Commission for Student Involvement

Tips & Tricks: Attending the Leadership Educators Institute

Lauren Irwin, University of Southern California,, @Lauren_Irwin22

Kelsey Hayes, Sonoma State University,, @kelseys_tweet


            The Leadership Educators Institute (LEI) will take place in Orlando, FL from December 9-11, 2018. LEI, a bi-annual conference, is co-sponsored by ACPA, NASPA, and the National Clearinghouse for Leadership Programs (NCLP). This conference is a great opportunity for leadership educators, scholars, and practitioners to engage in learning, dialogue, professional development, and resource sharing. As a former and current leadership educators, we will share   some highlights from our LEI experiences in order to help practitioners learn about the conference. Before sharing more conference details, we will share more about our own experiences with LEI.

Lauren, attended LEI in 2014 and 2016

Attending LEI was an invaluable professional experience for me. I was a master’s student the first time I attended and I was about to apply for leadership jobs in student affairs. The conference allowed me to learn more about different leadership programs across the country, make connections, and consider emerging trends and practices in the functional area. I attended a broad array of sessions; I selected sessions with the intention of sampling the buffet of topics provided. The conference was a great confidence boost for me as I applied for leadership jobs -- I left feeling rejuvenated, inspired, and in the know about leadership education.

            When I attended for the second time, I was two years into my professional role as a leadership educator. I presented at the conference about the work my office was doing. Once again, the conference provided a great space for me to learn from and with colleagues across higher education. I purposely chose to attend sessions that were related to projects and ideas I was working on and that centered critical perspectives and social justice.

Kelsey, attended LEI in 2016

I attended LEI as a first year graduate student. It was a wonderful experience which allowed me to dip my toes into the world of student affairs conferences -  which, if you are an introvert like me, can feel somewhat overwhelming. I loved that LEI was on the smaller side, allowing for deeper exploration, conversations, and intentionality in breakout session options. Watching Drs. Susan Komives and Alexander Astin engage in a “fireside chat” about leadership and the development of the Social Change Model was a highlight for me, as was attending breakout sessions that focused on critical perspectives.

Having now attended multiple conferences, I left each one feeling gratitude in different ways. LEI felt comprehensive in that it was a more intimate experience which allowed space to both bond with my colleagues and create new connections, while diving deep into leadership education and critical perspectives. As a Career Advisor at Sonoma State University, I often find myself incorporating takeaways from LEI and leadership theory into my work; I would encourage any student affairs professional who is interested in leadership development to consider this conference!

We know our experiences at LEI will not speak for everybody; however, we hope our experiences and overview of the conference will provide more insight into LEI.

  • Audience: Predominantly, LEI attendees are graduate students, new professionals, and mid-level professionals. In our experience, the conference was intentionally designed to provide opportunities for people “on the ground” to share ideas, build skills, and engage in dialogue on topics related to leadership education. There are upper-level professionals and scholars who attend and present at the conference, but they mostly attend as presenters and speakers.
  • Sessions: LEI has a great variety of sessions. Many sessions have a practical orientation -- practitioners sharing data, practices, and policies from their leadership courses, programs, and events. Attending LEI sessions is a wonderful (and convenient) way to gather a lot of new ideas and practices in one setting. You’ll get a chance to hear from well-established leadership programs, newly formed programs and majors, and exciting partnerships and collaborations. In our experience, most sessions are ideal for graduate students and new professionals -- folks who are responsible for designing and executing leadership education on campuses.
  • Speakers: LEI brings a great array of speakers that any leadership nerd will love. In years past, we’ve heard from Drs. Julie Owen, John Dugan, Susan Komives, Alexander Astin, and Rev. Dr. Jamie Washington. LEI speakers find a great balance of sharing great insights and perspectives about both leadership theory and practice. Given the release of John Dugan’s 2017 Leadership Theory: Cultivating Critical Perspectives book, themes and considerations from this book will likely be prevalent at the conference. The 2016 conference engaged speakers in reflection on the history of the Social Change Model and considerations of identity and social justice. Based on the speaker line-up for 2018, intersections of identity, social justice, and leadership will continue to be a critical component of the conference.
  • Other: One of the great things about LEI is the size of the conference. Unlike NASPA and ACPA, which can feel massive and overwhelming, LEI is a much smaller conference -- usually 200-500 attendees. In our experience, the smaller size allows for more meaningful engagement in content, ease in building relationships, and simplicity in navigating the conference space. Like other student affairs conferences, LEI has networking socials, keynotes, and concurrent sessions. Other traditional conference norms exist as well -- most people tend to dress in their professional best. Generally, the conference doesn’t schedule sessions during lunch, so lunchtime can be a great opportunity to recharge, catch up with colleagues, or make new friends.

 We hope that sharing our experiences at LEI will help others make informed decisions about attending the conference. Leadership education continues to be an essential component of student affairs work, yet, targeted professional development opportunities for leadership educators can be a mixed bag at larger conferences. We strongly encourage leadership educators to consider attending LEI, if they have the time and resources to do so. LEI represents ACPA and NASPA’s commitment to supporting leadership education and leadership educators and is a fun and engaging professional development opportunity.