Friday, 16 January 2015

Planning a Conference: Not Your Average Group Project

Alberta Student Leadership Summit
Chelsea Livingstone is marking her calendar for the ASLS. Are you?

Have you heard about the Alberta Student Leadership Summit? Yes? No? A little? Regardless of your answer, you’re hearing (or more accurately, reading) about it now. And while I could focus on telling you all about the program of presenters or the importance of being a student leader, I thought that it would be far more interesting to learn about the summit by investigating the planning process. And even more interestingly, I wanted to find out if a group effort of this size would have the same “joys” that tend to accompany the planning of a group project (because who doesn’t loooooove a group project? And yes, I can hear your collective shouts of “Me! Me! I hate those things!”). So, in the words of Chelsea Livingstone and Eric Kother, two students who have been integral to the ASLS planning process, here’s what it’s like to plan a conference:

YA: Why you?

Chelsea: The Student Group Services team (major side note: I’m the Manager!) recognized that our current programming needed to expand, and at the same time the Emerging Leaders Program wanted to introduce more accessible opportunities for leadership development for current and future students.  Together, we decided to work together and the Alberta Student Leadership Summit was born.  Or something like that.  I wanted to make sure that the conference met the needs of the student group population, and also because I personally am interested in leadership development.

Eric: In the words of Chelsea Livingstone “we know that you should probably be involved somehow, but we don’t exactly know where you fit”. I was involved in the planning of the Student Group Leadership Summit, an employee of the Students’ Union, an alumnus of the Emerging Leaders Program, and also a U of A student who liked to be involved. So, it was clear from the beginning that I would be involved in the planning process, but in what capacity I’m helping is still a mystery. I think that it’s partially become a part of my work (the term “other duties as assigned” from my contract is referenced quite a bit when handing out tasks), but I’m also doing it because I really like it. It has absolutely become one of my favourite projects to work on.

YA: How has this experience compared to working on a group project?

Eric: Well, this experience has been significantly more enjoyable than any group project I have ever done, so that’s really awesome.

Chelsea: I’m the first to admit that I am one of those students that totally groans in class when a prof announces a group project.  It’s just terrible!  Working on the various committees for the Alberta Student Leadership Summit has been a great experience, however.  

Eric: I think the biggest difference is that when you’re doing a project for a class, everyone is pretty much at the same level of “I literally have no idea what I’m doing”. Our conference was planned using a series of sub-committees, so while there were times that I had no idea what I was doing, there was was always someone around who could pick up my slack.

Chelsea: Committee work is so different – you’re still working towards the same goal but the committee members are all motivated to work on the project and wanting to see it succeed. For all of us, the ASLS has been a project we have taken up on top of all of our job and school responsibilities.  The people involved are all passionate about leadership, student involvement, and representing UAlberta in the best light.  I think that’s what makes it different than a group project (or maybe it is the same as being in a group with all keeners, but unfortunately I never seem to be in those ones!).  Everyone wants it to succeed, and will devote the necessary time and resources into making it happen.

YA: So then, what are the other planners like?

Eric: The people involved all came from such different backgrounds, ranging from communication to international student relations to residence life. Having such a large advisory committee (almost 50 people) meant that we could almost always find someone with relevant experience, or who was willing to help.

Chelsea: I’ve been impressed with how they’ve successfully balanced their million and one responsibilities and how well we’ve all worked together to make this happen.  It probably sounds pretty lame, but we’ve had a good group and working together to plan this has been incredibly fun.  It’s definitely been an aspect of my job that I’ve looked forward to working on each week for the past year.  I’m really excited to see all of our hard work come together on the 31st!

YA: So if everyone is awesome, what have the challenges been like? (Assuming that there have been challenges…)

Chelsea: My biggest challenge has been my lack of experience in planning a conference. I’ve planned and attended large-scale events in the past, but there are so many components to planning a conference that I would have never considered on my own.  At the beginning of the planning phase I felt like I wasn’t contributing enough to the meetings, which was mildly frustrating.  I’ve made up for it now, though, given the number of committees I’m on and the types of responsibilities I’ve taken over!

