My Experience with ACPA and Next Gen by Katie Perry

“We are now beginning our descent into Tampa.”


Those eight words were enough to make me nervous. It was not my first time traveling alone. I knew at least one person that was going to be there. That wasn’t why I was nervous. The ACPA Conference in Tampa, Florida was the beginning of the first chapter of my career.

This conference wasn’t the only thing I was thinking about while traveling to Tampa. I had to make a decision about where I am going to attend graduate school this same weekend. I got to my hotel room, settled in, and began to write a Pros and Cons list. This is when I received a phone call. “We regret to inform you that you have not been asked to attend this graduate program. I’m sorry.”

Yes, I was disappointed. I have never been someone to easily accept a “no”. At the same time, this one phone call changed everything for me that weekend. If I had received a “yes” from this institution, I was going to have to make a very difficult decision about the institution I was going to attend in the fall. Even though I have a feeling I would have chosen this program anyway, I knew I was going to attend the University of Tennessee, Knoxville’s College Student Personnel masters program (Go Vols!) just in time for the ACPA conference. I immediately emailed UT Knoxville telling them that I accepted the program and my assistantship in Housing.

To be completely honest, I felt very lost at first. I had applied to the Next Generation program because one of my supervisors suggested that I do it. I was thrilled to receive a scholarship from The Commission for Housing and Residential Life (Thanks again!). However, I had no idea what I signed myself up to do. I had no idea what to expect or how to navigate the conference. This was a big step for me because I like structure.

The night of Friday, March 6th consisted of the Next Gen Participants, Friends and Alumni Reception. This was the first time I got to meet many of the Next Gen participants and alumni of the program. Even listening to the stories of the alumni, I don’t think I fully understood how much I was going to get out of the sessions presented to the “Next Genners”. It was also really exciting for me to say, “I actually committed to the University of Tennessee, Knoxville two hours ago.”

Saturday, March 7th was filled with informative and captivating sessions. The most educational session for me was Annie Stevens and Patience Whitworth’s session on values. I had never before thought much about how interconnected the values of student affairs are with my values. It also made me think about how I can use my values to best serve students.

That same day, I was looking over my schedule and noticed a name. Nequel Burwell, one of my future supervisors at UT Knoxville, was going to give a PechaKucha talk at the Next Gen Conference! She was someone I had previously interviewed with and the person I emailed to accept the position. I was so excited! When I saw her, she gave me a hug and congratulated me. I cannot tell you the level of connectivity I felt to my future institution, my future career, and ACPA in that moment. It felt like everything was falling into place for me. I was trying not to seem like a “fan girl” when she was giving her talk, but I was smiling from ear to ear.

That night, I had the opportunity to speak to representatives of the ACPA Entity Groups. This is where I met Troy, Hilary, and Rike from The Commission for Housing and Residential Life. I had great conversations with everyone. I appreciated the way they made me feel like an equal and important in this field. I also had the opportunity to meet the people that ran Career Central this year. They convinced me to volunteer at Career Central next year. I think it would be a great opportunity to see how Career Central is run and prepare for for I am looking for a job in the field.

On the last day, I was moved by the speeches given by Laverne Cox and Dr. Stephen John Quaye. They both have stories and identities that are different from my own. It is always very powerful for me to listen to someone speak about their experiences in life. I actively listened not to understand, but to become an ally.

Overall, ACPA Next Gen was one of the most empowering experiences I have had the opportunity of participating in. I am definitely going to be attending for many more years to follow. If I could give advice to future Next Gen students, this is what I would say…

  1.  Make connections. There are so many opportunities to introduce yourself to someone and make a connection with them. You may find someone who knows your roommate at home. (This happened to me if you couldn’t already tell.)
  2. Bring business cards. This is something I didn’t even think of before I came to Florida. Thank goodness they made some for us. It was very helpful when connecting with people to give them a business card instead of writing all your information down.
  3. Write where you met everyone on the back of their business cards. You meet an enormous amount of people at the ACPA conference. When I went to follow up with these people via email after the conference, I was able to remember where we were and what we talked about.
  4. Don’t be afraid to add to the conversation. I went to a session talking about residential life with people who were in or already finished with graduate school. I was scared at first to contribute to the conversation. When I did, they all thought my idea was great! Your unique experiences and ideas can have an impact no matter what age or level of education!
  5. Have fun! These are the people that actually understand what you want to do with your career life. Feel free to express your passions and get excited. They will most likely be excited with you.

Thanks for reading my take on ACPA and Next Gen. If you have any questions or comments, feel free to email me at


Katie Perry  is a graduating senior at Sonoma State University in Rohnert Park, CA. She has committed to the University of Tennessee, Knoxville’s College Student Personnel program and has secured an assistantship in housing. Katie enjoys playing her guitar, dancing, and helping students. Feel free to email her at


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