I got back from #SAtechBOS Friday and I’m still processing the work we did. This wasn’t a normal conference with sessions and presenters…it was an UNconference. Wikipedia defines an unconference as “a participant-driven meeting. The term “unconference” has been applied, or self-applied, to a wide range of gatherings that try to avoid one or more aspects of a conventional conference, such as high fees, sponsored presentations, and top-down organization.”

I had followed along on the Twitter backchannel last year for the gathering and really liked what I was hearing. This year, when they made the conference free, I jumped on the opportunity. Talking about technology and student affairs wasn’t something that was only going to be relevant to one job..it is the future and I wanted to be on the edge of it and in the know. I’m used to going to conferences on my own…I was the only Connecticut College attendee at NEACUHO for the past two years. I was able to make connections and network with folks and because of that, I knew at least two people going into this unconference.

What was great about this unconference, was that even though I knew at least two people (thanks for inviting me to lunch TK!), I ended up leaving with more Twitter followers, more connections for my job search, more ideas to bring back to my campus. And that was because we spent the day talking to each other. We spent the day sharing our experiences and then creating something together. Those interactions left me exhilarated and remind me of my why behind the why.

The keynote…the keynote was DEEP. It was Tom Krieglstein, one of the creators of #sachat and before we all arrived, he had asked folks to send him notes of acknowledgment or thanks we had received from students. In my rush to get things done before leaving Thursday, I didn’t send anything but others had and he used those stories and notes to ask us what our why behind the why is. Why we work with students and not just the answers of “I want to make a difference” or “I want to change lives.” The real why…why in the deep part of our hearts that we do this work.

I was telling Matt about it when I got home that night, about how I cried and I told him one of the stories Tom told. About a student who thanked their mentor for “throwing her back in” in reference to the Starfish story. I explored Boston after leaving the unconference and thought about the story until I got home and was telling Matt about it. And I realized my why behind my why.

Pay It Forward.

I do this work because someone took a chance on me, someone thought I would be good at what they do and wanted to support me in it. And when I see a student like me, I want to support and mentor them so they can be successful as well. I tweeted to Tom during the speech that he had made me cry and that I was going home to thank both my mentor and my mentee. Both of them helped me to become the professional I am and I look forward to continuing to pay it forward and help others become successful, whether it is in this field or whatever they are passionate about.

So while I learned a lot about new technology and better ways to use Twitter and Facebook, this unconference for me was also an opportunity for reflection and growth. It means I am going into training, and hopefully my last year at Conn, with a positive attitude and a renewed sense of purpose.