Student Post: Conferences, Presenting as an Undergrad

When you hear the word “conference,” it can sound big and scary. They’re not only reserved for graduate students and scientists, though. I have been fortunate enough to present at a conference twice now in my undergraduate career, and hope to present at more before I graduate. I am a part of the GVSU Honors Mentor Council, where we plan the welcome days for Honors first-year students. I was a mentee as a freshman, became a mentor as a sophomore and was accepted onto the mentor council for the second semester of my sophomore year.

At the very beginning of my sophomore year, I received an email asking if anyone would like to attend the National Mentoring Symposium in Indianapolis. Shortly after, I found out that I was going to help present at the conference, and I hadn’t even started my own role as a mentor yet. I thought going to the conference would be fun, but presenting would be not only be a great thing to put on my resume, but also a great experience to better my presenting skills.

I’m not one to willingly speak in front of large groups of people. I always stumble over my words, and speak too quickly when I get nervous. No matter how much I practice, there is no saving myself. Needless to say, I was terrified before I attended my first conference. I was working with Erin Koren and Glenn Miller, two members of the mentor council at the time. Luckily, they already had the proposal submitted and approved, and even had a general outline of what they wanted to present. They were nice enough to let me choose what part I wanted to present, and helped me feel more confident in myself. We practiced the presentation a few times so we knew we would fill the full hour slot, and if I got nervous and spoke fast, Glenn was prepared to ramble during his sections to make up for my lost time. Without these two wonderful people, I don’t think I would have had the confidence to go through with it.

Once we got to the conference, all of the nerves set in. The first room that we started in to eat breakfast and listen to the key note speaker held close to 500 people. Luckily, when we presented during our concurrent session, we only spoke to maybe 30 people at the most. They all seemed to love our presentation, and were very active in participating, which made everything a lot more comfortable. Comfortable enough that when given the opportunity to present a second time, I jumped at the chance! This past fall, I was asked to present a second time at the same symposium. This time, I took more of a leading role when submitting the proposal and abstract, and Emma Hahs and Darby Naheedy helped me present. We all had such a great time this fall and I think we all learned a lot.

If I had any advice to give to anyone considering presenting at something similar to the National Mentoring Symposium, it would be to take the opportunity in a heartbeat. I never would have thought that something like this would ever affect me as much as it did. My first conference made me realize that I wanted to be a part of the mentor council and make some changes based on what I learned at the conference. I also learned that I am capable of accomplishing things that I am absolutely terrified of. I learned a lot about myself, and about mentoring through both of these conferences, and I plan to take any conference opportunity that comes my way.

 

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Kate Langmeyer is a third year honors student studying wildlife biology and nonprofit administration. She was born and raised on the east side of Michigan before moving out to Allendale to attend Grand Valley State University. She is a part of the Honors Mentor Council, as well as on e-board for the GVSU belly dancing club. During her free time, she can be found reading quietly or watching documentaries. She hopes to one day work in marine mammal rescue and rehabilitation.