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Community Blog: Making the Most of Your NODA Annual Experience
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Making the Most of Your NODA Annual Experience
By: Kara Gensamer


Congratulations, you've made the awesome decision to attend the NODA Annual Conference. Your bags are packed, your travel plans have been confirmed, and you are about to be surrounded by amazing orientation, transition, and retention professionals from across the world. Now the rest is up to you! What will you do to make the most of your experience? It is easy to be overwhelmed by the magnitude of such an event so let's take a look at some ideas to consider as you prepare for the NODA Annual Conference!


Before the Conference


Go in with a plan. Why did you decide to attend the NODA Annual Conference? Is it to present? Perhaps to gain knowledge to bring back to your institution, learn about the field, network, or something else? Before leaving for the conference, think about your why for attending. Simon Sinek challenges us to think about our purpose and I encourage you to do the same when thinking about your motivation for going to the conference.

After you identify your why, make a plan! If you are looking to bring knowledge back to your institution, explore what topics you would like to learn about and attend sessions that are related to those topics. I found the NODA Guidebook App very helpful for creating a personalized schedule of sessions I wanted to attend! If you are looking to network, you could reach out to a few individuals ahead of time and set up a time to grab coffee or a meal with that individual. No matter what your goal is be sure to spend some time before the conference figuring out how you will achieve it!

Find a roommate. Consider finding a roommate for the conference. Not only will you save yourself (or your institution!) some money, you will also build your network! Your roommate might also be your meal-mate (the person you with whom you will share a meal!) or someone to help you process the day!

Pack your business cards. Don’t forget to pack your business cards! You will be meeting OTR professionals and associate members who you will want to reconnect with after the conference. Be sure to have your business cards at the ready to share with those you meet! Pro Tip: When someone gives you their business card, turn it over and write a short note about your conversation. This will help jog your memory when you get back to campus and you want to reach out to them!

Attend Orientation Professional Institute (OPI). If your schedule and your budget allows, I highly recommend that new OTR professionals attend the Orientation Professional Institute (OPI). “The Institute is designed to serve new full-time professional staff who are responsible for orientation programming and possess less than 4 years of total professional experience” (NODA 2017). I attended OPI in 2014 and truly had a wonderful time learning about the field and meeting other new professionals! 

During the Conference 

Engage! “Engage” can mean so many things to different people! What does engagement look like for you? Whether it is raising your hand and asking questions during a session, tweeting at the event, taking notes, or following the conference hashtags, find a way that is comfortable for you to connect with those around you and the information you are learning.

Schedule breaks to recharge. Remember when I said the conference can be overwhelming? It’s true! It is important to take a few moments for yourself to recharge. Grab a cup of coffee, take a walk, exercise, call a friend or family member, and above all, be kind to yourself! Do what you need to be successful. 

Explore the city. NODA does a great job of picking enchanting cities that are vibrant, and interesting. So whether you go on a conference-planned excursion or self-guided adventure, take in what the city has to offer!

Volunteer. Volunteering is a fantastic way to make the most of your conference experience! You can meet so many people and make a difference at the conference! The volunteering opportunities are flexible and are able to meet your time availability as well as your interests.

Network. Networking could be its own blog post, but I will keep it short! There are so many opportunities to network at the conference that range from formal to informal. Check out the Regional meet-ups or a specific network gathering where there are people you would like to meet. Introduce yourself to the session presenters and exchange business cards if you are interested in the topic of their session and want to learn more. If you are a graduate student, attend the graduate student opportunities and also take advantage of the ability to meet potential employers face to face! Networking can also be just introducing yourself to your neighbor before the beginning of a session. 

Save your receipts. Don’t forget to save your conference receipts if you are getting reimbursed or need to prove your purchases! I like to keep an envelope with me where I collect the receipts at the end of each day so they are in one place when I return to campus.

After the Conference

Debrief and reflect. When you return from the conference, consider all that you learned. How can you apply this new knowledge and in what time frame? Are there projects you can implement immediately, in one week, or one year? Whose help or approval do you need and what are the first steps? Also contemplate who on your campus would also benefit from what you learned. Take small steps in the “debrief and reflect” stage! It is unlikely that you will be able to implement EVERYTHING you would like, but it may be feasible to select one short-term and one long-term initiative that can be brought to life.

Reconnect. Remember all of those business cards you collected? Be sure to follow up! Reach out and say “hi” or “thank you” and keep those relationships and conversations going. Who knows how your paths will cross in the future! 


Kara Gensamer
Assistant Director for First-Year Experience and Orientation, Lehigh University

    Kara Gensamer is the Assistant Director for First-Year Experience and Orientation at Lehigh University.


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