We just returned from Tempe, AZ, where we held our first in-person convening in three years, and I am elated to share that it was the best convening we have ever done!
Admittedly, I was nervous heading into it. Over the past three years, the UIA, our central team, and our campuses have grown and evolved significantly. As a result of typical turnover and transition happening across higher education, nearly all of our central team, most of the campus team members, and our entire squad of fellows had never been to a UIA convening before. Adding six new campuses in the past two years only made this first convening more important (and potentially all the more complex).
The challenge of this first event was to seamlessly merge the past and the future. I wondered if we could bring our unique and vibrant in-person culture “back,” using what worked well in the past, while understanding the new realities people were bringing with them and making every new campus and member feel like they had ownership of the experience – all while keeping people safe. This was no small task.
In the end, by inviting the various communities represented in the UIA to co-create the experience, we – the whole UIA together – delivered an event that was the best convening we have ever had (a sentiment I heard again and again).
In the spirit of sharing and diffusion (because we want all gatherings across higher education to improve so good ideas spread faster), here are a few things we gleaned from this experience that may be helpful as you engage in more in-person activities:
- Don’t fight biology: Make agenda and logistics decisions based on what will give people the most energy. No sitting for 8 hours, always order high tops around the perimeter for people who use standing desks, and select food and snacks based on their energy output (avoid the carby buffet of baked goods if you don’t want people feeling sluggish, adapt to people’s physical needs with time zones and starting at 8 am is mean.
- Energy in and out: The first words, experience, and direction you provide set the tone for the entire experience, be intentional and encourage them to take ownership of what they get out of the event, give them agency and pay attention to the aspects of the experience that will be “energy giving vs. energy sucking” (a great frame to use on your calendar to edit meetings as well!).
- Set the vibe: Sound, smell, attire, ambiance, and amount of light exposure in the room is all-important to how it is experienced.
- Be intentional about every aspect. I’m not saying spend a zillion on backdrops, you’d be surprised what you can accomplish with some uplighting on a white sheet.
- Make it fun: People are tired of the two-dimensional experience of zoom, they are looking to experience things they can only do in person. Create experiences that are lighthearted and playful if you want them to be creative and generative. For our event, I used personal resources to order a collection of inflatable costumes in case people wanted to wear them- they made people laugh and reminded them they were in a place where we don’t take ourselves too seriously.
- Recognize the impact of Covid on how we learn: People cannot sit and just be talked at all day, instead aim for a 50/50 split of listening vs talking to peers. Whatever you do, I strongly recommend ordering fidget toys to give them something to help them stay focused in the event. We put these out and didn’t know if people would use them, turns out - they never put them down.
- Think outside the box: We used a rock paper scissors tournament as an intermission energizer using the song “eye of the tiger”. It was short, energizing, fun, and a simple way to set the next speaker up for success when the afternoon lull would have normally set in.
- Indoors/outdoors: Find a location that lets you eat meals outside if you can. We targeted locations that would enable all meals to be outdoors and that was a helpful factor in determining our final selection.
- Past vs present: Don’t try and recreate who you were, instead focus on who you are now and what you’ve learned. This exercise feels small but there are major decisions we are punting to the past rather than recognizing who we are and giving ourselves a chance to build something truly remarkable that serves people in this moment.
Check out some fun pictures from our convening below! Have you learned something from your first gathering in a while? What is missing from this list that you would suggest we incorporate?
The past month has seen a lot of changes at the UIA as we continue to grow and expand our network. We were delighted to welcome the University of Colorado Denver into the Alliance! Chancellor Michelle Marks and her fantastic team welcomed the UIA to Denver during their recent P3 convening. Below are a few photos from the event featuring Chancellor Marks with former UIA board vice chair and current APLU President, Mark Becker, and the CU Denver liaisons and fellow with the founder of EdX, Anant Agarwal.
We also welcomed a host of new liaisons and fellows. We continue to be thrilled by the talented, passionate and collaborative people drawn to this work!
New Liaisons: Our newest liaisons, who serve as the co-captains of their campus student success teams and UIA initiatives, include Norman Jones (Ohio State), Steve Wuhs (Oregon State), Brian Haynes (UCR), and Paul Dosal (UCF)
New Fellows: The UIA has a long history of attracting the best and the brightest leaders in higher ed to serve as UIA Fellows for our member institutions. Our newest Fellows are no exception! They include Chelsea Noble (MSU), Khadijah Jones (Ohio State), Chris Gasser (Oregon State), Nelly Cruz (UCR), and Ashlie Prioleau (CU Denver).
