AIR Travel Grant Boosts AO Participation at Forum

Kai Chang, PNAIRP; Erica Hughes, LAIR; Rachel Jumper, TAIR; Dai Li, OCAIR; Nonie Nichols, CIRPA; Nick Valcik, RMAIR; and Allison Walters, NEAIR; were 7 of the 26 2017 AIR Affiliated Organization (AO) Travel Grant winners. The grant, now in its third 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 2017 Forum presenters about their experience with the travel grant and the Forum.

From left to right: Kai Chang, Erica Hughes, Rachel Jumper, Dai Li, Nonie Nichols, Nick Valcik, and Allison Walters

eAIR: What was your reaction when you found out you had been awarded a 2017 AIR Affiliated Organization Travel Grant?  

Kai: I was humbled and thrilled to have received this grant. This is the first time I received a travel grant for a presentation. My awesome colleagues at work were also full of praise.

Erica: My first reaction when learning that I’d received the travel grant was excitement, but was quickly followed by the nervousness of “is it really in the budget for me to actually go?” After being reassured, I was ready!

Rachel: I was thrilled! The grant meant that I would be able to attend the AIR conference and present. It was a huge relief and very exciting at the same time.

Dai: I  was very excited! My study was about the students of a Midwest, four-year public university following multiple pathways to graduation. This was a great chance to share the findings with a broader audience.  

Nonie: I was thrilled! It was wonderful to be chosen by my peers for the best presentation, and then to see there was a prize attached was the icing on the cake. To be able to attend the AIR Forum, let alone be asked to present my session, was very exciting.

Nick: I was excited to receive the award since it assisted the university with conference expenses. It is always a great honor when you receive a travel grant for work you and your co-authors have produced.

Allison: I was thrilled to hear that I was selected as a grant recipient! I had not attended the Forum since 2015, and the grant would allow me to observe AIR’s various session types and ask attendees how the session types impacted their engagement with the content and with their colleagues. I also wanted to spend time with sponsors to gauge their interest in sponsoring NEAIR’s conference. My institution would benefit from the savings on my cost of attendance, I would benefit professionally from the broad content offered at the Forum, and I could help benefit NEAIR’s Conference planning by exploring how the Forum Program facilitated attendee engagement.

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

Kai: If folks have done something at work that they’re particularly proud of and/or had a positive impact on their institution, then they should not hesitate to submit a proposal to their AO or to AIR. At the very least, submit a workshop, presentation, or poster proposal. As researchers, showcasing your work at an the AIR Forum will allow you to receive valuable peer feedback, strengthen your presentation skills, and give you exposure in your career. Most importantly, you probably have a very good idea that will benefit our industry as a whole! Networking with other presenters already presenting in a topic you’re interested in is a great opportunity for collaboration. 

Rachel: I would suggest that if you are comfortable meeting new people in large groups that you go to the receptions and especially the First-time @ Forum reception if you are a new attendee. I find that the best way for me to meet people is to introduce myself in the smaller sessions and start up conversations with new people in these sessions. Know what you are comfortable with and really work to meet people, it is inspiring to hear what other people are working on - and thinking - about IR and assessment!  

Erica: What helped me make the most of my experience was pre-planning my conference track. I read the sessions a million times before I created my schedule with the MyForum app. Definitely do the networking dinners, they were great and I now have bi-coastal colleagues to call on when I need advice. 

Dai: I would suggest that participants plan well and budget enough time to network with colleagues. Many sessions were scheduled in the same time slot. Participants could take advantage of the descriptions and presentation materials provided via the conference app to create a personal schedule. In addition, networking is critical. The AIR Forum, as the largest professional gathering of IR, provides the perfect chance to make new friends and catch up with the old ones. 

Nonie: Go to everything. Attend a pre-conference workshop, the social events, and all the sessions your brain can handle. I was surprised that in a conference of over 2,000 attendees I frequently ran into some of the new people I had met, which was nice.

Nick: There is at least one session for each attendee to gain knowledge or insight into the profession of IR. This is my 20th year working in the profession and I have gained an enormous amount of knowledge and contacts throughout the years attending the AIR Forum. Compared to other professional annual conferences, the AIR Forum is one of the most welcoming and collegial conferences I have attended. My best advice is to make the most of the conference by taking advantage of opportunities presented to you.

Allison: A large event like the AIR Forum can be overwhelming. My advice to participants is to read the about how the Forum works and how to best navigate the various events in the program book. Planning your schedule with full knowledge of how the events can benefit you will help you be intentional with the limited time you have among such esteemed colleagues, the AIR staff, and the sponsors. As you attend sessions, engage with the presenters and attendees, share your challenges, and ask questions about how others overcame challenges. Finally, when you get back to the office, decide what you can begin to implement given your institutional context and make sure to organize your notes, business card contacts, and conference presentation materials for future use. 

eAIR: What was your biggest take-away from the 2017 Forum in Washington, DC?

Kai: That data visualization/analysis tools are booming and the competition among vendors is fierce! Don’t tie yourself down to only one product solution. Be open to learning as many different tools out there as possible. Often, migrating to a new system will pay off in the long-run, and you can use your savings for additional professional development.

Rachel: In order to serve our students, we need to stop "siloing" our services on campuses and work together to share our data and use that data to really understand the experiences of our students. Prior to being a faculty member, my area of work was assessment - so I attended mostly assessment track presentations. The idea of working together was very prominent in these sessions. IR/Assessment/Faculty/Student Services all have a unique perspective on what is happening on our campuses, and if we work together, we get a much more robust picture of how to help our students!  

Erica: My biggest take away was leaving with a sense of “I’m not alone.” I have colleagues who have dealt with the same growing pains as I am and now I have a network to lean on!

Dai: It was how IR can lead the federal institutional efforts to provide useful information not only to administrators but to students to make informed decisions. Higher education strives to provide the integrated, timely, and relevant information to the public. IR can and should be a pivotal part of this. The 2017 Forum emphasized the role of IR and pointed us in the right direction for future efforts.

Nonie: I am currently working with a group to review our course evaluation process and got some great ideas for increasing the response rate from colleagues in a few sessions at the Forum. I look forward to sharing these suggestions with the working group and implementing them in fall 2017.

Nick: It was a great networking experience and fascinating to learn that attendees were live streaming our presentation via their mobile devices.

Allison: As we continue to encounter demands and challenges in our institutions, I feel grateful to work in the field of IR. AIR, as well as NEAIR and other AOs continually strive to meet the needs of their members, support their engagement and collaboration, and to inspire us as we help each other navigate the IR profession and seek to affect our institutions and students.




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