AIR AO Travel Grant Recipients: Advice and Key Take-aways

The AIR Affiliated Organization (AO) Travel Grant, now in its fourth year, was created to partner with AOs and serve the skill development needs of institutional researchers who might otherwise be unable to attend the Forum. Qualifying AOs receive matching funds from AIR on a dollar-for-dollar basis, up to $1,000. eAIR spoke with these 2018 recipients and Forum presenters about their experience with the travel grant and their time at the Forum.

From left to right: Morgan Blair, CIRPA; Marcus Brewer, GAIRPAQ; Ross Conover, NEAIR; Michael Le, CAIR; Sandip Thanki, RMAIR; and Hanyan Wang, OCAIR

eAIR: Can you share how you learned of the travel grant and how the process worked for your Affiliated Organization (AO)?

Morgan Blair: The recipient of the travel grant for the Canadian Institutional Research & Planning Association (CIRPA) is awarded based on presentation ratings from the CIRPA annual conference. The presentation with the highest rating is awarded the grant. I became aware of the grant at the CIRPA conference, where it was announced that the best presentation presenter(s) would be receiving it.

Marcus Brewer: My awareness of the AIR travel grant and the process by which GAIRPAQ worked alongside AIR is unique for two main reasons. First, the timing of the GAIRPAQ annual conference in relation to the AIR Forum, the former occurring only one month prior to the latter, causes the awarded travel grant to be effective for the subsequent year. Second, as an executive officer of GAIRPAQ, I have also been involved in the submission process with AIR. Overall, it was largely effortless and extremely intuitive. This year’s award winners were excited for the opportunity to attend the AIR Forum at a significantly reduced travel cost.

Ross Conover: The grant was widely advertised by the NEAIR board of directors. They solicited applications from current members. We were required to complete a personal statement, a budget, and a statement of institutional support. Applications were reviewed, rated, and I was fortunate enough to be selected.

Michael Le: The California Association for Institutional Research (CAIR) matches the AIR travel grant and awards it to the person(s) with the best CAIR conference presentation. The Best Presentation Award recognizes the most outstanding example of a significant contribution to the practice and understanding of IR. 

Sandip Thanki: I learned about the travel grant through RMAIR. The process worked seamlessly. RMAIR contacted us and let us know about our eligibility and sent us the funds to apply toward our travel to the AIR Forum.

Hanyan Wang: I learned of the travel grant from the OCAIR mailing list. To apply for this award, I discussed the travel budget with my institution supervisor, filled out the proposal form, and emailed the form as well as my curriculum vitae to the Travel Grants Selection Committee. After a month, I was notified that I won the grant.

eAIR: What was your reaction when you found out you had been awarded a 2018 AIR AO Travel Grant?  

Morgan Blair: I was honored and grateful! To be recognized by my peers was great, and receiving the grant took that recognition to a whole new level. Extra professional development is a great incentive and fantastic reward.

Marcus Brewer: I was enthusiastic not only about the opportunity to attend the AIR Forum in Orlando, with additional financial assistance, but also the prospect of presenting my session. While the financial assistance is very useful, I find the corresponding presentation opportunity to be even more valuable. For someone who might be relatively new to the IR field, the opportunity to interact with more experienced peers and solicit feedback on a presentation is invaluable. Overall, considering the relative ease with which an AO can gain access to the grant funds through AIR, the travel grant provides tremendous potential to all IR professionals, regardless of experience.

Ross Conover: I was incredibly excited and humbled, and felt very fortunate that NEAIR believed my attendance at the AIR Forum was a worthy investment of their professional development funds.

Michael Le: I won the CAIR Best Presentation award in 2015 and I could not believe the email that said I had won it again in 2017. It was shocking! My presentation was the early slot on last day of the conference. I expected to have a small crowd, but I was honored with a full room. Early in my career, I struggled to find my stage voice. So, to have a well-attended session and win this award is big deal to me!

Sandip Thanki: I was very excited! It was fulfilling to know that our work was not only appreciated, but we were given a platform to share our work with a broader, national audience.  It inspired us to deliver our ideas in an even more polished manner for others to learn from. The session was also very well attended.

Hanyan Wang: I could hardly believe it when I saw the award announcement email! I did not fully digest the news until I started to register for the AIR Forum and book my flights. As a newcomer who had just entered the IR field (less than a year), being awarded was truly a surprise to me.

eAIR: What advice would you share with AIR Forum participants to help them make the most of their conference experience?   