If you know someone who would be a dynamic fit as a potential UIA Fellow, we are searching for incredible talent to support student success innovation on two campuses:
Innovate with Us
The University Innovation Lab helps student success innovators create positive change more effectively - with more clarity, collaboration, and impact. Over at the Lab, you’ll find a variety of resources, from instructions for establishing your own cross-functional team to facilitated discussions with other professionals working to solve the same problems you are.
If your campus is a member of the UIA, did you know that you already have free access to this helpful community? Head here to sign up and receive instructions on accessing your login today. If your campus isn't a UIA member, join our waitlist to stay in the loop about our plans to launch Lab access for higher ed innovators outside of our member campuses soon.
In the meantime, enjoy our free Lab Resource of the Month and get inspired with this round-up of easy ideas to assess and improve student experiences.
We know your time is limited. That's why each issue, we'll choose THE BEST things we watched, listened to, or read.
- Listen in to this two-part episode with Brené Brown as she talks to Adam Grant and Simon Sinek about the Great Resignation (Podcast, Dare to Lead)
- Share these tips for “managing up” with your team (Article, Quartz)
- Learn about the instrumental Black woman behind the Pell Grant program and why it’s needed now more than ever to help pay for college (Podcast, NPR Code Switch)
- Check out how 6 sites across the country are providing high-quality, equitable career pathways for underserved students (Report, Advance CTE and the New Skills Ready Network)
- Read more about why the creation of a diverse, inclusive, and antiracist workplace can serve as a critical precondition for achieving social justice in education (Report, Promise54)
- Hear the true story behind a 1967 social experiment that sought to understand how diversity benefited the educational development of white kids in Virginia (Podcast, This American Life)
- Explore what underserved students from Camden, Newark, and New Brunswick, NJ learned firsthand this summer about working in public service and civic engagement (Article, Rutgers)
Events to Put on Your Radar
- November 2 - 4, 2022: ACL Annual Conference, Chicago, IL
- November 6 - 8, 2022: APLU Annual Meeting, Denver, CO
- November 12 - 15, 2022: AASCU Annual Conference, Carlsbad, CA
- November 16 - 19, 2022: ASHE Annual Conference, Las Vegas, NV
- November 30 - December 2, 2022: AASCU Higher Education Government Relations Conference, Washington, D.C.
- January 18 - 20, 2023: AAC&U Annual Meeting, San Francisco, CA (Deadline to register early: November 21, 2022)
- January 19 - 21, 2023: NASPA Mental Health Conference, Kansas City, MO (Deadline to register early: November 1, 2022)
- March 6 - 9, 2023: SXSW EDU Conference & Festival, Austin, TX (Deadline to register early: January 5, 2023)
- March 9 - 11, 2023: AAC&U Conference on Diversity, Equity, and Student Success, Henderson, NV (Deadline to submit proposals: November 7, 2022)
- April 1 - 5, 2023: NASPA Annual Conference, Boston, MA (Deadline to register early: December 16, 2022)
- April 13 - 15, 2023: ACE Annual Meeting, Washington, D.C. (Deadline to submit proposals: October 30, 2022)
- April 17 - 19, 2023: ASU + GSV Summit, San Diego, CA (Deadline to register early: April 16, 2023)
- May 10 - 12, 2023: National Student Parent Support Symposium, Columbus, OH
- June 25 - 27, 2023: NASPA Conference on Student Success in Higher Education, Kansas City, MO (Deadline to register early: April 28, 2023)
Stuff We Love
- Download and save our official UIA Spotify playlist that is tried and true across many organizations and professional higher education events.
- Miss your extra monitors when you travel? Try this lightweight, easy-to-stow portable version.
- Easily schedule meetings for individuals and groups outside your organization with this free, Google workspace-compatible scheduler.
- Activate right-brain creativity with fluffy, squeezable air-dry clay — perfect for ideation meetings and staff retreats, or gift it to your favorite school-aged child.
- Atlassian Team Playbooks offer simple step-by-step strategies to guide your team through complex processes like analyzing problems and change management planning.
- We’ll be trying out this spiffy new app designed (and co-founded by actor, Edward Norton) to streamline board meeting decks, prep and governance.
- This fun, stretchy fidget toy was a hit at our Fall Convening and could be great for your next Zoom or IRL work event too.
“You can’t always do things perfectly. But if you do things with as much thoughtfulness as you can before you let them go out the door, people always remember that."