A wild time at Wildacres: Carolina WPA Conference recap

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For two and a half days this week, I got to escape my tethered technological lifestyle and escape to the mountains of North Carolina to Wildacres, a conference center and retreat in Little Switzerland, NC. There, I attended the Carolinas Writing Program Administrators’ fall conference with fellow administrators at North Carolina State. It was my first year attending the conference, and I am glad for the opportunity to meet other WPAs from institutions around the Carolinas – it was an excellent networking opportunity.

The entrance to Wildacres. Source: Wildacres.org

We arrived late Monday afternoon, weaving up the top of a mountain. The conference center is a quaint assemblage of wooden cabins and larger buildings, some residential, some with open conference space, and one large mess hall. Yes, a mess hall – we were commanded to each meal by the ringing of a bell. (I didn’t know anyone still did that!) The mission of Wildacres is to provide a retreat and conference space for non-profit organizations, particularly in the arts, and to give attendees a chance to reconnect with nature. There are no TVs in the rooms at Wildacres, nor phones nor clocks, and our group quickly ate up the limited wifi bandwidth available – and crashed it for the remaining time that we were there!

This year’s conference theme was grant writing and funding, an increasingly important component of a WPA job. Our own Susan Miller-Cochran spoke the first evening about national WPA council grants that are available, providing insight from her years of experience on the council. Tuesday was a full day of workshops, including discussion from Tim Peeples at Elon, who spoke from his experience as an Associate Provost about how to apply for and win internal grant funding. Meg Morgan at UNC-Charlotte talked about finding national funding sources, and Michelle Eble from East Carolina University gave an overview of researching and writing grant proposals. The sessions combined informative discussion and writing (hey, we are WPAs, after all) that left us all feeling a little more confident about applying for grant money for our own programs.

Our two day mini-retreat was not all work, though – there was plenty of time for socializing, games, and and bonfire. While I certainly learned a lot about grants, the best part for me was the social time, talking to other WPAs from the Carolinas and making important connections for when I’m on the job market in two years (still such a long ways away!). Groups members are clearly close friends, and were open and welcoming to newbies/grad students in attendance. On the first night, we had an informal ping pong (table tennis for all the serious players out there) tournament, which yours truly is proud to say she is the champion of. Guess I’ll have to go next year to defend my title! Our final night, the staff at Wildacres held a bonfire for us, and we enjoyed more socialization, roasting marshmallows, and some banjo and guitar entertainment provided by a couple of members. We awoke Wednesday morning to a dreary, rainy day at the top of the mountain, and after a quick breakfast and “beat you in ping pong next year!” we were on the road back to Raleigh.

The rocking chairs were a popular spot for socializing. Source: Wildacres.org.

It was truly a good time had by all, and I got the sense that the writing program administrators’ community is not just a professional group, but a community in the true sense of the word, where members look out for one another and are working together to achieve their goals and to improve writing programs at all institutions. This was also a good time for me to get to know my fellow NCSU administrators better, too. Special thanks to the First Year Writing Program at NCSU and director Susan Miller-Cochran for the opportunity to participate!

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