In the weeks following the start of the COVID-19 outbreak, Michigan State University was faced with the challenge of deciding what to do about the myriad conferences and events scheduled to take place in the coming weeks. While many were forced to cancel due to the circumstances, some were able to adapt to a virtual formatting.
One of the events in the Student Affairs industry, The Placement Exchange, was able to quickly and successfully transition into an online affair. The Placement Exchange acts as a large job fair that connects potential candidates with institutions looking to fill available positions.
Michigan State University’s North Neighborhood Assistant Director of Residence Education Kirby R. Gibson is a member of the planning committee for this nationwide conference. Gibson has been involved with The Placement Exchange since 2014 but has taken on more responsibility the past few years.
“My first exposure to The Placement Exchange was as an intern back in 2014 when I was in grad school, when there was an opportunity for students to serve as an ambassador for their campus,” said Gibson. “As an ambassador, you share information about The Placement Exchange with folks on your campus, specifically second-year grad students. Then I attended The Placement Exchange the following year as a candidate. Then, back in 2018, I was able to join the planning committee full-time as a practitioner, and I’ve been on the planning committee ever since. And in 2022, I will actually be the chair of the committee!”
As a member of this year’s committee, Gibson was part of the decision-making process that would decide whether to continue with the event, cancel it completely or modify it in some way.
“The event ultimately was cancelled, but we still wanted to be committed to the profession and acknowledge that people are still job searching,” said Gibson. “Then we also acknowledged that there are employers with positions open who still need those jobs filled, so it was like, ‘How can we still provide this experience for these folks despite what we’re going through?’”
With help from members volunteering on the planning committee, as well as some professional staff for the conference, they were able to communicate with institutions about next steps for a full transition to online formatting.
“One of the things we honored when moving to virtual was operating under Central Standard Time, since The Placement Exchange should have been in Texas and interviews had already been scheduled,” said Gibson. “We essentially reached out to say, ‘Hello, we know things are rough at this moment, if you are still interested in attending The Placement Exchange Virtual, we ask that you honor the schedule that you created so far.’”
Gibson also acknowledged that while the committee had been planning the event for over a year, they only had one week to communicate the changes and set up the virtual system.
“I will say, it was a little bumpy at the start, but the event was excellent,” said Gibson. “It was well-executed and went even better than we anticipated. With there being so many uncertainties, we were unsure of what this was going to look like, but I would say that I got a lot of positive feedback.”
Gibson said after the event was finished, she had multiple candidates reach out to her to express their happiness with the overall process and transition.
“Not only has their world been turned upside down as a student by whatever they’re navigating on their campuses or in their personal life, they’re also expected to still job-search,” said Gibson. “So for them, they have to worry about jobs even being available due to the economic implications of this happening. Hearing from them that we were able to help quell those anxieties and make this a smooth process for them was definitely an indicator of success.”
“So, in the words of Olivia Pope, ‘Consider it handled,’” Gibson said, quoting the Shonda Rhimes-created television character known for fixing difficult political situations. “I now consider myself the Olivia Pope of student affairs.”