Reflections of the 2016 OWHE Conference from the Conference Director

That’s a wrap! The 2016 Oregon Women in Higher Education Conference has ended, and as the Director of the Annual Conference, I am feeling…gratitude, connection, and community.

I am grateful for the experience and the amazing, talented women I had the privilege of working with and meeting at the conference. For the past 6 months, the board of directors and the conference planning team worked hard to organize this event…which was no small feat!

When I ran for this position, one of my main goals was to expand and diversify the conference – have more attendees; have more representation from all institutions, particularly community colleges and smaller private colleges and universities; have a more diverse representation across all functional areas and professional levels; diversify the types of program sessions being offered and the people who were presenting them; diversify our speakers and have voices from those with identities historically underrepresented in higher ed; and increase the number of women of color at the conference. This year’s conference met and exceeded all of these goals:

  • We had a total of 135 participants at the conference, which exceeded last year’s number of attendees
  • We had over 20 institutions represented at the annual conference, including 6 community colleges (which is more community college representation than we’ve had in the past) and numerous private institutions
  • We had representation from across all functional areas – university leadership, student affairs, faculty, classified staff, auxiliary staff, librarians, registrars, etc.
  • Conference attendees represented those in entry level, mid-level, and senior level in their careers. We had representation from undergraduate students, graduate students, post-doc fellows, and faculty
  • We had diverse program content and diversity in our speakers, presenters, and panelists
  • 20% of conference attendees identified as a woman of color

None of this would have been possible without the time, energy, and work of the board of directors, conference planning team, and numerous volunteers. I am inspired by the hard work and dedication of these women. My favorite thing about the OWHE conference is the ability to connect with fabulous, talented women educators who are driven, motivated, compassionate, fierce, change agents, and leaders in the field of higher education. It is empowering to be in the same space with these women, sharing our ideas, resources, success, hopes, and dreams.

On the first night at the welcome and opening networking activity, I immediately felt the connections being made around the room. Participants came ready to connect, network, learn, teach, and grow. My own takeaways from the conference:

  • Dr. Suarez, Vice President for Global Diversity and Inclusion at Portland State University, reminded us the importance of creating systemic change in higher education to make it a more equitable and inclusive environment. I am thinking about how to make these changes across our scholarship, teaching, and co-curricular experiences.
     
  • The importance of advocacy and allyship. Dr. Suarez urged us to be an advocate and ally for other women. One conference session highlighted the challenges and barriers for working moms at our institutions. Monica Rimai, Senior Vice President at Williamette University, told us our responsibility of leadership is to bring others with us. She tells us we need to actively seek out opportunities to be a mentor. Julie Huckestein, President of Chemeketa Community College said to be kind to yourself and each other – we forget how great we can be. I hope to continue to mentor, advocate with/for, and be an ally to my fellow women colleagues.
     
  • Building resilience. Jenni Newby, Interim Chief Academic Officer at Central Oregon Community College reminded us that the structure for higher education was not built for women in mind – yet here we are. Women are incredible agents of change. Narce Rodriguez, Dean of Student Development at Portland Community College, told us that life gives us what we can handle, and we, women, can handle a lot. One conference session was dedicated to building resiliency in higher education. Kerry Levett, Executive Dean of Student Affairs at Lane Community College, spoke beautifully about the resilience of the Umpqua Community College and surrounding community college community after their campus tragedy. Levett reminded us that Umpqua didn’t let a horrific event define who they are, they let their mission define who they are. In higher education, against adversity and times of difficulty, it’s important to be resilient and persist.
     
  • In terms of leadership development – to have the courage to take risks, outsource and negotiate, and always, mindfulness of our personal wellbeing and practicing self-compassion. We had a conference session that reminded us the importance of self-compassion and having a heart-centered approach to our work. We need to learn how to take care of ourselves, each other, and our community.
     
  • Re-defining success. I love our “Success” word bubble that we created – especially the emphasis on words such as balance, happiness, calm, peace, community, fulfillment, perseverance, growth, and joy. I plan to keep these words in mind as I reflect on my professional journey and define for myself what success looks and feels like.

One conference attendee came up to me at the end and expressed how much she enjoyed the conference and described it as a “professional development spa.” I love that. I hoped for the conference to be a space where we could pause, step away from our daily grinds, reflect, re-energize, and rejuvenate. I know I felt renewed and more connected – and I hope you did, too.

Dr. Suarez, our keynote speaker, talked about how sharing our story is how we connect and find a sense of belonging. I am inspired by all of the stories I heard and learned about at the conference, and I feel a deeper connection to my fellow colleagues, the higher ed community, and the Oregon community. I am honored to have served as your Conference Chair this year. Thank you all so much for giving me a sense of success, reflection, connection, and community. I will see you all next year at the 2017 OWHE Annual Conference!

P.S. A shameless plug - Looking for ways to get involved? We are searching for new OWHE board members! Click here for more information!

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Jessika Chi is a higher education professional who currently works at Reed College in the Office for Institutional Diversity. She serves on the Oregon Women in Higher Education Board of Directors as the Director of the Annual Conference. She also serves on NASPA Region 5’s Advisory Board as the Asian Pacific Islander Knowledge Community Representative. Connect with her @jessikachi!

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