Spring Conference Turning Points

During his keynote address at the 2023 Iowa ACAC Conference, Dr. Jared Smith talked about turning points. The subject of his newest book, Jared shared some moments in his life that may have seemed small at the time, but wound up shaping the trajectory of his life in really meaningful ways. As I reflect on this conference and my experiences with Iowa ACAC, I wanted to share a few of my own turning points with this association.

From 2011-2014, while I was an undergrad at the University of Northern Iowa, I worked in the UNI Admissions Office, answering phones, giving campus tours, and filing transfer student paperwork. Throughout my time there, I fell in love with admissions work, and I would often hear colleagues like Jenny Connolly and Dan Schofield talk about an organization that they were a part of called Iowa ACAC. When they came back from their conferences, I thought to myself that I would love to get to go to one of those conferences someday. Turning point.

In the fall of 2016, I worked at ICAN, and I traveled throughout eastern Iowa delivering presentations on financial aid and college planning to families at local high schools. At a college planning night at Western Dubuque High School, I met the admissions staff member from Wartburg who was sponsoring the presentation. We chatted for a while before the presentation, and I made a conscious effort to write down her name, because I really enjoyed our conversation. Two years later, that woman from Wartburg was taking over as the conference planning chair for Iowa ACAC, and at that year’s conference, Mallory Luensmann asked me if I would be interested in joining the committee. Turning point.

In the summer of 2019, Tom Paulsen, the new President of Iowa ACAC, hosted the executive board’s summer retreat in Iowa City. I was new to the board, having just taken over the committee chair position for Publications & Marketing, and I wasn’t quite sure who I was going to sit next to at the meeting. I sat down in a chair at the Iowa Memorial Union, and the gentleman sitting next to me introduced himself as the Past-President, Mark Ash. I didn’t know it then, but over the next few years, Mark would become a mentor and friend, and would be one of the people I’d most look forward to seeing at Iowa ACAC events. His career in admissions and dedication to the organization would be a huge motivation and inspiration for me. Turning point.

Those three turning points all helped lead me to May 21-23, 2023, where over 250 school counselors and admission professionals gathered in Iowa City, Iowa, for our annual Iowa ACAC Conference. I was proud to serve as the conference planning chair alongside an incredible committee who worked hard to put together a great experience for our attendees. Over the course of three days, we were able to reconnect and catch up at happy hour, learn alongside each other through a selection of thirty-one carefully cultivated sessions, enjoy a fun and inspiring keynote address from the superintendent of Waterloo Community Schools, and spend quality time bowling and laughing together at the Monday evening social.

This conference was full of new ideas and initiatives that our committee wanted to try. Tom Paulsen has advocated for years that we should host the Iowa ACAC Conference on a college campus, allowing attendees to get a glimpse of student life at one of the incredible campuses our state has to offer, and allowing the association to save thousands on room fees and technology fees. We wanted to repurpose that savings into a meaningful experience for our members, and we were able to use those savings to fund the social event at Spare Me on Monday night. It was so fun for me to host the conference on the campus where I work, and I loved welcoming our members to the community that I call home. I can’t wait for future conferences where we can explore other campuses across the state!

John Laverty had the idea to create an Executive Track that was full of sessions geared towards Vice Presidents, Deans, and Directors. Our four platinum sponsors, ACT, College Board, RNL, and Salesforce, all led sessions on the executive track. Enrollment leaders had the opportunity to engage in conversations about strategic enrollment planning, recruitment technology, marketing, and data privacy. The final session of the executive track was a roundtable session where senior admissions leaders could discuss challenges and opportunities within the field.

For years, the conference planning committee has wanted to make this conference a destination for school counselors in our state. To make this a reality, Tom worked with the Scanlan Center for School Mental Health to coordinate a school counselor track full of sessions that would support our counseling peers as they work with students. Through sponsorships and an incredible grant from NACAC, we were able to offer free registration, one free night in a hotel, and a $25 gas gift card to school counselors and CCTCs who attended the conference. Each member institution also provided swag items for school counselors, so we were able to send them all away with a bag full of giveaway items for their students. We had fifty-eight school counselors register this year, which is a record for the association!

One of the parts of every conference that I most look forward to is the state meeting, and this year’s definitely did not disappoint. We were able to thank some of the executive board members who are finishing their terms this year. Janelle Sperry announced the recipients of the Freddy Miranda Access Scholarship and shared Freddy’s story and the impact he had on so many students throughout his career. We applauded the nominees and winners of the Admissions Professional of the Year, Rising Star, and School Counselor of the Year Awards. Michael Barron, Past-President of Iowa ACAC from 1990-1991, was able to hand out the award for the winner of the Michael Barron Impact Award, named in his honor. We recognized our new President-Elect, Sheryl Bass, and our now Past-President Drew Shradel handed over the gavel to our new President, Chevy Freiburger. It was a great celebration of the work that our whole association is engaged in, and it made me excited for the year ahead.

I was so inspired by the creativity, dedication, and hard work that our committee showed throughout the entire year that it took to plan this conference. It was an amazing group of people to work with, and I cannot thank them enough. Mallory Luensmann, Nick Kettmann, Autumn Luce, Janelle Sperry, Sabrina Tapps-Fee, Katie Wyman, John Laverty, John Peterson, Rachel Hootman, Tom Paulsen, Liz Wessels, and Sheryl Bass all deserve all the praise in the world for their hard work and ingenuity.

I hope that this conference experience served as a turning point for at least one of our attendees. Maybe someone in a senior leadership position learned valuable information from an executive track session that sparked a new idea that could transform their office. Maybe one of the school counselor sessions from the Scanlan Center provided much-needed support to a counselor as they wrap up their school year. Maybe a brand-new admission counselor was inspired to seek out a long career in admissions by the remarks made by our “Lifetime Achievement Award” honorees Carol Williamson, Tim Hauber, and Mark Ash. Whatever your moment may have been, I hope that this conference experience has filled your cup and that you are ready for another wonderful year!

A note from the conference planning committee:

We want to make a tradition of hosting our Iowa-only conferences on a college campus! Would your campus like to host our next Iowa-only conference in 2025? In December, the Conference Planning Committee will be asking interested campuses to submit a proposal with more information about your facilities. Reach out to Susan Dickinson with any questions at [email protected].



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