Reflecting on the Success of the 2024 Xcalibur Conference

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       Last month, in collaboration with FOCUS, Xcalibur hosted our second Evaluation Conference in St. Augustine Florida, and it was a remarkable success. We brought together GEAR UP professionals and evaluators from 18 GEAR UP state and partnership grants. The conference was truly a hub of knowledge, networking, and inspiration.

       The conference, titled “Doing What Matters Most: Leveraging Evaluation to Influence and Lead Your GEAR UP Program,” utilized the Kirkpatrick framework to deliver content aimed at continuous program improvement for grants. The Kirkpatrick model serves as a comprehensive method to assess the effectiveness of programs and training initiatives. By examining four levels —Reaction, Learning, Behavior, and Results—the Kirkpatrick framework provides a structured approach to measure participants’ immediate feedback, acquired knowledge and skills, and applied changes in behavior. This ensures a thorough evaluation of the program’s broader impact on student outcomes and overall program success.

       Over the course of two days, attendees had the opportunity to participate in sessions and activities, meticulously developed to cover a wide range of topics, including accessing and incorporating evidence-based research into programing, revisiting grant logic models, making connections between student learning and expected behavior in alignment with grant results, using data to make data-informed programmatic decisions and support advocacy for GEAR UP.

          Networking is a key aspect of our conferences, and this year was no exception. We incorporated several formal and informal networking activities to help attendees connect and share thoughts and ideas. Sessions were deliberately planned to allow grant staff to collaborate with each other at times and work with staff from other grants at other times. Attendees’ appreciation for networking opportunities was expressed in the feedback responses. The overall conference feedback from attendees was overwhelmingly positive. All attendees who provided feedback indicated they either strongly agreed or agreed that they enjoyed attending the Xcalibur conference. Many appreciated the depth and approach of the content and the opportunities for practical application. Below are some of their comments:

      “The conference was very collaborative and high energy. It also gave me the opportunity to connect with GEAR UP grants that I have not engaged with before.

     “Dissecting the Logic Model and how we are remaining true to the work we originally proposed to do. Nice to have a reminder to check in often and include all staff and partners in that check in process.

     “[The} smaller conference meant we could interact much more and multiple times, which allowed us to form better relationships with other states.”

     “Working with other grants was awesome, and I really appreciated all the specific ways in which you facilitated those connections. I think it can be easy to get lost in the bubble of               your own grant and forget about just how different all the grants can be (which means everyone can learn a lot from each other).

     “I believe that this was very useful not only for learning more about the data and evaluation of GEAR UP but also to give me ideas about how I can better work with students.”

     “I appreciated the opportunity to see evaluation best practices and get to know our partners a little better.

    “Good bank of resources, time to process and dream/build, and network w other GEAR UP folks.

    “Having attended the Nashville conference in 2022, the Florida conference was a continuation/progression of learning evaluation strategies, theories, and skills.

     “Diversity is a source of strength. Despite the pluses in our programs, we all have gaps to fill. These conferences help us to fill those gaps.

        As we reflect on this year’s Xcalibur Conference, we are already looking ahead to our next conference in 2026. We will build on this momentum, incorporating the valuable feedback we received to make future conferences even more impactful for attendees. Our goal is to continue providing a platform where GEAR UP professionals can learn, share, and grow together.

        Thank you to everyone who participated and contributed to making the 2024 Xcalibur Conference a success. We look forward to seeing you again in 2026 for another inspiring and enriching experience.