By Paula Steiner, Prairie Ridge High School
My relationship with the IACAC conference has evolved. When I became the College & Career Center Supervisor at Prairie Ridge High School almost nine years ago, I’d never heard of IACAC. It didn’t take long though. This new position (I’d been with the district for 5 years previously in another role) was an acronym whirlwind: “NACAC,” “CARR,” and “IACAC.” As more and more college admissions representatives visited our school, I quickly realized they were members of these organizations, and if I wanted to hang with the cool people….the ones “in the know’ about college admission… the great gate-keepers of really important information… I needed to get involved and learn more. I asked my boss for an IACAC membership and was successful, but unfortunately, our district only sends school counselors to conference. Last year I was fortunate enough to be sponsored by a college, and this year I got lucky once again and received a grant to attend.
With my second IACAC conference behind me now I can reflect on the value of attending, and here is what stands out more than anything: Just at the point in the year when you think you’ve used up every last shred of energy and every remaining brain cell you’ve got, the conference is the shot in the arm you need to get you through the rest of the school year; to remind you of why you chose this profession; to get you excited; to plant the seeds of fresh, new ideas. It’s hard to explain the intangible benefits of being immersed in a large group of professionals who are passionate about what they do and the future of college admissions. The sharing of ideas, war stories, student successes, frustrations, accomplishments, etc. is invaluable. Just at a point in the year when it’s easy to get a little jaded about financial aid packages that fell short, or wait lists that grew too long, you find yourself thrown together with people who are excited about what they do and what remains yet to be done.
I can talk about the sessions I attended. I took notes. I’ve re-typed and copied them, and when the counselors in my office have the same moment to sit down together, I will share the information with enthusiasm. We are a Naviance school, so New Trier’s “Going Rogue” session was extremely interesting. We will definitely benefit from information and ideas they shared. The NCAA Update session shared crucial information in light of the upcoming rule changes, and I’ll be passing all that info along to coaches as well as counselors. I broke the rules a bit when I couldn’t decide between “Future Degrees and Careers in Health Science,” “Follow Us: A Social Media Discussion,” and “To Admit Affirmatively? That is the Question.” I snuck into all three, and got some great stuff! The conference wrapped up for me with “We’re All in it Together,” hosted by University of Illinois, Arizona State and Amy Belstra from Libertyville High School. It was the perfect ending, as it drove home the idea that we really are all in this together. We work toward the same common goal, albeit from different directions: finding that perfect “fit” for each student, and each post-secondary institution.
Perhaps the highlight of this year’s conference for me, though, was our keynote speaker: Dr. JoAnn Deak. I love my job because I get to work one-on-one with these crazy, fantastic creatures called teenagers, but I needed to be reminded of how important our interactions are with them. Dr. Deak beseeches each of us to take our roles seriously: “Every interaction a child has, during the course of a day, influences the adult that child will become.” I loved her message and her style. Again… here was one of those “cool” and “in-the-know” people the IACAC conference gave me access to. I wanted to pull out my phone and friend her on Facebook, and then follow her on Twitter, but I’m guessing she’s not really that into social media. Plus, I couldn’t risk getting caught. That woman doesn’t miss a thing.
I could summarize my IACAC conference experience by saying the breakout sessions were full of great, current information that I will use. I could point out that everything was well-organized, from a smooth registration process through check-in on day one and a schedule that managed to pack a lot of info into a very limited amount of time. I’d be remiss not to mention how much I appreciated coffee being available and the delicious meals, and the beautiful and conveniently located venue. But without a doubt, the highlight was the chance to gather with colleagues who share common goals and professional interests and engage in the sharing of ideas and best practices. I left with a renewed love of my job, some great ideas I can’t wait to implement and a deeper sense of pride in the college admissions profession. Thank you!