Earlier this spring, we gathered the whole UIA network for a convening and I always love to hear the surprise from attendees who are new to UIA experiences. We aim to produce events that are unique, useful, and fun, and first-time attendees are always the most vocal about how different our events are from other higher education conferences.
As with all of our work, we’re eager to share our way of convening with the broader community in the hopes that others might replicate our human-centered approach. The better higher ed events are, the more likely good ideas will go viral. In that spirit, here are some of our underlying principles when it comes to designing a convening or group experience.
Ground yourself in humility: Our perspective starts with a recognition that every person who attends our events is making a huge investment. To leave your family, your work, and your home and give us your time and attention is a massive investment and a gift we are always humbled by. This recognition keeps us grounded and inspired to build something incredible for everyone who attends a UIA gathering. We want to rise to the occasion and create an experience that fundamentally improves our attendees’ ability to do great work for students when they return to campus. Events that make people feel like they are an afterthought hurt the cause.
Design as if you are obsessed with your audience's needs: We take empathy very seriously and believe you need to be obsessed with creating value for the people you are bringing together. Cookie cutter experiences don’t work well for anyone. Instead, each UIA convening begins from the ground up with a visioning exercise about what we want the attendees to do, feel, and say when they walk out the door at the end. We generally want them feeling accomplished, energized, and buzzing with new ideas and collaborative partners, not lamenting wasted time or feeling worn out.
Never assume, always ask: The convening’s outcome should be specifically tailored to the needs of the people you are trying to serve, not your fantasy of what their needs are. We form a small committee of attendees that we ask to respond to mockups of the agenda and help us inform the content. It’s a vital, but low-intensity ask. We try to make sure being on a committee for the UIA means your expertise is consulted but you don’t have to do extra work.
Don’t fight biology: Attention spans and physical needs should be paramount concerns. Limit the duration of sessions to 45 minutes or less, plan physically engaging activities for after lunch, make sure the food is energizing (aka less “carb buffet” than most events), and narrow the timing of speeches to the ideal amount to force the speakers to share from the altitude the audience needs (e.g. 7 minute insight talks, 20 minute keynotes). Choose rooms with natural light if you can, add high-top tables around the perimeter of the room so people can use them as standing desks, and make caffeine, hydration, and high protein snacks available throughout the entire event. Great music and fidget toys also help keep people engaged.
Always try something new: It’s easy to mimic an event that seemed to work well last time, but that runs the risk of growing stale. Better to test new ground rooted in successful principles. For instance, at our most recent gathering we flipped the script and made the event more of a workshop to give our people time to take action on our biggest current initiative (academic recovery from DFW). The results were extremely positive with each campus gaining important ground on their implementation work rather than waiting until they got back to campus to put ideas into action.
Lastly, don’t forget to surprise and delight your audience. Our last convening had inflatable costumes to keep things lighthearted, and this time we had puppies. We always try to add elements of joy and delight to make the experience memorable and thank our guests for investing their valuable time with us.
While we think we have a pretty good formula, we’re always on the hunt for great new ideas. What has been your favorite higher ed event to attend, and why? What lessons for event design would you add to our list?
School’s out this summer but it’s business as usual for the UIA this month. We’re thrilled to announce that The University at Buffalo (UB) will officially join the Alliance this fall along with University of New Mexico (UNM)! Please help us welcome our inaugural UB members to the UIA family: Dr. Ann Bisantz (Liaison), Dr. Brian F. Hamluk (Liaison), and Lindsey Hallman (Fellow). Looking forward to learning more about how our UB colleagues are tackling student success inequities on the ground in Buffalo.
Longtime UIA liaison and champion Dr. Tim Renick (GSU) attended the Subcommittee on Higher Education and Workforce Development Hearing earlier this month. Dr. Renick spoke to the House about the importance of UIA’s work as it relates to “Postsecondary Innovation: Preparing Today’s Students for Tomorrow’s Opportunities.”
In other breaking news, ASU was selected to join over 71 elite institutions in the Association of American Universities (AAU). Established in 1900, the AAU is a prestigious group of leading higher education institutions known for shaping the future of higher education, science, and innovation policy through collective research efforts. The association includes rigorous academic research institutions such as Harvard, Stanford, MIT, and UCLA among others.
Last but not least, know someone who would make a phenomenal addition to the UIA Central Team? We’re hiring for a Financial Assistant Director! Applications are due July 7.
Here’s what we’re learning about this month at the UIA:
- Why using shared equity leadership models is critical to mitigating the emotional burdens placed on DEI leaders (Report, ACE and USC Pullias Center for Higher Education)
- How the official designation of Juneteenth as a national federal holiday has affected the way Americans celebrate and understand the commemorative date (Article, NPR)
- What the Supreme Court’s final decision on affirmative action could mean for recruiting diverse candidates into STEM (Article, Science Insider)
- How to make a financially feasible plan to pay back federal student loans once the administrative pause ends on June 30 (Article, Vox)
- This scholar’s take on the ethical and personal costs of transitioning into upward mobility (Podcast, Hidden Brain)
Stuff We Love
A curated list of the latest and greatest things we’re using this summer to keep calm, cool, and collected:
- Use Superhuman, an AI email assistant, to conquer your inbox when you return from OOO.
- The best slime on the market makes for excellent fidget toys during all-staff meetings (Pro Tip: This brand sells out each Friday when it goes live; try the “Cloud” texture).
- Keep your “co-workers” busy with this treat-based dog toy during your next Zoom meeting.
- Try a new inexpensive work travel backpack with even more pockets for your next trip.
- Beat the heat by making your own ice cream at home or in your office!
Events to put on your Radar
- July 19 - 21, 2023: AASCU Academic Affairs Summer Meeting, Baltimore, MD (Registration Open)
- September 25 - 28, 2023: National College Learning Center Association (NCLCA) Conference, Portland, OR (Deadline to Register: July 14)
- October 4 - 7, 2023: NACADA Annual Conference, Orlando, FL (Deadline to Register Early: August 16)
- October 16 - 18, 2023: NCAN National Conference, Dallas, TX (Deadline to Register Early: July 14)
- November 1 - 3, 2023: ACL Annual Conference, Asheville, NC (Deadline for Proposals: June 30)
- November 4 - 7, 2023: AASCU Annual Conference, Chicago, IL (Registration Information TBA)
- November 12 - 14, 2023: APLU Annual Meeting, Seattle, WA (Early Registration Open Early Summer)
- November 15 - 18, 2023: ASHE Annual Conference, Minneapolis, MN (Deadline to Register Early: August 5)
- December 10 - 12, 2023: Complete College America Annual Convening, Las Vegas, NV (Deadline to Register Early: August 1)
“Nobody gets it right most of the time. Those who seem to usually are very intentional about lowering the cost of failure. Figuring out how to do that is key.”