Why Professional Development can be Magical

Maybe it’s because I am watching the Disney episode of Dancing with the Stars, or that I spent some time this week at a Disney attraction, but conferences can be magical.


The past six months have been difficult for me at work. The duties have increased, and it seems that there is never a slow time to catch my breath. I feel some days that I am drowning in meetings and there is never time to do the tasks that come from those meetings.

I have always been firm that I don’t want to work from home after hours, and once I get home to be strictly about my family. But I have found more and more days where I have pulled out my computer after the kids go to bed, or I stayed late to cross things off the to-do lists. And I am always in early to get a head start.

I try to build times into my schedule to do the tasks, but to be honest they often get scheduled over. I hate to think that this will become my norm as a Director, but it has been my current reality. I also feel like you can’t really talk about it or complain about being busy because everyone is and there is the expectation to just get all the things done. I also think it can be difficult to talk about this at your own campus so you don’t let others see you feeling like you aren’t measuring up to your role. Imposter syndrome at it’s finest.


So I very much needed this conference. I needed a break.

The thing is I love the work that I do. I really find value in what my office is doing, and feel that our initiatives are extremely valuable. I also love the collaborative nature of my role. Reaching across all the tables to see how we can make improvements for the student experience is fun for me. I love to strategically talk through what is happening and brainstorm plans to make things better.

However I was starting to get tunnel vision and worn out from my schedule.


Professional development is often forgotten or not prioritized, but it is so important. I try to take advantage of things that happen around campus or free webinars, and I have been strategic this year about building intentional PD into my staff dynamic, but there is something about going away to a conference that can bring life back into your work. It does some magic to my soul.

  • When I explain all the things that come from my office to other schools, I am reminded of how proud I am of what we accomplish which is no small feat.
  • It provides an opportunity to hear from leaders in the field and be inspired.
  • It helps you to not feel so isolated in your experience.
  • You are just free to think and brainstorm, which can be magical.
  • I am in my element taking notes and outlining, so it always grounds me.
  • It allows you to not directly look at a problem but take a side view with some outsiders helping you process.
  • I am not expected to be an expert or have to respond. I can just truly be in the moment and soak it all in.
  • It is an opportunity to not reinvent the wheel. There is something about the element of sharing that I get jazzed about. As higher ed institutions we are often in competition, but at these conferences there is a sense of care to help each other, and we share our struggles and wins so we can learn from one another. Again something magical.
  • The chance to engage with colleagues across the nation in general is a surreal experience. I am always amazed at all that we do in Higher Ed. We are changing the world and improving lives.
  • It is a very intentional time to be consumed with my work but not consumed by my job.

The root of it is returning to my why and the intention of this profession. I get all nerdy about all the things. And whereas I was definitely ready to put my out of office up last week, I am ready to get back to it this week and move forward. I don’t have a magical wand, but I am ready to help create a whole new world.


And having a bed to myself and eating meals at my own pace wasn’t bad either for this worn out soul.

Why do you like conferences?

Professional Development on a Part-Timer’s Wage

Recently, I have been bumped down to even more of a part time status at work. Who knew that you could be part time at being part time? Well you can.

Naturally, my professional ego took a hit (again) when the news came out, so I started researching/thinking of ways to stay relevant in my career so I can ensure that I am able to stay up to date on Student Affairs things once the next job search starts (not that it has really ended, but I digress).

Granted I am learning a lot of things at work for the little time that I am there, but I know that I need to be ready for other functional areas and campus climates.

Plus as a part timer, I get absolutely no professional development funds.

Coming from Iowa State where I received $2,000 for professional development just for myself on top of all the things that the department and university provided at no cost to me, having nada was a bit hard to swallow. I was super spoiled there, but it also made me very aware of how important it is to stay in touch with the field outside of my job description.

When I graduated with my Master’s, I thought the world was so open to me. I never thought that almost 4 years later I would be where I am now.


A bright-eyed Master’s grad who has no idea what is about to unfold.

Funny thing is, the world is still wide open for me, it has just taken a few humbling experiences for me to catch on to that.

I have been collecting little tidbits here and there for the past 8 months of how I can still get quality professional development but do it on the dirt cheap. AKA FREE.

So here is my journey to find professional development on a part-time wage.

My part-time-professional-go-to guide so to speak.

