SACRAO 2017, St. Petersburg Beach, Florida, February 12-15, 2017
Setting out from a rainy snowy Gatwick to head towards the sunshine of Florida to represent the SROC committee at the 70th SACRAO wasn’t particularly hard for me. The conference started on Sunday with some optional sessions in the early afternoon and then the main event started later in the afternoon. For the 3 of us attending from the United Kingdom it started with a first time attendee orientation where we were introduced to members of the committee and met some of the other first timers. Being delegates from the United Kingdom, we attracted some very friendly people that have visited the UK or certainly aspire to visit and we were made to feel very welcome and included in the conference.
The opening general session and keynote address followed our initial welcome and we gathered together for the first time with the full conference. In this session the committee introduced themselves and then we had a very inspiring talk from Jeffrey Selingo. Jeffrey is an author, Washington Post columnist and a higher education strategist. He talked about there being life after college and the theme of his talk was around making the most of the experience at College/University. He talked about graduate employability being less about where you go to college and more about what you do while you are there. He talked about the three different types of graduates that end up in the job market being sprinters that jump right in, wanderers that take their time and stragglers that press pause. He talked around needing to support the latter two groups.
Monday and Tuesday were all breakout sessions that you could choose from and there were personal development sessions and a mix of role relevant sessions focusing coping with change in HE, admissions related topics, financial aid, timetabling, transcript production and other graduation related sessions.
From the vast array of choice of sessions to attend I opted to attend a fascinating session about on-boarding a new manager, particularly relevant as am changing roles imminently. I learnt how important it is in a new role not to try and fix everything in the first week of a new job but how it is beneficial it is to everyone involved to take time to understand the institution you are in and what the strategic goals are. I also opted for a session about making change less painful and it is very clear that we are dealing with change on ‘both sides of the pond’ on a daily bases. This session was particularly useful as it was run by a Registrar and many people in the session spoke up and shared their insights. Another very interesting session was run by and about being a funky tech (or functional techie) and how we often end up as the go between as someone sandwiched between IT and registry colleagues.
One of the most interesting things I noticed from these breakout is how similar colleagues concerns are and how similar themes come up but sometimes in subtlety different ways. Recruiting transfer students is one topic that peaked my interest and it helped to explain how the US system works in terms of 2 year state colleges feeding in to 4 year Universities.
On Monday evening we attended the president’s reception in one of the penthouse suites and we met with many past and recent presidents. It was a relatively informal mixer but we had a really lovely evening talking to everyone there.
Tuesday evening was labelled ‘The Big Event’ and was (in theory) the equivalent of a conference dinner. Being at a resort on the beach, in the beautiful sunshine, they put on a barbeque on the beach with drinks and dancing, rather than a formal dinner. It was wonderful. The food was great, the sunset was stunning and the company of our US colleagues made it a hard evening to beat!
The Conference finished with a closing breakfast session, we had a talk from Belle Wheelan. Belle is an educator who served as Virginia Secretary of Education. She is currently the President and Chief Executive Officer of the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools’ Commission on Colleges. She spoke about the current challenges that the HE sector in the US are facing.