Closing Plenary: ASPE Past, Present, & Future: 3 Members Perspectives

Submitted by: Dan Brown, Emory University

The closing plenary for ASPE’s 2021 Virtual Conference was a surprise – three of ASPE’s past and present leaders spoke about where ASPE has been, where we are, and where we’re going. Conference Chair Jen Owens introduced the three speakers by talking about what she wanted out of the closing plenary and why it came together the way it did – she wanted to “leave the attendees reflecting on all the sessions they’d seen… to feel challenged by the thoughts of others they’d heard and feel connected to the work and the people that do it… to leave feeling encouraged, that drive to make change happen… to see familiar faces telling their stories.” She identified Mary Cantrell, Gina Shannon, and Carrie Bohnert (all former winners of either ASPE Educator of the Year or Emerging Leader) as the people whose stories she wanted told. So she invited them to speak, and the plenary came together.

“All I Know So Far” by P!nk was the intro music for the speakers, and while we would have loved to see their dance up to the stage in person, as we’ve been doing all year, that moment was simulated effectively over Zoom.

Mary Cantrell, who recently retired from the University of Arkansas, led with the thought, “When I’ve had the least, I’ve made the most.” She told the story of the founding of ASPE in 2001 on $1000 of startup funds, and how her response to the news of end of NBLME national exams as well as Covid was: “This is what we’re made for,” reminding us that we are uniquely creative people who are excellent at finding solutions, quipping that when we tell people what we do at a party, we become the most interesting person in the room.

Gina Shannon of Emory led with the Octavia Butler quote: “All that you touch, you change. All that you change, changes you. The only lasting truth is change.” She talked about belonging, and told the story of ASPE’s 10-year anniversary, her first conference, her first impression and how she was instantly hooked. She echoed Grace Henry’s opening plenary: “Belonging is a basic human need… and a motive sufficient to drive change in human behavior.” She then transitioned to talking about curiosity, and how ASPE is all about cultivating curiosity. She told the story about how many submitted abstracts were about social justice, leading to the creating of the Social Justice SIG, which is now becoming an ad hoc committee. She then talked about finding your voice, and shared how many voices within ASPE helped her get through the challenges of 2020.

Carrie Bohnert of Louisville led with: “I can take one small step.” She told the story of how her parents objected to the war in Vietnam and won a lawsuit against the US Army, and many other ways they were people of strong conviction who acted on those convictions. Her family mottos were: “No one can do everything, but everyone can do something,” and “If you’re not part of the solution, you’re part of the problem.” She then shared her personal experience of Louisville in 2020, the city literally being on fire, how overwhelming it all was. She then shared her strategy to “come out of overwhelm” by figuring out the one thing you can do. “What is my sphere of influence?” was the key question that helped her discover a small step she could take, as she began a plan create an anti-racism task force within her program. She also shared a third family motto: “Only the flexible survive.”

The Q&A session was fantastic and filled with more wisdom nuggets from the three speakers. The final plenary remains available to view on the ASPE Center for SP Methodology for all those who purchased a conference attendance.

Communications and Connections Committee Mission: “To bring high quality reporting of current research, trends, techniques and information regarding SP methodology and other relevant industry articles to the attention of the membership through the web-based ASPE eNews blog.”

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