First awarded in 2022, this award recognizes an individual NORDP member’s unique ability to provide an engaging, supportive, and inclusive environment for professional and/or personal growth through mentorship in the research development community. This award is bestowed with the acknowledgement that effective mentoring occurs through formal and informal channels and may vary in style and substance.
Who: Katie Shoaf, Director of Grants Resources & Services
Where: Office of Research, Appalachian State University
Number of years in research development: 7
Length of NORDP membership: 5 years
What has your experience being a NORDP volunteer looked like so far?
When I first joined NORDP in 2017 my boss, Karen Fletcher, was really involved in the organization and really encouraged me to also get involved. The first conference I attended was the 2017 NORDP Conference in Washington D.C., and at that conference I went to all the committee meetings to check them out and see what committee work might interest me.
After shopping around, I ended up joining two committees right away: the Professional Development Committee and the Mentoring Committee. Each committee functions very differently, so they provided unique ways for me to provide support to the organization, and within both committees I was able to jump right in and start helping with things. For example, within the Mentoring Committee, I joined the MESHH subgroup and we built a lot of the tools that NORDP mentoring pairs use today, which was a really fun experience.
One of the next big initiatives I became involved with as NORDP volunteer was the RD101 course offered to new research development professionals. I had known Kari Whittenberger-Keith from the Professional Development Committee and knew that she was pulling together a group of volunteers to begin to build a curriculum of sorts for folks who had recently matriculated into the field. The RD101 course had been piloted at a previous NORDP conference, but there were a lot of changes that needed to be made, and there was demand to offer the course virtually. Because Kari knew my reputation as a hard worker and that I would follow through with things, she generously gave me the opportunity to be involved in updating the RD101 course and offering it virtually in 2020. And I feel like that has happened to me a lot within NORDP. I would not be where I am in the organization today without people saying, “Hey, I’ve been really impressed with you and your work, and I think you have a lot of potential. I think you can do this thing, do you want to do it?” Being able to say yes to those opportunities and have the support for that from my fellow NORDP volunteers has been so important.
My most recent NORDP volunteer role has been serving as the National Conference Co-Chair in 2021 and 2022. I had actually run for the NORDP Board before I was asked to be conference co-chair. And while my run for the Board was unsuccessful, I think it put me on people’s radar, and it was a great learning experience for me and opened up my volunteer time to get involved in NORDP in other ways. Serving as a conference co-chair has been a very time-intensive experience, one I undertook while also working full-time and working toward my PhD, so it has been so important for me to be able to set boundaries around my volunteering in order to take care of my own health. And I think that one of the best things about volunteering within NORDP – there is space for you to step back when needed to take care of yourself, and there’s room for you to jump back in whenever you feel you’re ready.
What was the first volunteer position you held within NORDP, and what led you to say yes to subsequent opportunities to volunteer within the organization?
As I mentioned previously, I first became involved as a NORDP volunteer through the Mentoring and Professional Development committees. In addition to working on the MESHH subgroup of the Mentoring Committee, I quickly got involved in the webinar planning and production working group within the PD committee, learning how to host webinars on Zoom (this was years before we were all forced into a virtual work environment, so it turns out my experience learning how to host webinars for the PD committee came in handy in 2020)! I really enjoyed the different sets of responsibilities and tasks that came with volunteering on these two different committees.
As for what led me to say yes to subsequent opportunities within NORDP, part of it is my personality. I’ve always been the kind of person who says “yes” to things, and as a young professional I’ve viewed volunteering as a way to both prove myself and get better at my job and learn new things. I also genuinely wanted to say yes because of the incredible people that I was working with – through my committee service I’ve gotten to know so many people from very eclectic and diverse backgrounds and built so many meaningful relationships, so signing up to spend more time working alongside my fellow volunteers was an easy call. I do think one thing I have learned with experience is when to say “yes” to a new opportunity and when I need to hold off on taking on something new so I can have balance, which I think is an important lesson to learn (and one that most people learn the hard way by perhaps saying “yes” to too many things).
As you’ve gotten more involved in NORDP and taken on multiple volunteer roles, which experiences stand out to you?
I think volunteering with NORDP has been a great way to build confidence, not only in myself, but in my ability to do my job. It has been very reinforcing to know that I do know things about the field of RD. I’ve learned a lot about this organization and have seen the value that it adds to people’s lives and careers. And so I think that the experiences that stand out to me are the ones where I’ve seen my fellow volunteers grow and lift each other up. There are so many members I have worked with who are so quick to say kind things and build each other up. More than once people have come up to me and commended me on presentations I’ve given or committee tasks I’ve taken on, and that’s not an experience that’s unique to me, it speaks to the broader volunteer culture within NORDP where volunteers are so quick to show gratitude, compassion, kindness, and genuine care for each other.
What do you see as the biggest rewards, and challenges, of being a NORDP volunteer?
I think the biggest rewards of being a NORDP volunteer are the professional growth opportunities that come with stepping up and volunteering. You can be a NORDP member and attend webinars and conferences and learn a lot, but I’d say volunteering adds an additional level of professional growth and more opportunities to step into leadership positions. The other huge reward is the relationships you build with other volunteers. The NORDP community is made up of so many genuinely wonderful humans and I’ve made so many lasting and meaningful friendships. And I don’t think I would have gotten that without getting involved in the organization. You don’t just get that from attending a webinar, or attending a conference once a year, you get that reward from engaging meaningfully with other people around a shared goal of supporting an organization that we all care about.
Among the biggest challenges are finding balance and preventing burnout. It’s hard! You want to say yes to all the things when you love something, and sometimes you’ll end up saying yes to too many things. I wish there was infinite time and energy and the ability to say yes to everything, but there’s not. And I think we in NORDP are working to shift the culture of volunteering to make it more acceptable for people to have boundaries, which is so important. We ask a lot of our volunteers and we need to make sure that we’re building a culture that supports and shows gratitude to them, and welcomes in new volunteers so that we can spread the work around and ensure that nobody feels overwhelmed. There are so many reasons people may already be tapped out and burnt out right now that it can be hard to ask someone to give another hour of their month away to volunteer, so volunteer recruitment is an ongoing challenge. But at the same time, the rewards of being a NORDP volunteer make those challenges worth it. And the upside is that these challenges are to some extent self-correcting. If we can show folks the rewards of being a volunteer, more people will seek out those volunteer opportunities and we’ll be able to distribute the work across a wide volunteer base, lessening the time burden on everyone (or at least that’s how I like to think about it)!
Are there particular volunteer opportunities (within or outside of NORDP) you’re looking forward to pursuing next?
I think at some point in the future, maybe in the next couple of years, I will run for the NORDP Board (probably once I’m closer to being finished with my PhD)! I also do a lot of local volunteering in my community that I really enjoy.
What advice do you have for NORDP members who aspire to be highly involved volunteers?
Go for it! Find things that are meaningful to you so that you don’t feel like volunteering is a chore – you want it to be something you look forward to. For me, the people within NORDP have provided that meaning, and that has made it very easy to enjoy the things that I’ve done. I also think that it’s good to have boundaries – you don’t need to volunteer for every single thing, just show up and volunteer for the thing that really compels you. And once you do get involved, take an active role in building a positive volunteer culture. Lift others up with you and give them a chance to succeed!