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Professional Development – Authentically Appreciative

August 9, 2017 10:45 pm Published by Leave your thoughts


Last fall a new hire conducted informational interviews with members of the broader Career Center Team across functional departments to determine which annual conference she would request to attend during the 2016-2017 academic year.

And….I must confess a feeling of pride when her travel authorization request landed on my desk bearing the recognizable logo of CEIA.

Working on large staff at the “most efficient public university” translates into a set allotment of annual travel funds. Her choice of the CEIA Annual Conference in Denver, CO meant that she was putting all of her professional development eggs into one basket.

As the conference drew near, I checked in and she shared a thoughtfully mapped out and scheduled conference schedule.

Strategically, she first selected presentations if the topic aligned with our institutional, departmental and team annual goals as well strategic plan. When that list was too long, she narrowed it by researching the presenter’s employing institution type/size and career services delivery model. It was abundantly clear that she aimed to learn from experiential learning professionals succeeding in peer institutions with like-minded campus climates.

Then, she shared her schedule of breakfast and lunch “networking dates.” Using the list of registered attendees that CEIA provides, she identified colleagues in student-facing roles advising similar population and academic plan profiles. And, she had volunteered to work check-in in order to meet as many conference attendees as possible. Together, these activities would facilitate her creation of a network of external colleagues to call on when stumped by a stated career goal or employer encounter.

During the conference, I saw her animatedly engaging in conversation, taking notes, exchanging business cards, intensely questioning vendors, and exploring Denver with new friends and colleagues. She would wave excitedly, sporting a broad smile, then text declaring how she couldn’t wait to share all of her new ideas during our travels back to Tallahassee.

Yes, her first CEIA Conference experience WAS phenomenal because she leveraged the conference offerings to fill her self-identified skills, knowledge and network gap.

And yes, her approach is both a reminder for seasoned conference attendees and a roadmap for new professionals. She sculpted the CEIA Conference experience to ensure she filled her tool box with best practices that could translate into beneficial programming and resources for her students at Florida State University.

However, that’s not the most impressive part. The most impressive part is what she did after.

A week after the conference, she emailed a thank you note CCing her direct supervisor, myself and the Career Center Director. She specifically detailed how she was already, and would strive to continue,  translating her individual attendance at the CEIA Conference into objectives and initiatives on our campus to increase employability and career-readiness of our students. She specifically thanked the Career Center for making a financial investment in her professional growth and development promising to maximize the knowledge and network she gained. Her authentic appreciation email among the cacophony of student, employer, and faculty/staff demands stood out. As a manager, it was the first time I had ever received such a thoughtful thank you note for authorizing conference travel.

She reminds us that conference travel is a privilege and an investment by our institution that should not be taken for granted, but maximized.

And, while she was immensely flattered and honored to be the subject of this blog, she will not let me reveal her name or share her thank you email. However, I have no doubt that those of you lucky to network with her know exactly who she is – after all, you probably received an authentically appreciative thank you note as well.

AUTHOR: Tracey Dowling is the Program Director for Experiential Learning at Florida State University. She can be reached at

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