The University of Indianapolis Student Education Association hosted its third annual Power of Education Conference on the morning of Jan. 28. The conference took place in the basement of Schwitzer Student Center and featured three sections of breakout sessions, a keynote speaker and door prizes.
The conference was originally started as a fundraiser for the SEA. The organization previously tried selling items but wanted to raise money in a way that could benefit students as well, according to School and Field Liaison Katrina Reinhardt.
“It [SEA] is a registered student organization, and they [UIndy] require us to do fundraisers,” Reinhardt said. “We thought it would be a good fundraiser to invite different educators to share their stories and have a day where we celebrate education and use it to power and uplift our students.”
Some of the proceeds from the conference also go to Outreach to Teach, a community service event organized by the Indiana State Teachers Association. Each spring, members of SEA and ISTA from across the state gather together and award a deserving public school with a makeover, that includes decorating, landscaping and painting. This year, some of the proceeds from the Power of Education conference will go to Evans Elementary School in Evansville’s Outreach to Teach makeover, according to Reinhardt.
Planning for the Power of Education Conference begins in about November. Each year, two SEA members are chosen to chair the conference. They meet with Reinhardt to begin generating a list of potential speakers and topics and then work to extend invitations to them. The speakers and breakout sessions are different each year, Reinhardt said.
“A lot of the same students come back [each year],” Reinhardt said. “We want to invite different speakers and have different topics.”
The conference also features a keynote speaker. This year, Superintendent of Public Instruction Jennifer McCormick gave the keynote speech. She talked about the importance of the teaching profession, the relationship between teachers and legislation and some of her goals for the Indiana Department of Education. She also encouraged participants to be involved and to speak up about bills crossing legislators’ desks in regard to education.
McCormick took office on Jan. 9. Her election to the position in 2016 was one of the reasons the SEA invited her to speak, according to Reinhardt.
“It was right after the election that we met, so she had just been elected the week before,” Reinhardt said. “We thought [she] would be great since [she] was a new speaker. A lot of our students had heard our former Superintendent of Public Instruction Glenda Ritz, speak at other conferences, so we thought it would be good to see if we could get Dr. McCormick early on before she got busy with her new responsibilities.”
Junior history education major Mary Anne Schneider appreciated the opportunity to hear McCormick speak without the campaign as a context.
“I liked hearing what she had to say, because everyone thinks they have an idea of what people running stand for, but it’s usually skewed,” Schneider said. “You hear a lot of different messages from the media, other candidates, other organizations [and] special interest groups. It’s nice to just hear her for herself.”
Schneider said she agreed with and appreciated several of the points McCormick made, including the importance of building a relationship with the Indiana Department of Education.
“She talked about legislation, sitting down with legislators and talking, even if they don’t agree,” Schneider said. “I really appreciated that, because most people making decisions on legislation haven’t had that [in-classroom] experience. So knowing she’s an advocate for teachers going in there [to talk] as well is a good thought.”
The conference usually features a variety of breakout sessions that participants choose to attend. This year, the sessions included presentations about STEM education, organizational strategies for balancing teaching and personal lives, summer learning loss and education and undocumented students from the Indiana Undocumented Youth Alliance.
Schneider attended the IUYA presentation and found it the most beneficial of the three sessions she attended.
“I really liked that one because I didn’t know this organization existed,” Schneider said. “I think it’s a good way to advocate for students that you have that are undocumented. Knowing that there are scholarships and support for them available makes me think that I’ll be a better educator. They made some really good points about having the safe space conversation in your classroom, because many kids are just hearing one narrative at home, when it’s a completely [different] story. We all share this world, and we need to learn how to be nice and to understand people’s journeys.”
Reinhardt hoped that participants in the Power of Education Conference were able to develop professionally and take away a sense of empowerment and passion.
“We call it the Power of Education because the whole morning is meant to inspire future educators and current educators who attend to stay in the field, to advocate for students, to advocate for their profession,” Reinhardt said. “We hope that the participants take away a sense [that] this is really valuable work—‘I am passionate about it; I am definitely committed to this career’—as well as different ideas that they’re going to be able to use in their future classrooms. Honestly, it’s just a celebration of our work.”