Conferences offer students opportunity to supplement classroom learning

by Alanna Carlson

Academic conferences are a common way for students to gain knowledge and experience in a variety of career fields related to that major. Many Whitworth students attend conferences under the guidance of their advisers or other professors within their departments.

Nathan Reid

Senior political science major Nathan Reid attended a political science conference at the United States Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colo. during Jan Term. There were two students from Whitworth and about 75 to 100 total students, Reid said.

Reid said he chose to attend this conference because of the bigger pool of knowledge available to him there. With a wide range of students, professors and professionals coming from all over the country, the conference offered discussion and knowledge on topics not normally discussed in the Northwest.

“It was very well structured,” Reid said. “I didn’t really have any complaints about it.”

Getting involved in a conference like this one can be pretty simple, Reid said. Staying in touch with advisers is important, as well as staying informed about opportunities in one’s department.

“Talk to professors,” Reid said. “It seems like they always receive emails [about conferences or other opportunities], and sometimes those don’t always get sent around.”

Briana Calderon

Junior biology and biochemistry major Briana Calderon attended a STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) conference for colored women in STEM sciences, hosted last semester in Dallas, Texas.

“I got an email from Dr. Mabry in the Math department,” Calderon said. “She was like, ‘Let me know if you want to go to this,’ and so I did.”

There were roughly 10 Whitworth students who attended the conference, Calderon said. Calderon and the other students did not have to pay any money out-of-pocket for this conference, as Whitworth and some of the companies hosting the event – including Boeing, NASA, Aerotek and Chrysler provided the funding for them to attend.

“Being a junior and trying to plan ahead a little, it was just a really good opportunity to connect with people,” Calderon said.

The conference featured several classes and workshops about preparing for a career in the STEM sciences, as well as opportunities to network with with different companies, Calderon said. Her favorite part of the conference was the awards dinners.

“For the dinners they would award women in STEM fields who had accomplished really really big things,” Calderon said. “So I really enjoyed getting to hear their stories.”

Calderon, like Reid, mentioned staying informed as a big part of getting involved in a conference like this.

“Pay attention to the emails that come out,” Calderon said. “And talk to professors to make sure you’re not missing any opportunities.”

In preparation for a conference like this, write down the questions you want to ask the companies with whom you talk, Calderon said. Also have a list of answers to common questions from professionals memorized.

Willa Schober

A senior English major, Willa Schober recently attended an AWP (Association of Writers and Writing Programs) Conference. Working with Rock and Sling, Schober heard about AWP through Thom Caraway. Caraway organizes the trip from Whitworth to the conference every year. Having missed the past couple years, it was exciting to finally get to attend, Schober said.

“I really wanted to get to meet all of these journals and all of these writers,” Schober said.

The AWP Conference takes the form of several panels and a book fair where regional authors, publishers, and other literary companies can gain valuable exposure, according to AWP’s official website. Schober attended several of the panels offered this year, but her favorite one was the panel entitled “Magic and the Intellect,” she said.

“It wasn’t what I expected. It wasn’t about magic in fiction, it was about the magic that writing can cast on people,” Schober said. “I went to a couple other panels as well, but in general it was just really interesting to be surrounded by like-minded people.”

Schober and her partner on Rock and Sling drove to the conference separately from the main group, and stayed in Port Orchard, a ferry ride away from the conference location in downtown Seattle. Other than missing the ferry a couple times, her time there went rather smoothly, Schober said.

“It was just a really interesting experience all around,” Schober said. “While I was working at the Rock and Sling booth, I got to meet all of the writer’s whose work I had been reading over the years and it was so interesting to be able to put a face to all of this poetry and fiction I had been reading.”

Schober also said she enjoyed exploring Seattle from a professional perspective rather than being the typical tourist.

Opportunities like the AWP Conference present themselves more often if one is involved in extracurriculars within one’s department, Schober said.

Once at the conference, enjoy the conference and all it has to offer, but also make sure to pace yourself, Schober said, advising that students who attend should also take time out of the trip to explore and enjoy the city in which the conference is held.

“It will be very tempting to want to do everything. I highly suggest that you don’t try it,” Schober said. “Just pace yourself. Know when it’s time to rest. It’s good to sort of escape. Go out and see whatever city you’re in.”

Brooke Grissom

Dance minor Brooke Grissom has attended ACDF (American College Dance Festival) for the past two years, and plans to attend again in April.

Mainly regional, ACDF is held on different college campuses every year, Grissom said. The past two years, the conference has been held on different campuses in Utah, and this year it will be held in Bozeman, Mont.

“I’ve danced all my life and I’m always interested in new dance experiences,” Grissom said. “Karla, the dance director here at Whitworth explained it as a great opportunity to sort of grow roots as a dance minor.”

The conference is set up as workshops led by dance educators from universities everywhere in the country who come to critique routines and help dancers improve, Grissom said.

“Since our dance minor is fairly new, I think it’s really good just to go and kind of gain perspective on what other schools are doing,” Grissom said.

The preparation for this conference takes months and is a rather large time commitment, Grissom said. Because the routines that are brought to the conference are judged, numerous rehearsals are need to prepare a piece.

Grissom also stressed that one does not have to be a dance minor to participate in the conference.

“You can expect a time commitment and to be challenged, but you can also expect to step into a really great community and a lot of growth from the experience,” Grissom said.

It can be challenging not to make oneself feel inferior by looking at all the great talent at the conference, Grissom said. Her advice is to go to a conference like this one with an attitude toward improvement, not self-deprecation.

Her favorite part about ACDF is the after party, Grissom said. Because everyone at the conference are either dance minors or majors, the dancing can get pretty wild, she said.

“Since everything’s over and all the stress is done, everyone just kind of dances themselves away,” Grissom said.

Contact Alanna Carlson at

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