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December 2020 | Reflections on a Difficult Year


Reflections on a Difficult Year

By the time this is published, we will be a week or two away from 2021 and the vaccine will be on its way to millions of people across the country. The outlook will be bright, and we are going into 2021 hopeful for the future and eager to return to normalcy.

It wasn’t like that for most of the year 2020.

The year started hesitant with conversations about the impact of COVID on our activities, and with different camps disagreeing whether we should act immediately or whether it was premature. Long discussions on the fate of RLDCs even though we had already started and were well on our way to executing them. We were running all kinds of model assessments, from financial to feasibility, to understanding the impact of going virtual with most people willing to act and a few cautious. In the end, we decided to pull the plug and cancel the remainder of the RLDCs and immediately prepare for a virtual NILA with all the repercussions that brought, financially and work wise.

On our way to a virtual NILA with the staff doing an amazing job pivoting to pull together something we had never done before in record time, and with a few criticizing every move, we were broadsided by major social unrest. In the midst of all the difficult work, meetings, and deliberations trying to figure out how in the world we were going to pull off a virtual event without losing all the money already invested in physical infrastructure for the year, and figuring out what infrastructure was needed to go virtual, the death of George Floyd happened.

His untimely death, and particularly how it happened, plunged the nation into significant chaos of activism and reckoning. Despite our current preoccupation with planning a virtual NILA, we reacted quickly in solidarity with the community affected. But a segment of our membership did not believe this was sufficient. We had to put our NILA planning on hold and pivot, again, to understand the concerns and address them in a way that met the needs of all of our members.

To then scramble again and regroup to recover what was possible from the NILA work and get back on track with this never-before-done experiment of a virtual NILA.

NILA was a success beyond our wildest dreams, particularly in attendance and proving the ability to do the work right, but the success was short lived. We immediately faced doing the same thing but at 10 times the scale for the National Convention.

This caused, once again, the staff to pivot and scramble to minimize loses, find a platform able to do 10 times what we did at NILA, and a reasonable way to create a solid career fair so our partners, who do so much for us, would continue investing in SHPE despite the situation. This was a massive amount of work for the staff and everybody involved, including a few who became heroes, like the staff member who worked tirelessly despite a family member in the hospital, or the one who was able to negotiate and renegotiate contracts and recover almost all (not quite) of the money sunk into the in-person convention, or the one who recovered most of the IPCs, and many more.

We again spent a long time doing financial and feasibility scenarios trying to make sure we could do this without going bankrupt since that would have affected all the other programs we have in place for the year and our members ability to get jobs in the future not to mention the future of our organization. A major undertaking in spite of having people think that a convention of 10,000 people and 250 companies should be free since Zoom for 50 people is free. This complicated the work dramatically as we continued to squeeze costs and scramble to make the convention cost as low as possible. All this in addition to already having frozen salaries, hiring, travel, training, and almost everything else.

Much to our delight the National Convention was almost an absolute success. It was the best run virtual conference our IPC supporters had seen, without major glitches, with record number of interview touch points (over 95,000), and almost record participation. Unfortunately, we did not do as well as we needed to do financially as we retained Early Bird rates throughout the registration period and that put a hole in the finances. But at least we served our members and did not go under. A major achievement if you have a feel for the work and cost of putting together this type of convention virtually.

And as we’ve come to expect from 2020, our happiness was cut short by having to make decisions for the 2021 RLDCs, which will be virtual as vaccines won’t be broadly available by that time. With this year being so tight financially, and with virtual events needing so much work to ensure they are done right, we don’t have the luxury of having any RLDC underperform. Thus, we are scrambling, once again, to figure out models to make the whole RLDC experience successful or, at the very least, break even while meeting the needs of our members.

All of this takes your breath away, just thinking of the all the extra work of this year. And I didn’t cover the 1,000 smaller issues we faced due to the pandemic.

However, it also makes us think. It makes me think. And I come to a few conclusions or statements…

  • There is nothing life can throw at us that our amazing staff can’t handle, and our Board can’t take.
  • Our staff is amazing and have worked beyond the call of duty all year long. They deserve recognition by each and every one of us. We are here thanks to them. Any of these issues could have derailed us, and they didn’t thanks to their dedication and hard work.
  • We are stronger in times of crisis when we come together. This year I witness the RVP team rise above regional issues and come together for the greater good of the organization and they did it with excellence.
  • I saw first-hand the hard work of many of our chapter presidents and other regional leadership, helping us, as a whole, navigate through very difficult issues.
  • I saw the selfless dedication and hard work of our volunteers from Board members to students, across all aspects, trying hard to do our best despite tempers being crispy in the midst of so much turmoil.

And, most of all, I learned, again for the umpteenth time, that no matter how good we do, no matter how heroic our staff is, how many issues we overcome, how successful we are, someone, somewhere will still be dissatisfied and will criticize us. And to that I say, so be it.

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year, or Happy Holidays however you celebrate. We are a big family going into 2021 – hopeful for the future and glad we overcame the challenges of 2020 – with great plans to return to normalcy and continue the growth we have been for the past few years.

Merry Christmas and to all of you – THANK YOU for all you do to make SHPE the best it can be.

Miguel Alemañy
Chair, SHPE Board of Directors