UCR was great fun, just like spending other meals with friends from graduate school. It is amazing to see where we are all going and what is in store for us in the future.
The last fun thing at the Orlando conference was running into and reconnecting with past employees and others you have helped over the years. I was able to sit down with an old Resident Advisor who worked for me for two years, went to graduate school, and was job searching. It was amazing to see her growth over the past few years and it truly demonstrates the value of the work we do. It was my first “Full circle” experience, and definitely not the last. Additionally, I ran into someone who sat in one of my presentations at a difference conference in my second professional year. He told me that my work with student training molded the programs they did at his campus over the next few years. He said that they pulled out my documents each year to make sure they followed the guidelines to success. It is amazing to see your creations impact campuses in other states in such dramatic ways. Another reason why I know this work is for me.
At the end of the day, the conference is just the pinnacle of each year’s work in NASPA. The more you volunteer and the more good work you do, the better your annual conference experience will be. Over the next year I will continue to serve on the board and see where that involvement takes me. If anything it will help me meet even more people and develop more relationships so that the Baltimore conference will surpass Orlando. Eventually babies may join the party but I’m ready for that change to come and add a new nuance to the conference adventure. Until next year!
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While waiting for my flight to leave Phoenix, I stopped in at Pizzeria Bianco with my friend Renee. This pizzeria is a transplant right out of Italy with it’s own wood oven right in the dining room. I love seeing pizzerias set up like that, it is just a lot of fun to watch them cook your pizza only a few feet from your table. Take a look at what we got to see:
Prior to chowing down on pizza I had to order my first recommended dish, the Spiedini, Italian fontina cheese wrapped in prosciutto. The wrapped cheese was then skewered and cooked to be served nice and warm. Probably better than the pizza, this dish may be the best thing I’ve eaten in Phoenix. The cheese was warm and creamy and the deliciously salty flavor was layered along side the crispy and salty sweet prosciutto. Often salt on salt is too much but this combo just worked perfectly and kept me coming back for more. If I hadn’t already ordered my pizza I might have just went with a few more orders of the cheese and called it a day. It really was that good.
A few minutes after our appetizers, my pizza arrived. I broke my own rule and ordered a pizza without a red sauce because it was the other reccomended dish off my restaurant list. The Rosa pizza consisted of some of my favorite ingredients so I felt like it was ok to deviate from my norms. First it had a wonderful crust on which to build. Thin and crispy with a bubbly crust, but what would you expect from a super hot wood fire oven. The toppings started with cooked down red onions, and unlike Mr. Scott Conant, I love me some red onions. The bite of the onions was balanced out by the cheeses especially the fresh Parmesan. The last topping and by far the least likely on a pizza were the pistachio nuts. The great thing is that I love pistachios also! All of these ingredients mixed together on a pizza created a depth of flavor that made me happy to have taken the risk. I would definitely reccomend this pizza to people who want to stray from the norm but in the end the prosciutto wrapped fontina skewers significantly out shined the pizza.
Overall our meal at Pizzeria Bianco was a memorable one. Not much I could complain about. The service was good, the ambiance was like most pizzerias and the food was on point. I could eat that appetizer every day, too bad I don’t live nearby. Next time you are in town and want some quality pizza on the western side of the country, check out Pizzeria Bianco.
Overall Review: 7/10
Take a look at the menu here
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In Phoenix we decided to go a bit off the path and check out the Tuck Shop. This restaurant is located in outside neighborhood of Phoenix and we definitely were a little confused when driving down blocks of homes. The Tuck Shop just sort of pops up on you and looks like it could be a large home. But don’t let outside appearances fool you, the inside was cool and sleek and the food was no joke.
I was there with three other people and so we were able to try a bunch of appetizers. Our waiter was the type I always hope for, friendly and with great depth of knowledge of all the dishes on the menu. Based on his recommendations we ordered the cheese curds, the grilled baguette with roasted garlic, the roasted brussel sprouts, and the piece de resistance the stuffed Medjool dates. All of these appetizers were awesome! The baguette literally came with an entire garlic bulb in olive oil and was incredible. The garlic was roasted to perfection and spread like butter over the toasted bread. The brussel sprouts were also really delicious, they were lightly charred and caramelized with a delicious white wine and mustard glaze. The nice addition were the crushed almonds, they brought additional crunch and texture to the dish.
Without a doubt though, the best appetizer was the recommended dish from Best Food Ever on the Travel Channel. The stuffed Medjool dates were filled with a combination of chorizo and gruyere chesse and cooked to a sweet finish. The sweetness of the date was balanced by the spicy chorizo and the cheese made the entire dish creamy and long lasting on the palette. These dates were the best things I ate that night and possibly the best dish I have tried in Phoenix to date. Check out some pictures:
After our appetizers I moved on to my dinner order. Unfortunately, they did not have the recommended fontina stuffed meatloaf so I went with two other options. First, the Times Mac & Cheese with crispy prosciutto, breadcrumbs, and oh yeah, the up-charge of $4 for some lobstah! Not just lobster, lobstah…hipsters. The mac and cheese was creamy with al dente pasta. The prosciutto added the needed salt to the dish and well, yeah there was lobster. Cooked well and really tasty but I’m not entirely sure I’m sold on the combo. I know that the trend is out there to make this down home dish high class but I think you can make it decadent without adding lobster. But this is coming from the guy who had a caviar mix-in for his mashed potato bar at his wedding, so who am I to judge.