Eric: I think that the hardest part so far was finding people who could be involved in the day to day planning and logistics, as well as providing guidance from the “oversight” committee that we set up. Many departments on campus were really interested in supporting the project, but because everyone on campus is so busy it was harder to find people who could take on a heavier commitment. However, if the conference is a success this year, next year I think this problem will be much easier to solve. We would like to have more students involved in the planning process, and next year we’ll have a whole delegation to pull from!

YA: What’s been really satisfying about all of this then?

Chelsea: The Swag process was incredibly fun.  I don’t want to give too much away, but I made sure that we sourced eco-friendly and sustainable swag from a Vancouver based company, and I’ve been able to coordinate items from sponsors to go along with our swag, too.  Everyone loves free stuff, so it’s been neat to be the driving force behind that!

Eric: We’ve decided that we’re going to lock ourselves in a room, order some pizza, and stuff some 2,000 items into 500 bags. After all of the long meetings and committee work, I’m really ready to start doing some menial labour.

The Swag of the Alberta Student Leadership Summit
Eric Kother has got a lot of swag... a LOT of it!

YA: And what have you learned so far?

Chelsea: I’ve learned how much planning and organization it takes to host a large-scale event.  I’ve been working on this since December 2013, which is actually crazy to think about.

Eric: When we started the planning meetings last spring, I was thinking that we were looking into this WAY too early. But, it turns out that we needed every last second of that time.

Chelsea: I think sometimes it is easy to forget how many components are required to come together in order to make something like this happen, and how many organizations need to collaborate to make decisions.

Eric: I also learned how many departments exist on campus that are interested in developing students as whole people, rather than just academically. There were so many people from all over the U of A community who were willing to put their time into making the conference a success, and I was really excited about that.

Chelsea: It’s been a large component of what I’ve been working on for the last year, so I’m kind of excited and kind of sad for it to already be January.  I’m counting down the days until January 31st (both in terror that it is coming up so quickly, and in excitement to see all my hard work pay off!).

YA: And speaking of January 31st… you both have brothers (I won’t reveal how I know this, so let’s just move on)… what would you say to convince them to show up for the summit?

Eric: I would probably tell him that what I think he would like about the conference is its flexibility. He’s not super involved in leadership activities right now, but that doesn’t really matter. A lot of the sessions that are offered speak from a place of becoming a leader, rather than what to do once you’re already one. Also, I think that it’s really important that the conference’s goal is that the delegate gets to decide what they’re going to do with their skills. Whether that’s social change, entrepreneurship or just for your own development - how you apply what you learn is totally your choice.  

Chelsea: Well, I think it would be difficult to convince my brother to attend because this just isn’t something he would be interested in (plus he’s not a student!) so how about we pretend I’m convincing a friend to attend instead?  I have already convinced some of my friends to submit presentation proposals for the event.  That’s one great thing about being involved in campus life – you get to know a multitude of energetic, talented and inspiring individuals from many different areas on campus.  

YA: Lastly, are you going to be there to see the fruits of your labour?

Eric: You bet! You’ll probably see me running around like I’m losing my mind, but I promise that’s just how I look normally when I’m at an event. I’ll be helping out with any day-of issues that arise, and I’ll also be introducing some of the keynotes.

Chelsea: Heck yes!  If you see me around on January 31st please say "hi" and chat with me for a bit!  I’m not exactly sure what capacity I will be involved with yet (most likely behind the scenes and making sure everything is running smoothly), but I’d love to talk to you about the ASLS and hear your leadership story. I think that’s the best thing about being involved and working with student leaders – they are so engaging, talented, and passionate about various things.

You can learn more about the Alberta Student Leadership Summit by checking out their website. Then you can learn a little more about the session that will analyse the leaders from Harry Potter. Really.

----About the Contributors

Chelsea Livingstone

I’m in my final year of a Bachelor of Physical Education and Recreation with an Individualized Concentration in Nutrition and Health Promotion, and have been passionate about student involvement and leadership since my second year at the U of A.  I’m the girl who wants to do everything, be involved in everything, and who has a hard time saying no to great opportunities!

Eric Kother

I’m in my third year of something between Arts and Sciences. I’ve been meaning to tell the University that I want to be in the Faculty of Science, but that just keeps not actually happening…


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