At the Crossroads of Ombuds: A first-timer's experience at the IOA Conference

By Lana Smith-Hale, LCSW,
Assistant Ombuds, UC Santa Barbara,

As a self-proclaimed extrovert, I am still surprisingly nervous about going into a new space filled with colleagues I have never met. And as the only member of my team who attended the conference this year, I was nervously looking forward to what lay ahead. I am an Ombuds in Higher Education and am familiar with attending conferences in this sector; yet as an Ombuds with one year of experience, I felt the pressure with this experience to cement my belief if this was the right field for me. Spoiler alert- it is! Here are the three main takeaways I’d like to share from my time at IOA Indy:

  1. When I arrived late at night, I was surprised at the friendliness of fellow conference-goers that started right away. Even at 11 am, after a long day of travel, someone introduced themselves at the elevator and shared their excitement for elements of the conference. I was delighted to see the friendly face of Paul Sotoudeh whose warm welcome helped ease my worries that this was going to be a fun experience. From there, the friendliness of colleagues connecting was infectious. People were very eager to connect one person to another: "Have you met my friend from XYZ?" "You would love to talk to so-and-so from ABC". The accessibility, warmth, and down-to-earthness of meeting the giants in the field like Chuck Howard and Ellen Miller, to hearing Mary Rowe in sessions felt comfortable and kind. Having lunch with my IOA Mentor, Kathie Greenwood, in person was another big highlight. So be prepared, that even if you are not an extrovert and don't know many folks attending, you will be surrounded by friendly folks, eager to connect with old and new ombuddies alike.

  2. The conference structure involved keynotes and breakout sessions that included an effort to pump folks up for the challenging work we do and give hope in times that feel extra challenging globally. What makes the IOA conference unique in my opinion is the diversity of ideas, thoughts, professions, and education of attendees. I loved learning about different organizations that have ombuds (yay to the US Air Force Academy) and was inspired by many sessions that helped me think in new ways of how culture affects not only our participants’ experiences but my practice as an Ombuds (shout out to Neal Powless). I felt challenged and invigorated by this experience and that the conference's mission to inspire was done.

  3. Indiana’s motto is the “Crossroads of America”, and to me, this appropriately fits as being my first experience at my Crossroads as an Ombuds. The global attendees were a huge highlight and were so impressive to me. I delighted in the shared knowledge exchanged and efforts to understand the challenges faced by Ombuds around the world. I enjoyed Qinhui Jiang’s session but loved, even more, how folks lined up to share their connection to Kenya with him!

My experience at the 19th Annual IOA conference in Indiana was full of excitement, knowledge, and friendships - I hope to see you at the next one!

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