My last dish was the big recommendation from our waiter, the Pine AZ skirt steak. Those who know me well know that I am a sucker for shirts steak and mashed potatoes. Skirt steak was one of my favorite mom cooked dishes so I am a good judge. This steak was rubbed with a dry rub and then cooked in its own juices. It arrived super tender to the point where a knife was almost unneeded. Topping the steak were sauteed mushrooms that added a nice earthiness to the dish. Along side the steak were creamy parmesan mashed potatoes which added some needed salt to the entree. Each individual piece of this dish worked well individually and combined and I was more then happy to try them each way. This was a great recommendation by our server and even though I had so much before it, I had no problem cleaning my plate.
The Tuck Shop was a great choice for our dinner that night even if it was a bit of a trek from our hotel. Next time I am in Phoenix I will go back again and I recommend that you check it out too. Great service, nice decor, and good food made for a memorable dinner.
Overall Review: 7/10
Take a look at the Tuck Shop here
This past March I visited Phoenix for the annual conference of the National Association of Student Personnel Administrators (NASPA). While I was there I was able to check out four places on my restaurant list which will show up in later posts. I was also able to catch up with friends and colleagues I had met over the past few years. While I have been to NASPA many times before, this time I was able to experience it through three new lenses which made the experience all the more fun.
Lens #1: As a Sole Presenter
I was one of the lucky submitters to be accepted to present a program at this conference. This meant that I had to be prepared and ready to talk for 40 minutes about training student employees in the most effective and innovative way. My presentation was on the last day of the conference which gave me some time to make sure I was prepared but it also made the anticipation reign until my time slot arrived. Presenting was a lot of fun and the attendees were really open to my ideas and shared a bunch of their own. Some even asked for me to send my training documents to them after the conference. Now, some of the work I did is being used to improve training programs at campuses all across the country including Purdue, Northwestern, and Indiana. Pretty cool for a first time presenting all my own information. It is nice to be receive affirmation from colleagues outside of your home institution because then you know you are doing something right.
Lens #2: As a Board Member
Prior to my arrival in Phoenix, I was appointed to a leadership role on the Region VI (CA, HI, AZ) advisory board. This one act altered my conference experience entirely. In the past I would go to between six and ten conference sessions and spend my time learning about various topics. Not this time! In my position on the advisory board I was presented with the opportunity to begin seeing NASPA from the background. Most of my days were spent in meetings of the regional board and the regional conference committee, trainings of my committee members, and attendance at various meetings of the committees with which I worked. Needless to say I was booked solid from 8am-11pm almost everyday, even the day before the conference began.
The great thing about this lens was that I was able to meet so many different people over a few days. Many of these people being well know and influential “Rock Stars” of the profession. Also, those of you who know me are aware that I am at my best with new people when I have something specific to talk about. This position gave me that pathway to use when meeting people for the first time. At meetings and the knowledge community fair, I went around and met people from dozens of different groups and committees because I could talk about my area of responsibility on the board. For once at a NASPA conference, I was even able to interact with people at the regional reception instead of hanging out by the food and leaving relatively early. Next year, in Orlando, I will have so much more to talk about and it will be that much better!
Lens #3: As an Award Winner
Ok, so now I am going to be a little vain. In November I was recognized as the outstanding new professional for my region and received an award at the regional conference. I thought that it was over then but wow was I wrong. A few weeks before the conference I received word that my registration was covered by a corporate donation and that I would be recognized at the award luncheon during the conference. In addition, I was invited to a reception for all award recipients with NASPA leadership, had my name in the conference book, and received front row seats at the opening speaker, John Legend.
The last thing I received, which was by far the coolest, was a little “Award Winner” ribbon to put on my name tag. This little ribbon changed everything about the conference. Everyone that met me saw that I was one of those cool people and treated me just a little differently. Striking up conversations was all the more easier because everyone wanted to know what I won. For an introvert who struggles in mundane conversation, this made life really easy for me. It felt like I was a minor celebrity if only for a few days. Part of me wanted to save the ribbon and use it every year but alas that probably wouldn’t work. Oh what a little ribbon can do.
This was by far my best NASPA conference. Seeing it for the first time through these three lenses gave me a great new perspective on an awesome professional association. It only made me want to get more involved in the future. Too bad I can’t win awards every year! Oh, and did I mention that my last perk was that I got to meet and take a picture with John Legend! Not too shabby, not too shabby at all.