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from the Conference Chair

September 21, 2021

For some reason, our system sent a hybrid test email with an odd subject line. I have no idea what happened. I'm going to try again!

COVID-19 has caused the anticipated opening date of the Sheraton in Birmingham - where you'll sleep while attending the conference - to change.

Due to this change, your reservation will be moved to their sister property next door, the Westin Birmingham Hotel. The Sheraton and The Westin are jointly managed and share a parking garage and a skywalk across the street to the Birmingham Jefferson Convention Complex. If you've never seen the area, know that both properties are directly across from the BJCC, where the breakout sessions and our meals and gatherings will be held.

This reservation transfer will be handled for you! You do not need to take any action. You're registered already. 

You will receive a Sheraton cancellation email followed by a Westin confirmation email today or tomorrow. 

Thank you for being a member of the National College Learning Center Association. I miss seeing you in person! 

Michael Frizell, MFA
Vice President, National College Learning Center Association

Conference Chair
Editor, The Learning Assistance Review

Certified Learning Center Professional – Level IV (Lifetime)

August 11, 2021

NCLCA  and the Delta Variant Surge

On December 15, 2017, the National College Learning Center Association signed a contract with the Birmingham Jefferson Convention Complex and Sheraton Birmingham. As a national organization (some could argue that we are international thanks to partners from several countries), we must visit various geographical locations to maintain that status. Located in an area of the country we have not visited since our conference in Tampa, Florida, in 2016, Birmingham would host our annual conference in 2021.

Birmingham is the only place where all the ingredients for making iron are present and was instrumental in the struggle to end public segregation. The iron angle gave us a fantastic theme, making the marketing team's job a bit more fun. In addition, the city's history makes it the perfect place for an organization that prides itself on training the higher education leaders who level the playing field for millions of students to hold a conference.

 We were so young and innocent back then, weren't we?

In late 2019 and 2020, COVID-19 ran roughshod over the world, a pandemic that some saw coming but few were ready to face. NCLCA's best-laid plans for an exciting annual conference in Salt Lake City in 2020 were derailed. We negotiated with the venue, paid a relatively small penalty, and contracted to hold our conferences in 2024 and 2026 at Little America (hey, when we pick a great venue, we know it). In 2022, the organization will be in Virginia near Washington, D.C. In 2023, we will convene in Portland, Oregon.

Melinda Coleman and the Board wanted our members to feel connected, so we organized a robust online conference in February 2021.

We held our collective breath as we contemplated what to do about the 2021 conference. We watched the news, talked to the general managers of the venue and hotel in Birmingham, and polled our members. Then, in March, things felt… better. The vaccine was widely available, and the numbers of those infected and hospitalized were trending downward. Businesses were reopening. Schools relaxed their restrictions in some areas. Higher education took a deep breath and decided to move forward with its plans to hold in-person classes this fall. And the NCLCA Board asked itself a question:

"If not now, then when?"

As an organization under the banner of the Council of Learning Assistance and Developmental Education Associations, NCLCA's timeslot to hold its annual conference in September and October. Although we often chafe at the idea of leaving our learning centers at the start of the school year, we reasoned that the things we learned from our peers would strengthen our centers. In addition, the camaraderie we experienced would sustain us during often difficult semesters or quarters. It is comforting to know we are not alone in the trenches.

Canceling the 2021 conference meant moving our plans in Birmingham to 2025 and incurring another financial penalty, something we were not comfortable with considering that Washington, D.C., Salt Lake City, and Portland are pricier locations. But, on the other hand, we wanted to be good stewards of members' money. Besides, things were turning around, right? So, we told the venue and hotel to get ready because NCLCA was coming, and we like a desert with our meals.

The Delta variant scoffed at the idea that COVID-19 was on the way out.

The American College Health Association, in a statement signed by dozens of higher education associations, noted:

An increasing number of states have restricted the ability of colleges and other organizations to deploy an evidence-based combination of strategies to prevent COVID-19 outbreaks on campus and in surrounding communities and respond to them promptly and effectively should they occur.

