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21st Annual Character Matters Conference Examines Changing World

When Edward DeRoche and former SOLES professor Mary Williams worked together to establish the Character Development Resource Center at the University of San Diego 20 years ago, they had no idea how much it would grow. But one of the best things to result from the center’s existence happened shortly after it was founded: the Character Matters Conference.

“When we started the center, character education was new to educators in California and our book was one of the early books addressing character education, so we decided that we needed to bring educators together to discuss what it actually meant and how to do it in schools and classrooms,” explains DeRoche, director of the Character Development Resource Center. 

Now in its 21st year, the Character Matters Conference has established itself as a place for educators to meet, mingle and learn. With a line-up of expert speakers and plenty of allotted time for networking, it is more than a conference — it’s a community of committed educators.

For DeRoche, who has spent more than 30 years in the field of education including dean of SOLES, the conference is a testament to the commitment of his peers.

“My favorite part of the conference is watching attendees interact with speakers, network with one another, and seek resources that they can use in their schools and classroom when they leave the conference.”

As education professionals are forced to grapple with new technology, new testing standards and a new generation of students, DeRoche and his colleagues have worked hard to reflect these new challenges in the Character Matters programming.

This year’s conference, held June 22-23, tackled the Essence of Character through discussions on social emotional learning and teaching and civic and digital citizenship.

One speaker, Jason Ohler, PhD, professor emeritus and distinguished president’s professor at the University of Alaska Southeast, discussed “Digital Citizenship and Character Education.” A prominent leader in the field, Ohler used real-life examples such as “math hats” that can make you perform better at math. He encouraged the participants to view technological changes through the lens of character development.

“Character education has always been important, but if you think it’s been important up until now, just wait until the new technology gets here. Our future is going to depend upon the quality of the character of our students,” Ohler told the audience.

As educators work to confront the realities of living in a rapidly changing world with constant access to new information and what it means for their students, the annual conference provides a framework to work: education that is focused on character development.

— Taylor Milam