AIR Travel Grant Furthers Education Experience at Forum

Kris Altucher, Sarah Bauer, Yi Cao, Mark Leany, and Renate Otterbach were five of the 30 2016 AIR Affiliated Organization (AO) Travel Grant winners. The grant 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 2016 Forum presenters about their experience with the travel grant.

From left to right:
Kris Altucher, Sarah Bauer, Yi Cao, Mark Leany, and Renate Otterbach

eAIR: 2016 was the second year that the AIR Affiliated Organization Travel Grant was offered. What was your reaction when you found out you had been awarded a grant for travel to the 2016 Forum?

Kris Altucher: I was thrilled. I had been to an AIR Forum a couple of times before, but not in quite a few years. So I knew it would be big, bustling, and full of interesting people and ideas.

Sarah Bauer: I am in the process of shifting focus in my position and was pleased that I would have funding to attend AIR. My institutional professional development money was still focused on skills and knowledge from my previous role, so this allowed me to jump back into the AIR organization and gain current insights that are serving me well in my new role.

Yi Cao: It was really a nice surprise because I was looking for additional funding to support my travel at that point. The timing was great when I heard the news.

Mark Leany: We were pleased. We do have limits on our travel budget, so receiving the AIR Travel Grant (combined with the other grant from RMAIR for Best Presentation) that fiscal year helped justify and pay for attendance and presentation at AIR.

Renate Otterbach: I was very excited. I had worked for two years on developing a retention model and I was delighted that I would have the opportunity to share it with a larger audience.

eAIR: Have you initiated any research projects that were inspired by ideas shared at the 2016 AIR Forum?

Kris Altucher: No research projects yet per se, but it has changed my approach to several things. I went to quite a few sessions on data visualization and that has helped me rethink the best way to present information, particularly to audiences who may not be as familiar with data interpretation. Making sure to keep in mind the kinds of things that are implicit in charts and graphs, such as the importance of color choices and how they convey information, has helped as well.

Yi Cao: I have shared quite a lot of information and resources I learned from the 2016 AIR Forum with my colleagues. Most recently, I was inspired by several Forum attendees through their presentations and/or follow-up email communications. With the support of my supervisor, we are starting to create a home-grown exit survey for our graduates.

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

Kris Altucher: Planning ahead is crucial. There are so many things going on at once, you really have to read through the schedule carefully in advance to make the best use of your time. And you need to go early to the sessions you’re interested in. I was in several that were packed and they had to turn people away at the door. I would also recommend connecting with people from different regions and/or sectors, just to get new perspectives and ideas on IR.

Sarah Bauer: I would recommend that they take advantage of all the options to connect with others, and the sooner the better. If you can connect with colleagues early on, it makes your learning potential even greater. Also, make time to visit the exhibit hall, even if you aren’t responsible for purchasing. It can generate new ideas and the networking opportunities are great as well.

Yi Cao: Try to get yourself familiarized with the online sharing platform before the conference so you know how to efficiently retrieve and share information. This will become your best friend, even after the conference. I found it to be extremely helpful for sharing and retaining the information and knowledge I gained at the conference.

Mark Leany: Attend sessions that will teach you something new.  Make contacts (swap business cards) with presenters and other attendees who are addressing similar issues to the ones that you have.

Renate Otterbach: I think it is important to allocate time to take advantage of the networking opportunities that are provided. Sharing experiences and projects with other IR professionals will provide encouragement and will provide you with new insights.  

eAIR: What was your biggest take-away from the 2016 Forum in New Orleans?

Kris Altucher: I had forgotten how energizing and inspiring it is to be surrounded by engaged and creative people who do the same things I do. I was able to connect with people I had met at conferences over the years, and I met a lot of new people as well. The networking is a huge part of what makes the Forum so worthwhile, with all of the ideas bouncing around. I would encourage all IR workers to attend at least once, just to get a feel for the wide array of people and ideas.

Sarah Bauer: Higher Ed often doesn’t use its own research, its own access to data. But we need to improve our “business.”  Parents, students, accreditation agencies, and government funding agencies all expect us to be accountable and be able to quantify our product (student learning) for a reasonable cost.

Yi Cao: A lot of learning can happen after the conference ends. Use the great online resources that AIR has created to follow up with presenters, ask about best practices at their institutions, and apply appropriate strategies learned during and after the conference to one’s own institution. All the presenters I contacted after the conference were so responsive to my questions and went the extra mile to address them.

Mark Leany: I learned some new methods or variations of current practices that are directly applicable to what I do in my job.

Renate Otterbach: Feeling part of the IR community. I think that it is very easy in IR to become isolated and focus only on what needs to be done next. Attending the conference enables us to share our experiences, get new insights, and obtain a global view of our work.

eAIR: Can you share an example of a project or report you initiated based on knowledge gained through your membership with AIR?

Kris Altucher: The AIR Statement for Aspirational Practice, which was discussed in many small and large venues at the conference, got me thinking about how we recognize the centrality of data in institutional functioning. We always talk of evidence-based decision making, but having that expertise at the table is crucial.

Sarah Bauer: I’ve used ideas from several presentations on how to create a stronger data governance community at my institution. 

Yi Cao: One project I am working on, as a result of talking to several conference attendees, is to find a sustainable way to revamp our current exit and alumni survey system. This conference definitely provided new perspectives and approaches in this regard.

Mark Leany: I teach AIR workshops with another co-worker (Tim Stanley), and starting in 2015, we were accepted to teach a workshop on using Tableau. Based on the New Orleans conference, we will be designing an additional course with new content. We have also presented other sessions on using Tableau and, through this, have improved our skills in the Tableau visualization tool. This is due to the necessity of learning in order to teach and the contacts we made, who both learn from us and teach us new things. Such knowledge has had a direct positive effect on many of the projects we develop at UVU.




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