Building Confidence Through Community


Thursday, March 31, 2022

“My name is Anisa Bhatti, and I am a Graduate Student at the University of Pennsylvania.”

If I had a dollar for every time I said that introduction during the NASPA Conference, I could retire as soon as I get my diploma.

I never felt confident introducing myself in a professional environment. As a student who transitioned to higher education from life sciences, I never had much experience in networking or preparing elevator pitches since my undergraduate years consisted of attending labs, memorizing pathways, and drawing perfect hexagons for chemical structures. But this last year as a GSE student, I have taken professional development classes and learned about resume building, elevator pitches, and how to write cover letters. This week at NASPA, I was able to take my classroom knowledge and use it in a real-life setting. 

When the Vice Provost of University Life, Dr. Mamta Accapadi visited my professional development class, she talked about the NASPA Conference and how it is a great opportunity to learn more about student affairs and professional development. As a full-time graduate student, I was very interested in attending the conference, but I was unsure if I could because I could not afford the trip costs. When I found out that Penn GSE and Penn University Life were generous enough to offer fully funded scholarships for 10 GSE students attending the NASPA conference, it made my decision to go all more exciting (and less stressful), and for that, I am fortunate and grateful.   

It was great to see the Penn community being highly represented, with over 50 people in attendance. As I discussed with my cohort, there were a variety of lectures to choose from, which was overwhelming at first, but that was what I loved most about NASPA. It gave us diverse lectures that talked about different, critical topics in student affairs such as the importance of having centralized strategies in case of a crisis, success coaching for contemporary students, and the importance of having data collection that can help best serve first-generation students. Yet, my personal favorite was Dr. Dale Whittaker’s lesson on leadership, developing equity in higher education, and the importance of investing in solutions that address the barriers students face.

What made this experience incredibly fulfilling was having the chance to attend social events that were smaller, allowing me to take the time to get to know people professionally and personally. I had the pleasure of attending a Desi Meet-Up, and to see so many higher education professionals that resemble me and represent my culture made my experience at NAPSA empowering and inspiring. One of my biggest takeaways from the conference was the importance of developing relationships with others. This conference gave me the privilege to meet and learn from mid- and high-level administrators from institutions around the world. The leaders I have met from Penn (and outside of Penn) have been nothing but kind and welcoming throughout this experience. Their leadership and support created an energetic community in which everyone had something to gain personally and professionally. Their wisdom about the professional world gave me a better sense of navigating the job application and interview process with confidence. While I gained a lot of knowledge inside the lecture halls, the largest impact was through these deep connections I formed within the GSE and Penn professional community.

With this new confidence, I proudly reintroduce myself, not as an intimated student, but as a young professional ready to make an impact in higher education.