Reflections on the 2020 NCDA Virtual Conference

By Melissa Venable and Marty Apodaca

NCDA’s Global Career Development Conference is a celebrated annual event often compared to a family reunion, attended by veteran career practitioners and a strong cohort of new career professionals and first-time conference attendees. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic in early 2020, specifically the travel restrictions and physical distancing requirements in place worldwide, holding an in-person gathering was not possible. In a mere eight weeks, NCDA staff and board members were able to coordinate and offer a professional opportunity to learn and connect online. Occurring July 14 - 16, 2020, the virtual conference drew almost 600 registered attendees representing 10 countries and addressed current key issues facing practitioners and clients.

Inspiring Innovation, Increasing Diversity, and Promoting Social Justice in Career Practice

Dr. Kathy Evans, NCDA’s President, wisely and felicitously selected this year’s theme over 12 months ago. The ultimate timeliness of this theme could not have been predicted, but its advance selection only confirms the need to continually focus on social justice and diversity as career counselors, coaches, researchers, and educators. 

In her opening address, Dr. Evans, the first woman of color to hold the NCDA President office, highlighted the work of the Diversity Initiatives and Cultural Inclusion Committee and encouraged advocacy for social justice. She emphasized the need for hope and perseverance and a new focus on changing biased systems instead of coping with them. Through three powerful live keynote speakers, four live featured presentations, and over 80 recorded sessions, this inaugural virtual conference planted the seeds of social action. 

Explore the Future of Work

“Career development problem-solving is a mystery, not a puzzle.” This thought guided Lisa Taylor, President of Challenge Factory and the Centre for Career Innovation, in her opening keynote session. She shared that what we are traditionally taught about problem-solving -- that there are steps and a finite number of pieces that fit together in one way -- is no longer applicable. Taylor’s recommendations included:

  • Become a “career scientist,” helping students and clients find their career development clues through their experiences and opportunities to learn and grow
  • Allow yourself, and those you work with, to see yourself differently in the world of work
  • Embrace the fact that the employment outlook is changing and will continue to change.

Develop a Social Justice Mindset

Dr. Patricia Arredondo’s live keynote kicked off the second day of the conference with a lot of energy and support from many attendees who commended her mentorship and leadership in the session’s chat feature. “The counseling profession is about empowerment,” said Dr. Arrendondo, in a call to action that emphasized practitioners must become skilled in multicultural counseling competencies. Dr. Arrendondo’s presentation drew attention to:

  • The impact of recent job loss on people of color and women specifically
  • An awareness that each of us is a potential activist
  • Thinking about social justice leadership as it is driven by caring about others, developing trust relationships, and accepting vulnerabilities in ourselves and others. 

Create Space for All Voices

Closing out the live event on the third day, Dr. Rosie Phillips Davis inspired attendees with her keynote presentation. Dr. Davis challenged everyone to think about how they have delivered career counseling and coaching services in the context of diverse populations. She asked, “which interventions take ethnicity into account?” It is time to rethink the resources we rely on and perhaps revise our approach to be more relevant to our clients’ and students’ current needs. For example, most vocational theories were developed through work and research with middle class subjects. Dr. Davis provided many applicable suggestions, among them the following:

  • If you are teaching, add readings from diverse authors to your syllabus
  • Find ways to collaborate with people who are different from you
  • Create your own activist social justice agenda -- “where there is no strong voice, be the strong voice.”

The Virtual Conference Experience

One of the benefits of participating in a professional conference is the opportunity to strengthen and expand your professional network. A conference app served as a digital portal for the conference, which could be accessed via desktop or mobile device. This app allowed attendees and presenters to complete their individual profiles, connect via internal messages, and contribute to a live activity feed. NCDA provided helpful guides on searching sessions via filtering and permitted registered participants to access the app for up to a year after the event. There is a process posted on the conference website for attendees to receive 15 CEUs for their participation. Through the app, attendees could bookmark favorite sessions, take notes on relevant topics, provide session feedback through a “star” rating, and download any files the presenters made available (e.g., slides, handouts). 

NCDA was also able to conduct its Annual Membership Meeting in real time, with 273 members in attendance. Separate Zoom meetings for each constituency group were held, allowing time for the Board Trustees to update their groups and address concerns. Discover 2020 Sponsors

The Work Continues

Congratulations to the National Career Development Association on its first-ever virtual conference! All sessions were recorded and materials will remain available to participants through the app for the coming year so that professional development can continue.

Don’t stop learning about diversity and social justice. There’s still work to do. This year’s conference may have ended, but you can still explore NCDA’s online social justice resources and participate in upcoming professional development opportunities. Watch for more information on the next virtual event, the Career Practitioner Institute in October. Mark your calendar for the 2021 Global Career Development Conference, scheduled for June 30-July 2 in Atlanta, Georgia.


Melissa VenableMelissa A. Venable, PhD, is an online education advisor for Higher Education at Red Ventures where she leads an annual project reporting online education trends. Other professional roles include adjunct instructor and certified career coach. Melissa earned her doctorate in instructional technology at the University of South Florida with research interests in distance education and support services for online students. Melissa is completing her three-year term on the NCDA Board of Trustees as Secretary. She may be contacted at: melissa.a.venable@gmail.com


Marty Apodaca 2018Marty Apodaca, MA, LPCC, CCC, NCC, is a Senior Counselor at the University of New Mexico (UNM) Student Health and Counseling SHAC. He transitioned to SHAC after 12 years with UNM Office of Career Services.  He was past president of the New Mexico Career Development Association, an active member of the National Career Development Association (NCDA), and an alumni of the NCDA Leadership Academy Class of 2017. Marty enjoys sharing his knowledge of mental health and career counseling through presenting both nationally and locally. Marty’s passion is to help clients share, connect with, and ultimately develop authorship over their stories. Marty can be reached at rapodaca@unm.edu


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Charles Lehman   on Monday 08/03/2020 at 11:01 AM

Really well written and incisive

Elisabeth Sanders-Park   on Monday 08/03/2020 at 12:43 PM

God article. Sounds like it was a good event!

Melissa Venable   on Thursday 08/06/2020 at 01:18 PM

Thank you, Charles and Elisabeth! I'm thrilled that NCDA was able to offer an online event so quickly and effectively.

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in the comments shown above are those of the individual comment authors and do not reflect the views or opinions of this organization.