–>Organizational memberships

  •  In my field, it is fairly common to be a member of one of the large professional organizations, your functional area organization, and then regional organizations. Here are the breakdown of how numbers work for someone who is paying out of their own pocket.

NASPA (National Association of Student Personnel Administrators)

  • As an individual, it would cost me $75 to join.
  • Conference registration-$400-500 (not including transportation, hotel, and food)

ACPA (American College Personnel Association)

  • As an individual, it would cost me $93 to join.
  • Conference registration-$450-900 (not including transportation, hotel, and food)

AHEAD (Association on Higher Education And Disability)

  • As an individual, it would cost me $245 to join.
  • These are just the big guys. It does get cheaper the smaller the organization. I am sure you get the picture though that memberships cost money. Memberships do award you benefits and access to various things, but right now I am not sure it is worth shelling out my own small paychecks for. Some of these fees may not seem like a big deal, but any amount of dollars can make a huge difference for someone who is only getting 20 hours a week. So no dice on memberships.

Since memberships and conferences were obviously not going to work for me, I went on the search for webinars, websites, and online journals.

–>Webinars were quickly was scratched off my list because of cost again. I am looking for free here people!


  • This should be a no-brainer. Most websites are free to access, although some do require membership log-ins to gain more information, but you can get by without.
  •  My only struggle with websites are that it can get overwhelming really quickly with all the additional links and resources that you can click through. I personally get side tracked easily. I have found that I have to go searching for a purpose otherwise I get lost in time and get stressed out by what I don’t know. I mean is there a dead end on the internet?
  •  Here are some starting points for websites:

The obvious

A little more digging

  • Every functional area is going to have a website so just Google search it.


  • Pepnet (This provides resources for people working with the deaf or hard of hearing population, but the information is invaluable for all professionals! I love clicking though resources, and I learn something new every time I am on the site.)
  • Student Affairs History Project (this is just really interesting to me)
  • I Google searched “student affairs professional development.” With this search, dozens of university divisions of student affairs websites popped up. After clicking through several sites, you can find A LOT of good stuff. I found presentations, articles, general knowledge. Also it was interesting to look into random schools and see how their divisions were organized and who did development on a division level. Fascinating. Mind expanded!

–> Journals, Newsletters, and List serves (oh my)

Upon digging into websites, I continued to find articles, which spawned into a whole category of its own. I have listed only free resources I use currently, but there are tons out there with paid subscriptions as well:

  • Chronicle
  • The Mentor: an Academic Advising Journal (email subscription)
  • Conflict Management in Higher Education-It is no longer being updated, but there are lots of articles you can open and read. And let’s be honest, some things are always relevant, and even if they aren’t it is nice to get historical context on some things.
  • Disability.gov-(email subscription)
  • Military.com-(email subscription) At first glance, this may be personal seeing as I am a military wife. However, most of the topics are relevant to college students, and I increasingly am seeing how military students are not talked about much on the college scene (another topic for another day).
  • Student Affairs on Campus (online articles)
  • Journal of Student Affairs at New York University (online issues)
  • I don’t use each of these every day, or even every week, but I try to really challenge myself to open something new every so often. Having a variety of websites to peruse allows me to see different views and issues. With some being emailed directly to my inbox, I can see highlights and click from my email account on topics that I find intriguing.

–>Other ideas I have had over the past 6 months

Stay with me on this one. With social media growing at an alarming rate, pretty much anything is searchable. Including presentations y’all! Bring the conference to me! Boom! You can search topics, student affairs presentations, trainings, etc. If you are willing to sift through search results you can find some pretty sweet gems in there! This takes some patience, because I sure did find some doozies. But in the name of free, it is worth it.

  • Facebook groups

There are a vast variety of groups to join.  I have a few that I follow that range from running to specific job areas. Each provide articles and a chance to connect with professionals across the world. My favorite right now as far as professional development goes is “Professional Development for the Student Affairs Professional.” They are constantly sharing articles, research, apps, relevant questions, etc. This has been easier for me because it is a quick format instead of clicking through links and tabs on websites or doing my own random searches all the time. Twitter would be able to provide similar benefits, I am just not familiar with that platform.

  • Books

I have a tub of professional books that I have collected over the years and have never read, which I am embarrassed to say. I have added this to my goals (30 for 30) to take advantage of these things I have already purchased. Also I am really excited to be connecting with Ellen on this goal as my accountability partner to actually make this happen.

