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Breaking convention: How I managed to enjoy my first national conference

by Florence Odigie

 

In the middle of the career fair floor, as I talk with a recruiter, we are distracted by a young boy with a hard hat climbing atop the red display bicycle. We stop talking and the recruiter, a woman named Tiffany from Unilever, looks over and asks his mother if she can take a picture. She takes the picture as he poses and pretends to ride the bike. And I’m suddenly relaxed.

I had come to the conference with thirteen other engineering students from Princeton, all of us undergraduates looking to engage, all of us wondering how to maximize this opportunity. For most of us, this was our first national conference. We didn’t know exactly what to expect.  

 

Moments like the one with the boy and the bike made the National Society of Black Engineer’s (NSBE) 44th Annual Convention feel less like a networking event and more like a meeting amongst a welcoming community of professional peers.

The entire conference had a professional and career development theme. This year, the slogan was “Ignite. Imagine. Innovate.” The main events included a career fair with over 50 company booths; workshops on a wide variety of topics, from improving your chapter to navigating graduate school applications; and general sessions where we listened to a speech from a CEO or heard updates on NSBE affairs.

While I sometimes felt pressure to network with recruiters and professionals, it wasn’t a stifling environment. The companies showed that their recruiters and employees were human, and they treated me like a human, too. In the evenings, some companies hosted hospitality suites. These suites had employees and recruiters who were there to relax and have fun. Most of them had food, some games and lively music. Although recruiting still occurred during these events, it wasn’t as formal as a career fair. It would have been out of place for you to pull out a resume and give them your elevator pitch. Instead, you got to know the recruiters on a personal level and then, maybe, asked them to tell you more about their company.

In total, over 10,000 people attended the conference. While surrounded by so many unfamiliar faces, random funny moments turned the conference into an inviting environment and relieved the pressure of professional networking. I collected plenty of business cards and shook lots of hands, but more importantly I walked away with a better sense for how to engage in the community and access the resources that NSBE provides.