Tuesday, March 19, 2019

Different Path, Same Destination: A #CUE19 Journey

The air was crisp, hovering around 40 degrees, with a strong breeze that makes one regret not having a sweatshirt or coat, even if one is only outside long enough to top off the gas tank and run the squeegee over the windows.  While the sun would be up for another hour or so, the string of granite, snow-covered peaks of the Sierra Nevada block the last beams of warmth and light, plunging the temperature further as it sunk further behind the mountains.  While this sounds like a grand scene for a ride home to curl up on the couch with a book, Netflix, and maybe a cup of tea, this was the beginning of a much longer drive, one beginning in Northwestern Nevada and ending in the Mojave Desert of Southern California.  A ribbon of blacktop lay before me, but the familiar images of rocks, Joshua trees, and few and far between services along California state highways would be replaced by snowbanks, pine trees, and few and far between services along US 395 through the Carson Valley, along Mono Lake, the Owens Valley and eventually to the 15, 215, and 10 into Palm Springs for the annual Spring CUE Conference.  

This year's trip would be my first after moving from Las Vegas to Reno.  That being said, the drive from Las Vegas to Palm Springs was a little over 4 hours, this one would be between 8-9 hours, as it is about 500 miles rather than about 280.  Most people would fly in my situation, but I drive for several reasons, including the price difference and my love of driving and seeing beautiful and interesting things along the routes.  However, since I was leaving after work, I would not be doing the entire drive in one shot; I would be watching the road through two headlights for about five hours with an overnight stop in Ridgecrest, with the remaining three or so hours on Thursday morning.  So as I crossed the Nevada line at Topaz Lake into California, I cruised along while burning through a few podcasts and albums from Our Lady Peace, The Tragically Hip, and Static-X.

A quick photo opportunity with Kristin Oropeza
& Angela Barnett while hawking some CUE gear!
This year, for the first time, I volunteered some time at the conference.  I chose to work in the CUE gear store, selling shirts, books, and other swag to conference attendees.  My first shift with the CUE store was at 12:45 on Thursday.  I also had to check into the house where I would be staying, so I decided that as long as I left Ridgecrest by 8:00, I would get to Palm Springs in time to check in and make it to the convention center.  I set my alarm for 7:30, but I woke up around 5:45, deciding there wasn't any point in trying to go back to sleep, so I got around and left the hotel around 6:15.  I set the cruise for a couple of miles BELOW the speed limit so I wouldn't get there too early, as my house wasn't going to be available until after 10. A stop for coffee and a couple of more stops just to walk around and enjoy a temperature that wasn't below 40 degrees for the first time in a while, I made it to Palm Springs to kick off my conference! 

I had looked at the schedule in the days ahead of the conference, but it didn't quite hit me just how full my schedule was going to be.  With my times volunteering, my selection to speak during CUEBOOM (more on that in a moment), the Supermuch Sticker Swap, and trying to record episodes of both The BeerEDU Podcast and Sons of Technology: The Podcast, I was going to be hard pressed to get to many sessions.  However, I knew that the hallway conversations were going to be great, with countless people that I don't get to see often attending.  Within minutes of arriving, I ran into Tisha Richmond, Tara Martin, Brent Warner, Tom Covington, Mike Jephcott, and Cate Tolnai and many more and watched an interesting take on a keynote speech, a duet featuring Alice Chen and Martin Cisneros, moderated by one of my favorite people of all time, John Eick.  

Brent Coley, Cori Orlando and I getting
ready to drop the mic BOOM style!
So, about this CUEBOOM.  A couple of months back, the call for speakers was sent out asking for people to apply to speak about something they are passionate about in three minutes.  I have never given a keynote speech or spoken to a crowd of more than 200 people, but I had an idea about speaking to people about the importance of creating and building a brand that I decided to submit.  I received notification a few weeks ago that my submission had been accepted along with a template in which to build my presentation.  A couple of days prior to the event, we, the speakers, were notified of the order in which we would give our speeches, with my name at the top of the list.  I was astounded because I was on a list with some names of people that I really admire and draw inspiration from, people like Brent Coley, Cori Orlando, Lisa Nowakowski, and Bill Selek.  I was even more astounded when the organizer of the event, Ann Kozma, told me that she wanted me to go first because my personality, passion, and intensity would be amazing to kick off the event.  I hope that I lived up to expectation.  To check out my speech, as well as eight other amazing educators' speeches, check out the link to the entire CUEBOOM session here.  

