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Josie Ahlquist and panelists present at the Student Life Summit

21 Years into the 21st Century: A Review of the Student Life Summit

by Blake Weiss, special projects coordinator for the Office of the Vice Chancellor for Student Life

Blake Weiss, special projects coordinator for the Office of the Vice Chancellor for Student Life

Blake Weiss, special projects coordinator for the Office of the Vice Chancellor for Student Life

The Division of Student Life hosted the Student Life Summit for the second time this past February with more than 150 registered faculty, staff, and graduate students from across the university. This year’s summit theme was “21 Years into the 21st Century,” which called upon summit attendees to examine the future of higher education by exploring technological advances and innovations, strategies to harness and influence change, and considerations for practice and preparation.

To highlight this year’s theme, Josie Ahlquist was selected as the featured keynote speaker and presenter. Ahlquist is a speaker, researcher, and author on digital leadership who takes a personal approach to transforming how we view technology through the lens of empathy and empowerment that will result in stronger companies, communities, schools, and future leaders. Ahlquist’s opening keynote was titled “Engaging the Digital Generation” and called upon higher education professionals to consider digital spaces as opportunities for engagement and genuine connection between students and professionals.

Ahlquist also hosted a breakout session titled “Digital leadership: The research and practice of influence online in higher ed,” as well as a closing panel featuring Student Life leaders discussing their engagements in digital leadership as professionals. Finally, this year’s summit featured a new addition, a pre-conference on digital leadership for new professionals the day before the summit. This pre-conference session included more than a dozen new professionals from across the division and was a highlight of the summit for many of those in attendance.

In addition to Ahlquist’s contributions, the summit featured 12 breakout sessions presented by Student Life staff members. 

“I really enjoyed the pre-conference session that Ahlquist hosted for young professionals. That was very fun and a great way to interact with her and others in Student Life.”

—pre-conference attendee

Before the summit, the Division of Student Life evaluated the professional development needs of staff members utilizing the NASPA/ACPA Professional Competencies. Through the assessment analysis, three competency areas were identified as priorities for the division: Assessment, Evaluation, and Research (AER), Social Justice and Inclusion (SJI), and Student Learning and Development (SLD). Summit presentation proposals that connected learning outcomes to these competency areas were prioritized for the summit. These NASPA/ACPA competencies were published on the schedule of events for reference as attendees navigated the summit.

One attendee’s favorite was a presentation hosted by staff members in Student Disability Services titled, “Best practices for successful engagement with deaf and hard-of-hearing students.” Connecting directly to the SJI NASPA/ACPA competency, one attendee noted that “the session about deaf and hard-of-hearing culture was great! This is a session that many people need to attend and be exposed to.”

“The invitation clearly communicated that the summit was for all staff and faculty, so I invited a friend of mine in student advising and she was thrilled to be part of it.”

—summit attendee

This year’s summit was hosted in person for the first time after initially launching in a virtual platform during the COVID-19 pandemic. After more than a year of minimal conference travel and other professional development opportunities typical to student affairs, the summit captured an eager group of professionals seeking to engage in professional development, reflection, and networking. Student Life looks forward to hosting the Student Life Summit next year and hopes to reach even more colleagues from across all of UT’s campuses.

91% of attendees agreed that the breakout sessions added value to the Summit