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Finding “A Winning Community” at the STC 53rd Annual Conference
2006, Q2 (February 19, 2007)
By Kimberly M. (Williams) Rothwell, NCSU Student Chapter President

Kimberly Rothwell
Kimberly Rothwell

Editor’s note: This year, the Carolina chapter held an essay contest for STC student chapter members. The students described how their studies and STC involvement prepared them for our profession. We awarded the winner of the contest with money to attend the STC Annual Conference. Kim, the winner of the contest, has written this article as both a thank you to the chapter and as a report on what she took away from the conference.

When I enrolled in the Master’s program in Technical Communication at N.C. State I wasn’t quite sure what the phrase “technical communication” meant. I’d tell puzzled family members that I’d be “writing about technical things” and “turning engineer-ese into English.”

During my first semester I took a class specifically intended to introduce me to the field. I read journal articles about what it means to be a technical communicator, joined in debates about why we were “technical communicators” instead of “technical writers” or “information developers,” and joined STC.

I had theory and the ideology, but no real-world experience. Truth be told, when those same puzzled family members asked what technical communicators did on a day-to-day basis, the best I could muster was that most of them wrote software documentation and some designed web sites.

At the end of my first year in the program I was fortunate enough to win the Carolina Chapter’s essay contest and was allowed to attend STC’s 53rd Annual Conference in Las Vegas. It was here, surrounded by industry technical communicators, where I finally learned what it means to be a technical communicator in the business world.
Building Connections

I’m sure all of you know, whether you’ve attended one or not, that an STC conference is filled with opportunities to network with professionals from across the globe and to learn ways to strengthen and expand your skill set.

An STC conference is the only place where you can learn to squeeze information out of a reluctant SME, build bonds between student and professional STC communities, and run into a member of your Region who works in Vienna (that’s Austria, not Virginia) all in the same day.

For a student, an STC conference is even more. The conference is a place to talk to the people who actually work in the jobs you’ve been hearing about and find out what they do for 40 (usually actually 50-60) hours a week. It’s also a place to learn about cutting edge practices and tools in the field that will define the type of work that future generations of technical communicators will perform.

Most importantly, attending the conference allows one to witness the breadth of the field and to feel a part of a progressive, focused, and driven international community. I came home to my STC student community filled with enthusiasm for being a member of a society that provides a wealth of information about how to improve the craft and supportive leadership to help technical communicators at every experience level succeed.

A Winning Community

Leadership day showed me that our leaders on the executive board truly want to create a successful community that benefits both the profession and the members within it. After all, STC’s mission is “Creating and supporting a forum for communities of practice in the profession of technical communication.”

For this coming year, STC has an interim strategic plan designed to build STC’s presence and influence, via local and global community support. Instead of chapters, we have communities; instead of region leaders, we have a centrally directed LCR (leadership community resource) to which all communities will turn to for guidance. Region 2 is one of the first regions to experience the LCR and our interactions with it will help guide the shape of the LCR in years to come.

We also learned techniques to rally our community members to expand their knowledge bases and become proactive members of their own local communities. It is no wonder that this year’s conference theme was “A Winning Community.” I cannot imagine attending leadership day and not being motivated to lead one’s own community to immerse itself in the STC and capitalize on its resources.

Learning to Excel

Primarily, the conference offered three days of information-packed seminars in six subject areas: management, professional development, research and training, tools and technology, usability and information design, and writing and editing.

As incoming president of the NCSU STC student community, I attended many sessions regarding how to build chapter relationships between professional and student communities. There, I learned that partnership between student and professional communities benefits both types of groups by creating enduring working relationships and focusing on sharing new information about the field. I hope to use the resources and ideas I procured to build such a relationship here in the Triangle area. Because I am interested in information design, most of the sessions I attended were in the usability/information design subject area. I learned content management techniques from Ann Rockley and prototyping for online information design from Karen Mobley and Kristen Eberlein. I also learned to hone my skills in interviewing, web design, and usability testing.

Each session provided a unique perspective on the subject and gave me tips on how to improve my skills in the future. I am confident that each of the sessions at the conference gave its participants enthusiasm and new ideas about how to excel at their profession.

A Golden Opportunity

Four weeks after the conference ended, I realize I finally knew what a technical communicator does on a daily basis. Conversations with technical communicators from across the globe and sessions focused on users and organization helped me realize that whether one is a technical writer, editor, information architect or web designer, the goal of a technical communicator is to mold information into an accessible form so that users can create knowledge.

An STC conference is a unique type of education that supplements the formal theory and ideology one can learn in school. It is a place to interact with and learn from people with a range of professions, viewpoints, and expertise. It is a place to experience passion and vision for the field as a part of an international community. But most of all, it is a place filled with resources just waiting to be used by the next eager technical communicator. This year, one of those eager technical communicators was me. Next year, may it be all of you.

Kim can be reached at kmwilli3 at yahoo dot com. End of article.

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