By Sarah Martin
Graduate Student & Intern
Connections. You got that right! The theme of this year’s IACAC conference certainly resonated among attendees. Networking was the focus of every session, meal and meeting at the Westin Northwest in early May as college reps and high school counselors gathered, interacted and shared professional information for the benefit of their students. As a member of the governing board of the Illinois School Counselors Association, it was very interesting to experience my first IACAC conference and see the comparisons between our state-wide associations. The idea of connecting the two associations for a joint conference is something that ISCA may pursue in the future. After all, collaboration is the key to success.
My initial impression of the conference was positive when I arrived. However, when walking into the conference I was slightly overwhelmed and unsure where to go. The main foyer of the Westin was buzzing with way more people than I expected to see at a state wide conference. It makes sense that this conference is a popular one due to the fact that IACAC draws from both high school and college counselors. This is a beneficial connection that improves the productivity of all parties involved. I quickly figured out where to check in and was pleased to discover how quick and smooth the registration process was. I gathered my materials, put on my name tag and perused my handouts.
After reviewing the conference schedule and packet, I headed off to the sessions. As a new counselor who will be starting at a high school in the fall, I wanted to absorb as much information as possible. Some of the sessions I attended that first morning included a session about what they don’t tell you in graduate school and a session about how the common application will be changing in the next year. The sessions were engaging, interactive and dynamic. The presenters were true professionals and many are very involved in IACAC. I found them motivational and informative. The details in the program were also very helpful as they described what audience each session was tailored to and what would be discussed.
I then attended the First Timer’s Lunch. This was a blast! The food was great and I immediately got to know the people at my table. Each table had new people as well as two veteran IACAC members that sparked conversation, introductions and dispersed gifts. The lunch was fun, refreshing and a perfect opportunity to make more professional connections. I enjoyed switching tables to meet even more people and doing various ice breakers. I really feel like I connected to a wide variety of people as well as figured out how to get more involved in IACAC.
After lunch we attended the opening session. This was hilarious as each committee got introduced to their own theme music. This kept the audience excited and attentive. It was very enjoyable! The energy in the room was contagious and everyone was welcoming and smiling. The speakers were wonderful and again, dragged attendees out of their comfort zones by promoting networking and discussion. This opening session really reminded me more of a national opening session because the room was packed!
The rest of my time at the conference was very similar to the first day. I saw many people I knew, but also got the chance to interact with many new faces. I attended the IACAC membership meeting where I learned how the organization works and where it is headed. I gained some great resources about financial aid and the college process for juniors. I networked with college counselors, admissions reps and other high school generalists. The conference motivated me to ask questions, learn more and get involved so I can stay active in our profession.
I think the IACAC conference was a great success and achieved the goal of creating connections. With charismatic speakers, engaging games, passionate presenters, and dedicated volunteers, the conference ran like a well-oiled machine. It was so interesting to see the interaction between new counselors and seasoned counselors as we all have so much to learn from each other. I learned something new every day and the conference was well worth attending. I am excited to stay tuned and see where IACAC is going in the future. I am inspired to get involved and volunteer through IACAC as well. Having such a warm welcome as a first time member really made a difference with my comfort level at the conference. I can honestly say that the people I met and connected with are people that I look forward to getting to know better as I expand my professional network with the help of IACAC.