Businesses in some hard-hit states have responded to this by enacting their own guidelines. The BJCC and the Sheraton are concerned about the health of their employees. Masks "are mandatory for employees in common public spaces and interacting with customers." They further state:

Masks are currently 'recommended' for all customers and event attendees, with social distancing encouraged and all of cleaning / sanitation protocols remaining in effect. The matter of masks being 'recommended' vs. 'required' could change very quickly based on COVID-19 and Delta variant trends and any broader ordinance(s) issued by the City, County and/or State. We will continue to monitor the trajectory of the Delta variant through this week and coming weeks.

This is our reality, friends. We'll keep watching and do the best we can to provide an engaging – and safe – conference. I feel confidant that the BJCC and Sheraton will provide us with the safest environment they can.

I'm also confident that our members will do what is best for themselves and their families. NCLCA's conferences are always enlightening, thanks to your expertise and willingness to share what you've learned with our small community.

I hope to see you in Birmingham!

Michael Frizell, MFA
Vice President, National College Learning Center Association

Conference Chair
Editor, The Learning Assistance Review

Certified Learning Center Professional – Level IV (Lifetime)

May 25, 2021

The Case for In-Person Vs. Online Annual Conference

NCLCA’s 36th (Almost) Annual Conference: Forging Academic Success

I say “almost” annual because COVID-19 had other plans for us last year. Then-Vice President Melinda (those who know and love her call her Lindy) Coleman and the board faced a tough choice. We erred on the side of caution – and science – and canceled our much-anticipated 35th annual conference at Little America in Salt Lake City. Local ordinances forced our hand, too.

While the board lamented that we wouldn’t be able to enjoy Little America’s astonishing bread pudding and buttery biscuits the size of a baby’s head until 2024, our members were facing grim realities at their home institutions. Learning centers, ever the sources of innovation and paragons of flexibility, pivoted to online support. Attendance in our centers dropped until students and faculty felt comfortable with Zoom and other streaming platforms, and even then, most report that their attendance is still down.

NCLCA’s board kept in constant contact with the venue and hotel in Birmingham, the contracted site for the 36th annual conference. Nine months before the conference, the world was still grappling with the devastating effects of a global pandemic and the rollout of a vaccine. At six months, the board recognized it was time to make a decision. Do we cancel or forge ahead?

As we weighed our options, in February 2021, Lindy Coleman rallied the board and assembled a team of volunteers to run a successful online conference. Almost 600 attended. Our “normal” conferences usually host about 400. That told the board that our members, already engaged in our monthly online meetings, were hungry for more information and connection.

Canceling in Birmingham meant negotiating with the venue in hopes of moving it to our next available year, 2025 – a number that sounds like the setting for a science-fiction blockbuster – without incurring too steep a penalty. It also meant forgoing another opportunity to engage our members. We polled those who attended the online conference and discovered similar findings that you’ve heard from your schools:

You’re tired of your engagements looking like episodes of Hollywood Squares. We hope we never hear the words “Can you hear me now?” or “Is my mic on?” or “Hey! Is that your cat in the background?” again in our lifetimes.

Six months before the conference, the board decided to forge ahead and create something special for our members. Although successful, running the virtual conference wasn’t without its challenges. Since we just had one, running another one this soon wasn’t prudent. We called our Birmingham contacts and told them to polish their best silverware: NCLCA was coming, and we like dessert with our meals.

We want the Birmingham conference to be about you. It’s about gathering together, hugging colleagues (if you’re so inclined) who you haven’t seen in over a year, and learning from each other the lessons COVID taught us. NCLCA isn’t hiring a keynote. We’re not going to bog down every meal with fundraisers and speeches. We won’t run you ragged from daylight to dark and session to session.

Our presenters will be here in Birmingham. We’ll stream one or two sessions per hour to our colleagues who can’t join us in person (more on that soon – we’re building that page). We’ll also stream the awards ceremony and CLADEA induction ceremony because we should applaud the extraordinary achievements of our colleagues who succeeded during a challenging year.

Best of all? We’ll enjoy each other’s company. NCLCA has always been about relationships because you’re not just a number in our organization. You’re a valued member of a family of learning center leaders who lean on each other and pat each other on the back when we need it the most.

And we need it right now.

See you in Birmingham!

Thank you!

Michael Frizell, MFA
Vice President, National College Learning Center Association

Conference Chair
Editor, The Learning Assistance Review

Certified Learning Center Professional – Level IV (Lifetime)

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