Morgan Blair: Pre-plan your schedule using the App. There are so many options to choose from in each time slot – it helps to go into the conference organized so that you can make the most of your time there.

Marcus Brewer: Before attending my first AIR Forum a few years ago, I received the following sound advice from a colleague: “When planning your conference agenda (either via the program or the Forum app), always select multiple sessions for each available time slot.” While I scoffed at the advice and wondered why I would select multiple sessions when I could only physically attend one session at a time, I now find this advice meaningful for two reasons. First, it inhibits the natural tendency to select the first session that aligns with my expertise and then move along to the next available time slot. This tendency not only increases the likelihood that you will miss valuable sessions, but also provides numerous alternatives in the event the primary session is cancelled. Second, and perhaps most importantly, even if you do not attend the secondary and tertiary sessions, it allows you to contact the presenter(s) and potentially obtain session presentation materials. By following this advice, I’ve been able to make the most out of my AIR Forum attendance.

Ross Conover: My advice to anyone participating in the AIR Forum is to be sure that you attend at least a couple of sessions that will broaden your perspective in the field. If you are an IR person, attend some sessions on assessment. Find sessions that are outside of your traditional responsibilities, and really invest in making yourself a more well-rounded practitioner. 

Michael Le: I went to the conference knowing only a handful of people and left with at least 20+ new contacts. It started with a dinner group on Tuesday, enhanced by a bus ride where we met more people, and solidified with an evening visit to the pool. We formed a group that attended sessions, shared meals, and networked after hours. It was beneficial to be able to talk about sessions with my peers while at the conference. This was my most productive AIR conference yet - and it all started with a dinner group!

Sandip Thanki: The Forum can be overwhelming with all the available sessions to attend.  It is best to set learning outcomes for yourself in choosing the sessions. It would make the participation much more valuable if we could learn one or two new things well rather than previewing many topics just touching the surface.

Hanyan Wang: Do some “homework” before and after the AIR Forum, but stay relaxed during the conference. When I was in Orlando I tried to attend as many sessions as I could, and I found myself exhausted by the end of the day. However, after returning to North Carolina, I realized that the AIR Forum offers a rich source of Forum materials online. Moreover, some presenters kindly shared their slides with me, even though I did not attend their sessions due to time conflicts. In other words, learning and communication are still going on after the Forum. 

eAIR: What was your biggest take-away from the 2018 Forum in Orlando, Florida?

Morgan Blair: It’s reassuring to hear that we are all dealing with similar challenges. The Forum is a great way to find out how other people are dealing with those challenges and then take away concrete ways of addressing them at home.

Marcus Brewer: Without a doubt, my biggest take-away from the 2018 AIR Forum was the immense diversity among the conference attendees. Regardless of one’s experience level or specific position responsibilities, one can rest assured that there will be countless individuals with whom he or she can discuss similar projects, network between sessions, and/or express comparable institutional perspectives. In addition, this attendee diversity is directly translated into the vast array of available Pre-conference Workshops, Impact Sessions, and panel sessions. Truly, this year’s AIR Forum demonstrated that no professional within an institutional effectiveness-based position can declare, “there isn’t value for me or my institution at the 2018 AIR Forum.”

Ross Conover: My biggest take-away from the forum was Stephanie Evergreen's keynote address. She really demonstrated how to dramatically improve your data visualizations and create the impact that you are seeking for your data. I have already started looking for ways to incorporate her advice into my presentations. She was awesome. 

Michael Le: There were several themes around data presentation best practices, but I think the biggest take away for me came about in Archie Cubarrubia and Claire Goverts' session on Applying the AIR Code of Ethics. In line with Cathy O'Neil's closing keynote about Weapons of Math Destruction, I think our profession is being called upon to implement algorithms which have the potential to do a lot of damage. The Code of Ethics needs to be updated to address our responsibility with Big data, predictive analytics, and data privacy.

Sandip Thanki: I wanted to come back from the Forum with improved knowledge of R. I attended multiple sessions related to the topic, and learned something new that I didn’t even know existed for reporting: R Markdown. This made my attendance worthwhile as my reporting will be much more efficient with this newly learned tool.

Hanyan Wang: People. It was an extremely unique experience to meet with national and international higher education professionals. Their accomplishments and the stories of their institutions will inspire me in my future work. I particularly enjoyed connecting with IR colleagues who are also new to this field. Through our discussion, I learned a lot about other IR offices, the expertise and responsibilities of other IR professionals, and lessons learned within the first few months or years in IR.



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