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How to Get the Most Out of Your Forum Experience

In just over a week, more than 400 impassioned people will congregate at the National Conservation Training Center (NCTC) in Shepherdstown, WV for the 14th annual Chesapeake Watershed Forum. My hope is that for everyone attending, this weekend inspires and empowers them to take local action towards clean water. If you are attending, it is my mission to ensure you are well-prepared to have the most enriching and enjoyable experience possible. 

Here is my advice for how to make the most out of your Forum experience. 

1.  Dress Appropriately

Three women pose with for a picture wearing crab headbands.

(Photo by Will Parson/Chesapeake Bay Program)

Dress at the Forum is casual attire. I recommend you dress in layers and be prepared for winter-y weather. The classrooms can be chilly, the poster session can be toasty, and I find it is wise to expect rain, no matter what the forecast says.

2.  Wear Your Walking Shoes (and Hiking Boots!)

A group of people walk along the path between Instructional Halls East and West at the National Conservation Training Center in cold weather gear.

(Photo by Will Parson/Chesapeake Bay Program)

NCTC is a walking campus. Be prepared to get your daily steps in as you hoof it from your lodge, to the Commons for meals, and to the instructional halls for sessions. A good pair of shoes is crucial to enjoying your time at the Forum.

It is especially important to bring a pair of hiking boots if you are participating in any field excursions, such as the bird walk, dairy farm tour, or the Spiritual Voices in Wilderness: Outdoor Education intensive seminars.  

3.  Reduce Your Footprint and Go Green

Woman takes notes with her reusable water bottle by her side.

(Photo by Will Parson/Chesapeake Bay Program)

Please reduce waste. Bring your own reusable mugs, water bottles, cloth napkins, and utensils to sustain your coffee and snack habits during the session breaks.

Also, consider carpooling to and from the Forum. You’ll reduce your carbon footprint, meet someone new, and may provide a much needed ride. Click here to sign up for a carpool.

4.  Come Prepared to Share, Engage, and Listen

A community mosaic with responses prompted by the question,

(Photo by Will Parson/Chesapeake Bay Program)

There is so much to see, do, and learn at this year’s Forum. We strive to improve the learning experience by making the Forum a safe and inclusive space. As such, the Alliance holds ourselves accountable to our Forum Justice, Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion (JEDI) Guide and we encourage all Forum attendees to do the same.

I also suggest you think beyond the classroom by interacting with a Chesapeake Collective activity during the Forum. Chesapeake Collective is a creative platform for diverse voices to express their vision for a healthy bay watershed. While it does not include all of the diverse voices that make our watershed whole, it provides a platform and an open invitation for contribution by the people whose voices the dominant narrative often overpowers or leaves out entirely.

5.   Step Out of Your Comfort Zone and Meet Someone New

A group of people hang out around a bonfire at the National Conservation Training Center.

(Photo by Will Parson/Chesapeake Bay Program)

My one challenge to each of you is to step out of your comfort zone and talk to a stranger this weekend. The real magic of the Forum is in the relationships nurtured in one of the most picturesque places in the watershed.

Here are some of my tips for you to make that new connection:

  • Sit with someone new at each meal. Too nervous to sit with someone unprompted? Sunday morning we will have a networking breakfast. Pick a table in the Commons labelled with a topic of interest to you and strike up a conversation.
  • Take advantage of a scheduled social activity. The Chesapeake Collective hosts multiple activities that are all about meeting someone new. Check out the mingle/bingo (i.e., MINGO) before the Chesapeake Forest Champions ceremony on Friday night in the Roosevelt room. Settle in for s’mores at the campfire in the evening.
  • Attend the poster session. Join us on Saturday night for the poster session in the gallery room. Chat with a poster author to learn about recent research or a cool new project. Be sure to vote for your favorite poster!
  • Bring your business cards. You met someone new and look forward to connecting again after the Forum. Don’t leave them empty-handed! 

6.   Tell Us How We Are Doing

Audience member asks a question during the plenary presentation at the Forum.

(Photo by Will Parson/Chesapeake Bay Program)

We depend upon your feedback to improve the Forum experience. Please fill out paper evaluations after each session. Hold onto the tickets you receive for filling out the session evaluations to add to the raffle during the poster session on Saturday night. 

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Jenny McGarvey Senior Program Manager, Virginia Office

Jenny is a senior program manager based in the Alliance’s Virginia office. She serves a dual managerial role over the Chesapeake Watershed Forum, ForumPlus, and Chesapeake Network, and aspects of our Chesapeake Forest program.

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