ACUI Buttons: They Help Mark the Memories

It is your first ACUI Annual Conference and suddenly you feel out of place. It is not the overwhelming number of greetings you receive, or the fact that every one of your questions was answered perfectly at the member services desk. No, it is not that. It is the conference lanyard you just dropped around your neck. Suddenly you feel “button-naked.”

They are everywhere: Regional anniversary buttons, community of practice buttons, Annual Conference site buttons, some for dedicated events, and others offering ACUI-unique messages like, “Don’t Make Me Use My Advisor Voice!” 

For a first-time conference attendee, it is a rite of passage. Hence the table near registration offering the current year’s latest issue of buttons, up for grabs to all. Members say lanyards are cramped with buttons as they represent reservoirs of memories, call backs to unique experiences, and reminders of the volunteer work they have done with component groups, task forces, communities of practice, and regions. Some represent corporate sponsors, like the battery-powered, blinking martini glass from WTW Architects that recalls one of their annual conference client receptions; others not directly associated with ACUI are pinned on lanyards to initiate a fresh conversation between members.

One of the most unique must be the handmade I-LEAD® knot, which represents the program’s curriculum that focuses on forming a common bond, symbolized in part by the knot pin. Nicole BellCorelli, manager for residential experience and community initiatives at University of Wisconsin–Oshkosh, said I-LEAD® always begins with a connection activity that culminates in an “I will…” call out.

“The prompt is, ‘Because of I-LEAD® I will…’ and then you throw a ball of rope to the next person, then you end up with a giant web,” said BellCorelli. Each participant receives a piece of the cord to tie onto something for their journey home; everyone also receives a knot pin unique to that year’s class.

The knot pin tradition began in 1994 when Mari Strombom, now the executive director of housing and dining services at Colorado State University, was one of the I-LEAD® instructors hosting the event on that campus. A few years earlier she and other members of the anti-racism group “Our Own Best Interest” had created the macrame knot pins to distribute in the community after a series of racist events and bomb threats: “At the time we just wanted to say, ‘This is not OK here.’ And then in 1993 when we taught I-LEAD®, we gave those pins out to the class.” The tradition of the handmade pins has continued with the I-LEAD® program to this day.

Luke Altendorf, director of Memorial Student Union for over 35 years before becoming director of strategic collaborations for student affairs at Texas A&M University, may put it best when he calls the buttons and pins “time stamps that bring back fond memories with some really great people who have had an impact on the lives of others.”

Looking at his buttons, Altendorf recalled “profound” campus visits during Annual Conferences, “quirky” experiences in various cities that he had before or after conferences, and “old school” memories when regions sold the buttons as fundraisers. 

“They are a great conversation piece; and it has also been fun trading with colleagues from other universities, especially ones I have visited,” he said. 


  • Steve Chaplin

    Steve Chaplin is managing editor of ACUI’s The Bulletin and manager of the ACUI College Union and Student Activities (CUSA) Evaluation Program. A former newspaper writer, editor, and manager, he has volunteered as a student mentor as a member of the National Association of Science Writers, and received awards for his writing and reporting from the Council for the Advancement and Support of Education, the Kentucky Education Association, and the Kentucky Press Association.

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