I attended my first in-person conference: #NSEE 2021

This past week I attended my first in person conference since February 2020. It was the Annual Conference of the National Society for Experiential Education. Back in early Summer, when I received the email from the Center for Teaching and Learning about attending the conference I felt good with attending the conference. Florida at that time was doing better with the number of COVID-19 cases but that quickly changed and I was starting to become hesitant about attending the conference. Thankfully the numbers are starting to decline after a massive spike due to the Delta variant. Another encouraging aspect was that the conference had a mask mandate for all attendees. It was sent out via email several times prior to the conference. It was also nice that the conference was in Orlando so if I didn’t feel comfortable with the COVID-19 measures, I could drive home in 45 minutes. Thankfully after I walked into the keynote session I immediately noticed that everyone was wearing their masks and wearing them properly. The conference did include a lunch but I didn’t attend because I didn’t feel comfortable attending this event so I just ordered some UBER eats.

The conference this year had an overall theme focused on social justice in experiential education. My first session was the keynote by Dr. Raja Gopal Bhattar (they/them/theirs) on Tuesday morning. As stated in the website of the conference: “Dr. Bhattar is a nationally recognized higher education leader, advocate, consultant and author. Raja will address how effective experiential learning requires intentionality and clear understanding of outcomes for our communities. Through storytelling and reflections, this keynote will offer insights and strategies on how experiential education leaders can incorporate equity, inclusion and belonging in all aspects of our work.” I loved the keynote speaker! I like it when keynote speakers make me reflect and this was a perfect example of this. Some of the questions I had to think about white listening to keynote speaker:

  • How do we show up?
  • Identity versus perception?
  • What is our role in upholding/disruptive inequitable systems?
  • How our students receive us?
  • Whose perspective is not on the table?
  • How do societal systems enhance or inhibit student success on campus?

We also had to do an identity grid that helps us reflect on “how often do we think about who we are beyond our titles? ”

Identity grid.
Identity Grid at NSEE 2021

Other sessions that I really enjoyed were:

  • Social Justice and Antiracism in Career Education and Experiential Education: Session discussed a process for creating a Call to Action with accountability measures, equity-oriented course syllabi, and a 5-step model to consider in your own work. This is a wonderful resources shared during the session: https://tinyurl.com/4j2tmxaw. This resources were used to create the Social Justice and Career Education infographic. Please see image below.
  • Providing career readiness support to female students in male dominant industries: This was a nice round table session focused on different kind of events that staff and faculty can use to create opportunities for networking, grow , and support for female students and those who identify as woman.
  • Using immersive virtual reality in higher education to facilitate authentic learning experiences: This was a very introductory session into VR and how a university had employed VR experiences into the curriculum to provide learning experiences related to manufacturing at the start of the pandemic in lieu of in person field trips. We got an opportunity to brainstorm ideas for our own curriculum.
  • Learner-centric virtual exchanges: No travel, no problem: This session related to a virtual global challenge that an institution took at the beginning of the pandemic in lieu of study abroad programs. As soon someone who has coordinated a study abroad program in the past and who is considering one next Spring I want to think of alternatives in case the pandemic requires me to make a change in plans. This session helped me think about different approaches that I can take virtually.
  • Influencers abroad: Enhancing cross-cultural awareness through social media activities: This session explored leveraging strategically designed social media learning activities to enhance cross-cultural awareness. I thought it was a creative to consider alternative assignments during study abroad experiences. Some of this assignments included: Vlogs, Instagram stories (academic versus personal accounts) every day, Instagram food related posts, and end of a program presentation/reflection.
Social justice and career education infographic

Almost Two Weeks Later, Still Soaking It All In

Final thoughts and message from our official study abroad blogger: Marquis Holley. Love how Marquis captured complete and totally random moments, objects, scenes, and people from our study abroad experience in his photos. I think his writing and images show his background in communication and instructional design. It fills my heart with joy to know that this short experience will have a lasting effect in him as a participant in the program.

UT Spartans Abroad

It’s hard to believe, but this week will mark two weeks since we’ve all returned from Switzerland.  What a journey it was.  Here are a few more images to provide a closure of sorts for our trip.  We’re truly thankful for you following us, as well as your commentary.  Please know that education was the reason we as students decided to study abroad, and we learned more than we could imagine on this trip.  Special thanks to the University of Tampa for allowing this trip to take place.  Furthermore, the Instructors that accompanied us during this trip are to be commended. Much appreciation to Mr. Frederic Palazy, CIS representative, as a true help and guide during our stay here.  And to all of the teachers, students, administrators, and people we met on this trip, much love and gratitude to you for making it one to remember for a lifetime.  Once…

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Reflection on the #Switzerland #StudyAbroad program

The study abroad program to Switzerland was everything that I expected and many things I did not expect. Just for reference on what I am taking about, here is the link to the post with info about the study abroad program: The official flyer: #UTampa Travel Course to Switzerland [Spring 2018]

Your can read about our experiences during the program in this blog (Main Author: Marquis Holley, UT ID&T, ‘14): https://utspartansabroad.wordpress.com

Here are a few thoughts on the experience:

Challenges

  • Jetlag sucks and it is important to take it into consideration. When I do this again, I will plan to have very light activities on the first few days.
  • It is very different to travel with students that have a high interested on the theme of the program compared to students have some interest. In the group with had a 75% of students with very high interest on the theme of the program.  The other 25% were participating mostly for the experience.
  • The leadership team of this program are very active individuals that had no problem been on-the-go. It can be challenging to accommodate for others who do things like “nap” or are not very active. If you want to participate in this type of programs or recruit students to participant, make them aware that to make the most out of the experience you will be spending very little time in the hotel room posting on Snapchat.
  • Just like with any group, there are students who tend to be more vocal. Therefore, they tend to drive the direction of the group. It is important to give the other students options or opportunities to voice their opinions/choices.
  • In making connections or plans to meet with schools, university research groups, or others, it is at times difficult to know how casual or formal the visit will be. Asking for as much information as possible before hand will help give the students context.

Good Times

  • I cannot say enough about my assistant coordinator for the program: Merrie Tankersley. I already miss her! Having a good traveling partner to bounce ideas will make your study abroad program an amazing experience. Merrie was an absolutely joy to be around. I will miss our time together in Switzerland and I look forward to our experience next year in Belgium.
  • We organized most of the logistics through a study abroad service provider, CISabroad. As part of that arrangement, we had a on-site representative all the time. We met at the airport in Zurich after arriving in Switzerland, his name is Fred. Fred was honestly the best. He was very resourceful, friendly, and extremely patient.
  • The weather was just perfect. We would have made the best out of rainy days in Switzerland but I am glad that every day we were blessed with good weather.
  • Although there were some challenges with group dynamics, I was very happy to see that the five girls in our group grew so close together. They were also very inclusive of our male student. Overall, I am glad we had each of them in the group.
  • Aside from an strain ankle and a student with a cold, we had no major incidents during the trip. All students were always on time, respectful of the program rules, and participated in all required activities.
  • Switzerland is a beautiful country (and pretty much that sums it all). Our side trip to France was a treat. I strongly recommend visiting Colmar, France.
  • I am EXTREMELY thankful to every individual and organization that welcomed us during our visit in Switzerland. I plan to spend a good chunk of my pre-departure time at the Zurich airport writing thank you emails.

I am sure there are other comments I want to write about this experience, but this is all I have for now. Here are some of the pictures I captured: