5 Takeaways for a Newcomer to the EDUCAUSE Conference


By Laurel Skurko. Last week, registration opened for the EDUCAUSE Annual Conference 2023, which will take place October 9-12 in Chicago, and on-line October 18-19. In this piece, I provide reasons a conference and a community like EDUCAUSE are critical to all members of the UC Tech community, and describe how all UC tech employees can activate their membership.

Last fall, 6.5K people from around the country attended EDUCAUSE in person in Denver, Colorado. I was a newcomer to Information Technology and to EDUCAUSE and was grateful to travel there and hear directly from the people generating the fantastic national- and international perspectives on every critical topic – from accessibility and cybersecurity to procurement and employee engagement – insights that I might otherwise access only occasionally and without the opportunity to delve further.  

I returned to California as a conference first-timer with five key insights, 30+ new colleagues, and exposure to a community doing fantastic work to support, and even mentor, its members’ IT operations and career growth.  

Five highlights of what I learned at EDUCAUSE 2023:  

1. Not to be afraid of discomfort…and to laugh 

Opening the conference with a bit of “art,” Kara Swisher, in conversation with EDUCAUSE president and CEO, John O’Brien, reminded us that debate and disagreement can be OK. With bravado and moments of risk-taking, she reminded us to look at the world from different angles, not to shy away from controversy and to laugh! A Fireside Chat with Kara Swisher 

2. Each meeting is sacred and deserves careful consideration 

Closing the conference with a perspective on gatherings, Priya Parker, speaking with EDUCAUSE president and CEO, John O’Brien, also touched upon the theme of controversy as it can allows teams to innovate. It had been several years since many of us had gathered in-person and we were certainly not taking a single second of the experience for granted. How can we set the stage in a way that derives the most value from the times we gather? For meetings big and small, she began, start by articulating your objective and institute a change in culture by, for example, re-working the first 10 minutes. A Conversation with Priya Parker, Author of “The Art of Gathering” 

3. There are opportunities to advance in your leadership skills, provided you “own it.” 

While I had not scheduled a session with a career counselor—a benefit of attending the conference—I did speak briefly with one of them, Dianna Sadlouskos, Executive & Career Coach. She reinforced a message that was echoed throughout the halls of EDUCAUSE that week: there is room for people to advance and assume leadership roles in this community. She recommended three books on teamwork: Immunity to Change by Robert Kegan, Emotional Agility by Susan David, and Mindset by Carol S. Dweck. I have since read all of them and was impressed.  Equally memorable was checking connecting with a colleague, a fellow marketer for a university system, on LinkedIn. His job title? “Future CIO.” 

4. Networking can be either planned or serendipitous – even for those who are not yet industry insiders 

I scheduled a conference  “Braindate” – a session to meet one-on-one or in small groups to discuss a subject of mutual interest. I was lucky to spend an hour speaking with Marc Stith, Director of Marketing Communications and Media Relation at EDUCAUSE. For me, as a marketing and communications professional, it was fantastic to hear his insights about national higher education technology audiences and more. In addition to planned meetings, I met more than 30 people in-passing and shared conversations that were often shorter, but not dissimilar in terms of value. Since the conference, I have had the chance to reach out to many of them on LinkedIn and for quick conversations to trade notes on a number of topics. The value of this network continues to magnify. 

5. Culture is critical and must be proactively managed 

Thanks to Culture Is Collaborative: Strategies to Cultivate an Inclusive Organizational Culture, I have a three-part framework to organize culture at-scale, along with an increased commitment to preventing a top-down approach to culture and engagement. This frame includes: (1) To get an agreement from all that culture does not happen without intention and that the negative consequences of letting it go can “torpedo” and organization; (2) Create a clear structure to allow employees to express their views, then keep collecting data and do something about it: “put that data into action;” (3) Keep the focus on purpose – the mission – this is the higher level element that unifies all employees in higher education. 

More about EDUCAUSE Membership and Benefits 

Many UC tech community members may be eligible to use EDUCAUSE’s online resources, as most UC locations are members. Each employee is eligible to create an EDUCAUSE profile and use EDUCAUSE resources year-round. For those in the UC Tech community not yet engaged with EDUCAUSE, I highly recommend creating your profile

The links below are a great way for everyone at member institutions to become engaged with EDUCAUSE and get the most out of their membership. Questions? Please contact Parke George Member Relations Specialist. 

Getting-started at EDUCAUSE: key resources 

EDUCAUSE members receive the discounted member price to all events (some webinars are also free for members). Please visit the EDUCAUSE Events Page  

Other resources include:  

  1. Community Groups – online communities where professionals learn, share, and network with each other around similar topics and interests  
  1. Top IT Issues, Techs, and Trends 
  1. New Dx Journey Map – this is all about Digital Transformation and the future of higher education  
  1. Mentoring Program – our new mentoring program 
  1. EDUCAUSE Institutes – helps to advance leadership skills 
  1. IT Leaders Membership Orientation – a must-read for all current and future leaders 
  1. CDS/Analytics Services – analytics benchmark survey that member institutions can participate in  
  1. Learn and Advance Hub – helps with professional development opportunities at EDUCAUSE  
  1. EDUCAUSE Ambassador Program 


Laurel Skurko, Marketing & Communications, IT Services, UC Office of the President
Laurel Skurko
Marketing & Communications
UC Office of the President

[Featured image caption: Collection of cell phone shots taken by the author during EDUCAUSE conference in October, 2022]