They must have worked overnight as the roads were cleared and made safer to drive the next morning. Our next visit was to Central Connecticut State University (CCSU). It has a student population of 11,800 and the President is looking to increase it to 15,000 in a couple of years. Their student center is 84,000 sq.ft and with so much packed into it. They have a canteen that has a stage that can hold events and hold a capacity of 700 people, in addition to ballroom that can hold 500 seated. They’ve got storage spaces for equipment, lockers and letterboxes and the center is managed by 55 student-staff. This all caters for their 130 student organizations and they strictly don’t allow academics to use the space. This tour was my favourite out of all the other ones was and many others in the delegation agreed. This is because their student center was more realistic and within our range as we all know in Ireland that we’re restricted with money and space.
We went from CCSU to the ACUI Regional Conference which was being hosted in the University of Hartford. The first day of the conference was just a welcome evening with a keynote speaker was a woman who worked as an architect and told us how she got where she is and what she is doing in a very male dominated industry. The other highlight of the trip was the evening entertainment. They brought in a Guinness Book of Records Balloonist and Magician. It was not what I expected but was extremely funny, and he apparently has done events in the White House in the past, so I don’t expect him to be cheap if we think to bring him to TU Dublin!
The conference had different sessions to cater for different cohort of people such as undergraduates, graduates and professional. You weren’t restricted to only attend sessions within your category, and so allowed me and others to pick talks which were of interest. The first talk that morning I attended was on ‘Strengthening the Student Voice through Student Engagement Roles’ which actually presented by a staff who worked in the Office of Student Life in DCU. If I’d done my research I could have gone to a different one as this centered on areas which I was already aware of such as Class Reps, NStEP, ISSE and the famous Tom Collins Report. Nonetheless, it gave me an insight into what is done in another University for student engagement.
The next session which I went to was on ‘Social justice training & education for student employees’. This gave me an understanding of the issues facing universities in America and how they try combat racism, xenophobia and general inequality, while also trying to make their student centers as inclusive and accessible as possible, since that’s the main area they have most control in their Universities.
The evening was the usual dinner in Hartford and the beginning of the ACUI Live Auction. This was the main feature of the conference as there was both a silent and live auction. The silent auction involved universities attending the conference, including ourselves donating whatever merchandise you had and you could bid for it through a dedicated online website. The live auction involved bidding for items which businesses and companies had donated for auction. The purpose for all this was that all the money raised would go into a fund to give those less fortunate the opportunity to attend training and conferences like these hosted by ACUI as they can be costly, including registration, travel and accommodation.
This was the last day of the conference and last full day in America. The morning session was on ‘Planning for Student Center Renovation’, and this is quite poignant because we haven’t even got a student center and the concerns we have is that if it’s put in the basement of the student accommodation as were the original plans, then there would be no chance of extending or renovating it in the future. You would note that I said it was the original plan as this is a priority which DITSU, Clubs and Societies have been trying to get the former DIT to relook at and we finally have that opportunity which you can read here. Anyhow, that morning’s session gave ideas on what to do when we hopefully get the standalone student center which we’re asking for, but also to learn how to do it right the first time so that the renovation which is expected for all buildings, isn’t about fixing the mistakes you made in the first place when building.
The rest of the morning involved a discussion on contentious topics and those considered as unpopular opinions in student affairs. It was quite entertaining and once again; getting a perspective on the issues students face in America, which is not too dissimilar to what Students’ Unions are trying to address in our universities and society. During that discussion, I learnt that in some instances we are ahead, such as how to properly and fairly allocate resources to their equivalent clubs and societies.
The final session before the closing ceremony of the conference was ‘PechaKucha’ talks. This is a format of storytelling and presenting with 20 powerpoint slides for 20 seconds for each slide. Brian Gormley, Head of Campus Life, was one of the four presenters and his was on the experiences of the interns they hire to work in Campus Life.
The return to Ireland
I had to return home to Dublin that Sunday night because I had an important board meeting the next afternoon. I was definitely jet-lagged as I only got back 6am the next morning and need to take the morning off. However, that didn’t stop me going to the US Ambassador’s Residence in Phoenix Park for the Thanksgiving celebrations that evening. It seems I just left for one piece of US soil for another! I got to meet and network with a lot of people as I recounted my experiences in America that was only 24 hours previously.
I thoroughly enjoyed my first trip to America, but it felt as if I didn’t really visit America, because I spent most of the time inside student centers, conference rooms and the bus! This of course gives more of a reason to go back soon and properly visit and try get a sense if there’s such a thing as the American dream. This is easier said than done as my ESTA visa lasts 2 years, but still need to find the time and money to make it a worthwhile trip. However, with the way things are going in America, let’s hope I do get another chance to visit.