Meeting with Other Atheists Leads to Dream Jobs
June 10, 2011Dren explains how a conference led to working with the Center for Inquiry.
In 2008, I saw the Bill Maher film Religulous. I had to drive about forty minutes outside of Grand Haven, MI because no theaters in my small town were playing the godless film. On the way out of the theater, I saw a poster for the film and picked it up. Who doesn’t love free stuff, right? On the bottom of that poster was a sticker with the CFI logo and an address for CFI–Michigan. I immediately freaked out. I knew about the Center for Inquiry (thanks to Jim Underdown making appearances on Penn & Teller: Bullshit!), but I never imagined that there would be a CFI center in Michigan. Michigan! I love Michigan, but there are still people there who give their neighbors dirty looks for mowing their lawns on Sunday, so I did not think it was a bastion of freethought.
That was the beginning of my life with the Center for Inquiry.
Many people know this story. I applied to be an intern, was offered the position, and ended up making a reputation for my “Drenergy” at CFI–Michigan. During my work with the Michigan center, I had the opportunity to go to the 2009 Student Leadership Conference. I had been given the presidency of Center for Inquiry–Grand Valley State University when the group lost steam and I was an intern and volunteer, so I was happy to learn more about CFI and what other students were doing in the freethought movement. We rounded up a few GVSU student leaders and others from Michigan affiliate groups, rented a school van, packed a lot of Tim Minchin music, and took off.
Going to the conference was one of the most educational and inspirational things I did in the embarrassingly long amount of time that I was in college. I met the most amazing student leaders; we shared advice and opinions about what works best for advocacy and activism on our campuses as well as the best ways to organize and plan for the future. We took notes during lectures, jumped at the opportunity to be sounding boards, and adapted ideas to our own campuses.
It always sounds silly to say it (though I know we have all had this thought), but I didn’t know that there were so many secular and skeptical groups out there. Many groups and individuals proclaimed their secular beliefs, and I will admit that I didn’t even know there were that many “out” atheists. I had only known about the philosophies of freethought and skepticism for a couple years, and I only really knew about Michigan CFI groups through being an intern. So, to sit in a room of nearly seventy freethinking and secular humanist students from all over the continent was a little unbelievable.
For four special days we ate together, participated in group workshops, watched debates, gushed over a few of our favorite speakers, hung out in the dorms, and met with branch and community leaders to discuss how we could support each other. Students met community leaders who went on to help them with local support. Branch leaders learned more about what students were doing all over the country. We all learned from each other and were inspired to become better leaders. Plus, we developed real, tangible, nuts-and-bolts skills that would help us as we grew to be better students and more effective thinkers.
None of us wanted to leave on Sunday, but we had to make the nine hour drive back to the mitten, with several stops before we each returned to our homes. We were going to leave earlier, but absolutely had to stay until noon so that I could meet Joe Nickell and watch his presentation (I still have the wood nickel that he gave me—eeeeee!). We left feeling energized with a plethora of good ideas and new skills to build our groups even further.
The conference experience was enlightening for me. Not only did all of these great things come from the program content and camaraderie, but I also met several professionals who were later able to help me land my dream job. It sounds a little cheesy to describe it as such, but it’s true. I am here today because of what I learned at the CFI Student Leadership Conference. I want everyone to have these same opportunities that I was given. This is why I am working so hard to help students get to our conference.
About the Author: Dren Asselmeier
Dren Asselmeier does student outreach as a campus organizer at the Center for Inquiry. She got her start as an organizer while interning at Center for Inquiry–Michigan in 2008. She stayed until 2010 as a volunteer campus coordinator, and was CFI–Michigan Freethinker of the Year in 2009, as well as president of Center for Inquiry–Grand Valley State University. Dren has a B.A. in English from Grand Valley State University. She is the president of Buffalo Area Non-Profit Professionals, an event volunteer at Buffalo Subversive Theatre, and a contributor to the Buffalo Storyteller Hour.