  • Blogs

This one should seem obvious since I am a blogger. Some are just for giggles and are a place to relate and some are more prolific and make me ponder the meaning of my work. Blogs are a great place to see personal views across the field. I have a link on my sidebar to a large list of blogs in Student Affairs-The SA Directory. It is nicely organized in several ways so you can search a topic/area/person, whatever your heart desires. I like bloggers because it makes the profession seem more real and heartfelt to hear the personal stories.

  • Old conference schedules

In my online research, I kept coming across old conference schedules. I would find myself reading through a schedule from 5 years ago to see what topics were covered. This doesn’t give you a lot of meat, however, it is a great place to start if you are wanting to get fresh ideas or want to see what people have done. It has become a springboard for me to search topics and people (yep I look to see if people are “repeat offenders” with publications or presentations). Also, this gives you ammo when looking up things on Youtube. Sometimes you can even get the presentation material if you are lucky! (Can you tell that I am a Learner yet?)

  • Say yes to opportunities

While I may not have money for professional development, that doesn’t mean I haven’t been to any. I have jumped on free seminars here on campus and in my department. I am capitalizing on opportunities that are paid for me. I either find these by word a mouth or watching the daily APSU newsletter.

  • I did a presentation at a Wounded Warrior Conference
  • Seen a few webinars with the department
  • Attended a Women’s Leadership Series here at APSU
  • Attended a Retirement Funds Seminar here at APSU
  • Also connecting with the community I believe counts as an opporuntity-volunteering as POC (point of contact) for Tom’s Unit and working with the shelter are providing me different perspectives of interacting with people and constituents-oh and organizational structure.

–>Podcasts and Radio

My absolute favorite free professional development that I have found are podcasts and radio! Why I didn’t invest in this arena before now I have no idea! These are amazing. I love the ability to listen to people talk while I am working or doing other things. That’s what I call multi-tasking!

  • NPR is my go to radio. I listened to this while in undergrad for some political science and history courses, but I am not sure why I ever stopped. (Maybe it was my interview to be accepted into student teaching that scarred my NPR experience-I still see that professor in my nightmares.) NPR obviously covers a wide range of topics so you can pick and choose what you want to listen to. I think a worldly view is helpful when reaching out in the university realm.
  • You can find podcasts on most major professional websites. Some are free and some are not, but I have had a plethora of freebies to keep me busy.
  • As far as podcasts go, I have to say my favorite is from Life Work Balances. Each week a new interview is uploaded about various people across the field. This one PhD student (Conor) reaches out in different formats to find people to interview. Some he already knew, others recommended to him, and others who contact him. The topics range so widely, but ultimately we are all connected by the college student and striving for balance in this world. It has been really interesting and rejuvenating to hear each person’s story and context. As you know I love stories, so this is probably why this is my all-time favorite. Besides the personal stories, I have learned about various universities, programs and research focuses through these interviews. I learn best through personal connections, so this has been really meaningful for me to listen to these each week.

These are specific resources for Student Affairs and Higher Ed, however, I think the idea can go across professions. It does take some patience and diligence to find some of these things. If you keep at it, you can find a myriad of free resources out there to challenge your thinking and keep your mind fresh. It has been really encouraging to read through/listen to these resources. Being able to still connect freely has given me hope in my part time woes. I want to forever be a “student” in the profession and be able to evolve no matter what my circumstances may be.

As I reflect though, I have had great experiences since I started my Student Affairs journey and have been blessed with so many opportunities to challenge me professionally and personally. Some of my favorite learning moments have been at conferences that cost me several hundred dollars, and then others that I have done in the comfort of my own home in my pajamas have been just as worthwhile. You just have to be willing to say, “I still want to learn,” but also know your means in order to do so. Even though I can’t afford a lot of the “mainstream” professional development, I can still rock out some good stuff on my own. You have to have the gumption to make your own path sometimes, and with the way that technology is moving, you really can do so much for free. Thank you internet inventors for making this gal a little smarter!

Please note that these are all my opinions. I was not contacted by any group or affiliation to write about them. I got all links and prices directly from organization websites. I just wanted to share resources that have helped me in my Student Affairs journey and make professional development more accessible. My intention was to show that you can still obtain relevant and awesome professional development without shelling out any cash.

So there you have it. My effort to remain a professional as a part-time lackey.

Do you have other free ideas that I should be looking at?