OLC Innovate Reflections | Ranger Program

Last week I was at OLC Innovate in Denver, CO. I had an amazing trip, in part because I spent some extra time hiking in Garden of the Gods and Rocky Mountain National Park. I also have two very good friends who live south of Boulder who I was also able to spend time with. I also got to see old colleagues from my institution who I haven’t seen as often since I switched jobs last summer. It was a fantastic mix of professional development and a break from my day-to-day routine, and I came back to the conference each day refreshed and ready to engage.

On top of attending, I had the pleasure of serving as an OLC Ranger during the conference. The Ranger program is designed to help bring first time attendees into the OLC community with designated lunches and other programming. There is a slack channel and some pre-conference stuff that happens too. I’d never participated in the Ranger program before, but this was my fourth time at Innovate and my fifth overall OLC event so it is safe to say that when I told people that I really enjoyed the conference and the OLC community, I was being sincere.

There wasn’t too much special about the Ranger program aside from the lunch, manning the “Ranger Station” (a table where we were stationed to answer questions about the conference), and leading some activities like Talk-Abouts, which were walking sessions where groups gathered around a topic and strolled the resort grounds as we discussed. I LOVED the Talk-Abouts. I participated in two - one as a participant and one as a leader - and these were my absolute favorite times at the conference. I can recall those conversations so vividly and I know the faces of each person I talked with. They were incredibly valuable as unstructured activities. Our conversation in the group I led ended up drifting away from the overall topic at times, but it was really rich conversation and I think all my participants got something from our time together. Plus, the weather in CO was fantastic and it was nice to have an excuse to be outside.

In addition to leading the Talk-About, I also got a small badge to wear designating me as a Ranger. These were more for the new attendees to identify Rangers, but the impact of that button on my experience is profound as a think back on it. While the badge was unassuming and just clipped to my nametag lanyard, it was very empowering to wear it. I’ve attended OLC conferences (and other organizations) in the past and it’s so easy to just blend into the crowd and not really connect with anyone. In fact, I would say that’s my standard method of attending a conference. Wearing that button was like flipping a switch. It turns out all I needed was a reason to give me the confidence to start a conversation with another conference-goer and I could actually have really lovely conversations in between sessions, during elevator rides, or at lunches! Having my Ranger button helped me overcome my usual inner-dialogue excuse that “no one wants to be bothered by me” and allowed me to talk to people in a genuine way. That was a powerful experience for me as a typical wallflower and I hope I didn’t bother anyone with my attempts to be welcoming, but if I did, I can at least say that it was part of my “job” to talk to people. I guess in a way the button became the reason and the target for blame if anyone did get annoyed with me, which let me feel less self-conscious about talking to others.

Luckily, all of my interactions with conference attendees were positive, or at least neutral, so hopefully this can be a good building block for future extroverted exploits! In between my Ranger duties, I attended some fabulous sessions, and I’m going to summarize my top three this week with future posts. If you’re reading this and debating attending Innovate next year (or any OLC conference really), I highly encourage you to go if you can, and reach out to the Ranger program! Even if you don’t need them every day, it’s a nice way to start the conference.