Reflection on Inspirational Voices of EDUCAUSE 2018

min read

Students and young IT professionals injected EDUCAUSE 2018 with fresh energy, new perspectives, and innovative ideas.

Young businessman and businesswoman standing in blurred office with light bulb sketches and graphs above them.
Credit: ImageFlow / © 2019

I've attended many great EDUCAUSE meetings going way back to the Educom and CAUSE days. But EDUCAUSE 2018 was a particularly memorable conference for me for three impactful and inspirational reasons: the involvement of students in our conversations, the energy and ambition that the young professionals brought to our discussions, and the intimacy of the braindates for sharing ideas.


The students participating in the panel discussion were inspiring and eye-opening. Their involvement in the Diana Oblinger Leadership meetings was a great opportunity for them to influence rising leaders and share their uncommon thinking. I found their openness to new ideas and approaches inspirational. Listening to the students reinforced for me the need to involve them in more conversations as we in the higher education IT professional community work to transform our institutions and influence culture change within our organizations. EDUCAUSE 2018 motivated me to become more engaged in student conversations on my campus. I committed to spending more time getting to know student employees in our IT organization, having lunch in the dining hall, visiting residence hall lobbies, and finding other informal ways of engaging students in conversations about their experience. I also was inspired to form a cross-divisional student experience taskforce and invited students to share their experiences with us. The taskforce has taken on a life of its own and is used as a tool to drive meaningful changes to our student enrollment management strategy. For example, we brought forth a new free student printing service, new online software applications, and infrastructure improvements—all of which are important to students and ultimately contribute to student success. All of these ideas were sparked by the voice of our stakeholders, the students at EDUCAUSE 2018.

Young Professionals

I was also energized by the young professionals at EDUCAUSE 2018. Maybe I wasn't paying close enough attention to the rise of millennials in the workforce, but it seemed to me like our EDUCAUSE newbies found their voice in Denver. Their presence was felt in almost every session, on the show floor, in social settings, and in hallway conversations. Their energy and enthusiasm for technology fits the EDUCAUSE mission like a glove. For someone who is in the later stage of his career, I often have that "been there, done that and nothing happened" sort of pessimism, which some refer to more simply as "experience." But interacting with young professionals provided me the opportunity to reexamine issues with a fresh set of eyes, and what I saw was impressive and reassuring. These young professionals have an innate sense of inclusion and community, and I found myself immersed in learning moments. You can engage with EDUCAUSE young professionals today via the Young Professionals Community Group on the EDUCAUSE website.


I have to say I was a little skeptical about booking a braindate. But all three of the braindates I attended provided important connections for me. For years I have believed that the real value of EDUCAUSE annual conferences was in reconnecting with colleagues. But with the fast pace of change and the growing IT ecosystems, I found myself needing to find experts. When only like-minded people are around, ideas can be obscured. The solution? Braindates. All it takes is two people with a similar interest and a mechanism to meet and exchange ideas. It's like that grade-school playground experience where you meet your new best friend for the first time. One of my "dates" began with a discussion of the role of artificial intelligence with respect to enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems. Fifteen minutes in, we were joined by five others who happened to overhear our conversation and wanted to chime in. Braindates connected people with similar ideas in a highly interactive and engaging way and with the excitement of unanticipated discovery. I'm looking forward to more "dates" at EDUCAUSE 2019.


For an old-timer who has been associated with EDUCAUSE going way back to CAUSE and Educom, the promise of a rising new generation of EDUCAUSE influencers and leaders provided me with renewed energy, fresh ideas, and the motivation to make change. As a member of the EDUCAUSE 2019 program committee, I am excited about the work that is being done to bring many inspirational moments to Chicago. I'll include more on those exciting ideas and plans for EDUCAUSE 2019 in my next blog post.

Steve Burrell is Vice President for IT and Chief Information Officer at Northern Arizona University.

© 2019 Steve Burrell. The text of this work is licensed under a Creative Commons BY-NC 4.0 International License.