President’s Column: Getting Back to the Basics

By Stefanie Niles, NACAC President

The NACAC annual conference is always an invigorating experience. I left Salt Lake City last month feeling inspired by the discussions held, proud of what we accomplished together, and ready to tackle the work that lies ahead.

A year ago, I had just been elected president-elect, and my head was swimming with possibilities and questions. Though I had been a candidate for several months, diving into my first board meeting immediately following the Annual Membership Meeting, it suddenly seemed like a whirlwind. I was so honored and humbled – as I remain today – to have the chance to serve the profession I truly love in this significant way.

As I thought about what I wanted my first words to the membership to be, I reflected on the speech I gave a year ago to the Assembly. In it, I shared my passion and drive to tackle the issues and challenges that our profession faces in our immediate and long-term future. I came to the table concerned about equity and access to college for all students, rising college costs, DACA students, shifting demographics, and expanding uses of technology. I discovered over this past year that my fellow board members and the NACAC staff are also deeply concerned about each of these issues, and we were able to engage in important discussions that led to a number of action items and outcomes.

However, at times our attention was diverted to other pressing matters – certainly matters of importance, yet not many of those I just cited. I can honestly say that, a year ago at this time, I had no idea I would be working closely with a legal team helping to answer the questions posed by the Department of Justice. I did not realize, as a brand-new board member, that when we first discussed the new membership model it would lead to the sometimes difficult yet ultimately positive and engaging discussions with the Affiliate Presidents Council and many NACAC members. I didn’t fully appreciate how much time is spent discussing the budget and related financial matters, working to ensure that we, as a board, maintain our necessary fiduciary role, providing oversight and direction to the association regarding the best and most responsible uses of our funds.

I was talking to a friend outside of the enrollment and counseling realm about this past year and what words of inspiration and, perhaps, even a little wisdom I might impart. She said to me, “Gosh, it sounds like you might want to just go back to the basics.” I thought about that for a bit and realized what a good idea that was. We all know there is so much noise, so many distractions, so many issues that can turn our attention away from our core purpose. I thought I would take a moment to encourage all of us to reflect and remember why we do this work. We do what we do because it matters, because we have the opportunity to make a difference in the lives of students, and because we can help change their lives for the better.

At my recent lunch with the past presidents of NACAC, one of them said, “You know, we have heard a lot about the internal workings of NACAC, but not the external. We haven’t really talked about students.” Over this next year, while there is work to be done to ensure that the association can function most effectively, it is also critical that we get “back to the basics” and refocus our energies on the significant issues impacting our students. As Lynn Slaughter’s husband remarked when he accepted the Gayle C. Wilson Service to Education Award on her behalf at the conference, “Lynn always said ‘The priority – what’s best for the kids.’” And she was right.

But none of us can do this alone. We need each other. From both sides of the desk, we came together at last month’s national conference to reap the benefits of strong professional development opportunities, to celebrate the individuals and organizations who are doing important and beneficial work, and to network with friends and colleagues from around the world. We look forward to our affiliate conferences in the spring and summer months to build on and enhance these opportunities to grow our skills. We connect with each other throughout the year in school counseling offices, at breakfasts and receptions, on college and university campuses, and by phone, email, and social media to share information, ask for advice and guidance, and help each other with the daily questions and concerns we face. And we rely on the assistance of many important partners outside of our offices who help students in their search processes and support the work colleges do to recruit them. “It takes a village” as the saying goes, and I believe that to be exceptionally true for the college admission profession. We are better together than we are alone.

In my speech to the Assembly last year I used a quote that resonated for me then, and still does today – perhaps even more than it did a year ago. Indira Ghandi is quoted as saying, “My grandfather once told me there are two kinds of people: those who do the work, and those who take the credit. He told me to try and be in the first group; there was much less competition.”

I anticipate that there will be much work to do this year and I am ready to do that work. I look forward to continued collaboration with the board, committees, affiliate leadership, and volunteers as we confront those challenges and the many other interests of the membership together. Most importantly, I look forward to partnering with all of you — to hearing your voices, addressing our concerns collaboratively, and to finding new, innovative ways to ensure that NACAC can help you to meet the needs of the students whom we serve.

Our work matters. It is important, necessary, beneficial, and truly rewarding. Thank you for the opportunity to be the president of this great association.

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