I attended the 1st Naspatech Conference in Newport, Rhode Island last week, along with approximately 170 other student affairs professionals and students. If there ever was an ideal conference for me, this conference was it.  It was a conference that discussed technology in the context of student affairs, a topic that interests me professionally and personally.  It was also the chance for me to meet those I have come to known and admire online via social media, in real life, for the first time.  It took me several days to digest the information I was presented at the conference, and there were certainly some ideas that really resonated with me. That emerging technologies like social media, mobile and cloud computing and their applications in student affairs dominated the conference was not really a surprise for me since I have been researching this topic for a few months now and in my professional role as a technology provider at UCSB Student Affairs Division, I have observed this trend for a few months now. I found all the speakers knowledgeable and interesting. However, one speaker that really impacted me was Kenneth Elmore, JD, Dean of Students, Boston University (@deanelmore). In a few words, Dean Elmore articulated what I think as to why I have been very passionate about social media. Dean Elmore talked about the idea of social media aid and the role it plays in the pursuit of community in his speech. What he said intrigued me and sounded familiar but I followed up with him via twitter after the conference and he this:

“I think the concept of community is elusive. The real joy and challenge is in the pursuit of it. Social media aids the pursuit. I also believe the element of the pursuit of community are: making intros; establishing presence; empowering users; keeping it cool; & music”

When I heard him talk about this idea of the pursuit of community, it dawned on me that this is what I had been doing at UCSB for the last 20 years starting when I entered as a freshman in 1991 and I was immediately embraced by other participants/staff of a summer program for first generation students and the Filipino American student community; what I continued to do as I turned professional in 1996; and is now my motivation for my interest in social media. Personally, social media provides me the sense of connection with others that share my interests, and beyond that, it provides me with a sense of purpose in being able to continually share and learn from others.  Because I see so much value of social media for me personally, I feel obligated to promote the use of social media to others and in my organization.

I view social media from multiple perspectives including, but not limited to: 1) as a technology service provider, 2) as a UCSB community member and 3) as a student affairs professional including as an org advisor/mentor to first generation and minority students.

As a technology service provider, I see the value of social media as a communication channel to exchange information with our customers, to market our services, but more than that, I see social media as a way for students to build communities. When students are now able to build relationships with others before they even step foot at UCSB; when they are able to share their fears/concerns/excitement/anticipation as they transition from high school to this unfamiliar world of college life; and when they are able to support each other in their academic and social lives at UCSB, how does anyone measure the value of that? The measurement goes beyond numbers and economics.

A couple of days ago in a conversation about social media, I mentioned that if I wanted to know what events are going on at UCSB, I go to facebook. The value of facebook goes beyond just knowing what events are happening for me as a UCSB community member. I appreciate being able to see some aspects of my colleagues lives  beyond what I know of them from going to meetings, and working with them on projects. I have been really pleasantly surprised to see their interests beyond their professional lives and the additional roles they have as parents, partners, children, etc.

One aspect of my professional experience the last 15 years I really enjoy and find great personal satisfaction is the privilege of being an advisor to student organizations and mentor to some students. While I am not as involved as I used to be in previous years due to the fact that my wife and I now commute limiting my involvement, social media does provide me with a way to connect with students.  For the last two summers, I have been a facilitator for a summer bridge program for incoming freshmen, the same program that provided me the community that helped me in my transition to UCSB. I have been able to maintain my connection with the students enrolled in my class after the program through facebook.

As I think about my wonderful experience at NASPATech conference and meeting folks I had only previously met via social media (#sachat on twitter) as well as those who I met at the conference for the first time, what if I had decided to not create my twitter account on August 9, 2010?

What’s your experience with social media in terms of community building?