Our jackets were a big hit at the conference!
As co-host for two podcasts, naturally, we wanted to get some recording down while we had people available in the flesh.  Joe Marquez and I decided that we would record on Saturday morning of the conference before any sessions began and put out an open invite to folks to join us for our recording.  Because we did it at 7:30 and because many had to prepare for sessions, we only had Jesus Huerta come join us, but it was still a great conversation on fails.   You can check that one out wherever you listen to podcasts by searching for Sons of Technology: The Podcast.  And on a side note, congratulations go out to Jesus, as he was selected as the recipient of the Leroy Finkel Award of $2000 that he will be using to expand projects with his students!  

Fun recording with Brian Cairnes, Maricela Hernandez,
Eddie Simoneau, and of course, my partner in crime, Ben!
For The BeerEDU Podcast, Ben and I decided that rather than recording an entire episode, we wanted to get clips of individuals and ask them about their conference experiences and because of the nature of our show, what they like to unwind with after a long week and they are out with their colleagues and swear that they aren't going to talk about work.  So Ben and I pulled up a spot in the hallway of the convention center and as people walked by, we flagged them done and got their voices "on tape."  After a quick CUE-NV affiliate meeting, we continued to get voices at a social event outside by the pool.  We will be putting the finishing touches on this episode this week and releasing it over the weekend, so if you are reading this prior to March 23, 2019, it's not ready just yet, but like previously mentioned, you can also find this podcast wherever you listen by searching for The BeerEDU Podcast.  

So in between volunteering three sessions in the gear store, participating in CUEBOOM and recording some clips for the podcasts, I also got to participate in the Supermuch Sticker Swap.  Essentially, those selected were given a table in which to advertise stickers, trade with others that came through and talk with others about our stickers or anything in between.  I had stickers for Anderson EdTech, The BeerEDU Podcast, and a few Sons of Technology Podcast, plus buttons and a handful of magnets.  Most of those that came through were people that I had never met before, and it was a lot of fun telling the story behind the stickers.  I also collected quite a few more for my laptop cover. And while they had the event at FallCUE in October 2018, this one was more organized and was a lot smoother than the previous iteration.  

Getting a little goofy with Kat Goyette! Yes, we are
picking a golden nose! 
But perhaps the best part of the conference was the interactions and conversations with so many people.  Three conversations that really stand out as the highlight of my time in Palm Springs include the several at the Pear Deck & Flipgrid happy hour, one with Kelly Hilton of hyperdoc fame, and a low key after conference wind down at dinner and around a fire on Saturday night with several others.  Many of the conversations were with people that I have known for a long time, people like Nicole Beardsley, Adam Juarez, Katherine Goyette, Ann Kozma, Kelly Martin, and many more.  Some were with others I have met previously but do not know very well, such as Joey Tarleson, Adam Goldberg, Matt Miller, Jen Giffen, and Martin Cisneros.  Then there were the conversations with people I was meeting for the first time, like Kelly Hilton, Corey Mathias, and Susan Casey. 

A view so beautiful, surrounded by the remains of one of the darkest
periods of our nation's history.  We study history to prevent it from
repeating, yet similar things are still happening today!
Needless to say, the long drive home was going to be a great opportunity to reflect on my learning and conversations that I had over the previous days.  However, I was also going to need to break up the trip a little bit as well.  Per recommendation by Brian Briggs, I binge listened to The Ron Burgandy Podcast, a little bit of silly and stupid that made me laugh while driving through the barrenness of the drive between Victorville and Lone Pine.  But once I made it to Lone Pine, I needed to get out and move around a bit.  Between Lone Pine and Independence, CA is the site of the Manzanar National Historic Site.  Manzanar was where over 10,000 people of Japanese descent were sent from their homes shortly after the beginning of World War II for no reason other than their race and nationality.  There isn't much left to the site since the government dismantled most of the camp after the war ended, but the National Park Service has a very powerful museum in the old community center and has started to rebuild replicas of barracks, the fire station, and the guard towers.  I have been to Manzanar three times now, and it gets harder every time I go back.  I get a little teary eyed walking through the museum and seeing the exhibits of people ripped from their homes with little more than a bag of clothes on their back.  I cannot urge one more to stop if you are ever traveling 395, it's something that everybody needs to see and experience. 

I cannot wait until the next event, whether it's a CUE affiliate event, the CUE Leadership Development Institute in the summer, or FallCUE; it doesn't matter, the learning will always be great and the interactions will be greater.  I will close this out with a really fun one from Saturday evening's dinner, no context whatsoever, I'll just leave it to your devices to imagine.

Until next time...

From left: Kristina Mattis, Jen Giffen, Susan Stewart, and Josh Harris. 

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