The Course of Reason

What We Learned at the SSA Conference

August 3, 2011

This last weekend, Campus Organizer Debbie Goddard, intern Cody Hashman, and I went to the Secular Student Alliance annual conference in Columbus, Ohio. I had never been to an SSA conference before and I had a great time getting to know so many (over 200!) student leaders who are passionate about secularism and freethought. The Secular Student Alliance staff and volunteers did a great job putting the conference together and I am grateful that they invited me and my colleagues to participate. So, a big thank-you is in order, first of all.

I tried to think of what my favorite talk was, and I can’t decide. Jessica Ahlquist brought some people to tears as she explained how lonely and frightening it can be to come out as an atheist and to be a church/state separation activist, especially as a young woman who was threatened with physical violence and not protected by most of the staff of her public school. Her courage is inspiring to all of us, and I thought that her presentation was amazing.

My other favorite was Hemant Mehta’s talk about teaching critical thinking and changing the pedagogy for American schools. The crowd laughed at the “omnomnomagon” (the Pac-Man of the geometry world) and Juan folding straws into triangles, but a good deal of the crowd also realized that our math education in the US is unsatisfactory. I know that my own math skills would be far better had I been encouraged and given a framework better than “memorize this.” It’s just great to hear Hemant talk because he has such a fresh and energized perspective on how we can improve our society. I definitely enjoyed it, as did all of the student leaders that shared their opinions afterward.

Getting students inspired is great, but the nuts-and-bolts talks about real life skills that we need as leaders and organizers were also invaluable. I especially appreciated Lyz Liddell’s talk about delegation (“Delegating Like a Boss,” which Lyz certainly is). We take on so much as non-profit organizers and activists because we care deeply about our causes, but in order to become even better leaders, to get more done, to avoid burnout (a real threat to productivity!), and to help others get involved, we take over and can’t let go of the tasks that are crucial to our missions. Lyz said, “Don’t let perfect be the enemy of good,” and that we have to accept that others won’t always do things to the level of perfection that we do, but that we can survive when something done well is good enough. This is so true, and I think that every organization can learn from this information. We all need to watch out for the lurking tenets of micromanagement that should be the enemy of all entities that value efficiency and individuality.

Many students told me that they got priceless information from the breakout sessions, but had a hard time choosing which presentations to see. I felt the same way, but there was a lot of note-taking and sharing of information and ideas following the sessions, which is a sign of how productive we can be when we work together, and how conducive the conference environment is to learning.

I can’t even begin to share all of the information that I received and I can’t remember the names of all of the cheery and motivated leaders I met. The attendance was astounding! I had a chance to talk to some of the SSA staff and congratulate them on this wonderful payoff to all of their hard work. They seemed happy to be able to host an event that clearly means so much to young secularists.

I’m not sure what information will be available now that the conference is over, but nearly all of the speakers shared their contact information and many had handouts available, so I encourage those who could not attend to ask for notes or slides if desired. I bet JT can hook you up!

Thank you to everyone involved in this event and others. We are becoming quite a close community and I am so happy to be a part of it. See you next time!



About the Author: Dren Asselmeier

Dren Asselmeier's photo

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. 


#1 KingHeathen on Wednesday August 03, 2011 at 7:32pm

My understanding is that all of the breakot sessions were filmed, and will be available shortly online. It would be a shame if they hadn't, there was some mighty good information floating around in those breakout sessions.




Guests may not post URLs. Registration is free and easy.

Remember my personal information

Notify me of follow-up comments?

Enter the missing word: CFI's mission ( is to foster a _______ society.

Creative Commons License

The Course of Reason is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License.

CFI blog entries can be copied or distributed freely, provided:

  • Credit is given to the Center for Inquiry and the individual blogger
  • Either the entire entry is reproduced or an excerpt that is considered fair use
  • The copying/distribution is for noncommercial purposes