• Special Feature / Interview
  • 06.19.19

Forum Provides Perspectives to Meet Professional Challenges

  • by eAIR

eAIR caught up with 6 winners of the AIR Affiliated Organization Travel Grant for the 2019 AIR Forum to find out how receiving the award impacted them and to discover their biggest take-aways from the conference in Denver last month. This year, there were 11 participating organizations and 20 total award recipients.

2019 Travel Grant Recipients

(From left to right) Shiloh Bradley (RMAIR), University of Nevada, Las Vegas; David Cawthorne (AAIR), Charles Darwin University; Stephen Childs (CIRPA), York University; Jessica Hutchings (LAIR), McNeese State University; Fiorella Penaloza (MidAIR), Cleveland University- Kansas City; and Nicolas Valcik (RMAIR), Central Washington University

Can you share how you learned of the travel grant for 2019 and how the process worked for your Affiliated Organization?

Shiloh Bradley: I learned about the travel grant while I was attending RMAIR. There were announcements to send our presentation materials to the RMAIR leadership so that we could be considered. I didn't have to fill out any paperwork or anything. 

David Cawthorne: I learned of the travel grant as part of my paper submission for the AAIR Forum. Presenters were afforded the opportunity to opt in to receive the grant as part of an assessment of best papers presented at the conference. We all heard about the grant during the closing addresses, where the winners of several best papers were announced.

Stephen Childs: The 2016 winners of the CIRPA best presentation award were an inspiration for our presentation, and I knew about their experience travelling to AIR from speaking to them. The best presentation is chosen by a committee and the results of an audience survey.

Jessica Hutchings: I heard of the grant through a colleague who attended a LAIR meeting. I sent the application, and they notified me soon afterward that I received the grant. It was an easy process. 

Fiorella Penaloza: I’ve been a member of MidAIR since 2016, and by way of my membership learned of the nomination by the affiliated organization (AO) and travel grant to the national conference.

Nicolas Valcik: I actually have won the Best Paper Award before from RMAIR, so I was familiar with the program. Once RMAIR determined myself and my co-author were going to win the award, we were notified that we were going to receive a check to subsidize our conference costs.

What was your reaction when you found out you had been awarded a 2019 AIR Affiliated Organization Travel Grant?  

Shiloh Bradley: I was surprised and honored to know that I won! There were many excellent presentations at RMAIR.

David Cawthorne: I was really quite surprised. The paper I delivered was not by any means cutting edge, rather, it gave a glimpse into the things we learned putting a data warehouse together. I guess it showed me that sharing insights in a diverse forum isn’t always about the newest thing, and my reaction slowly changed to one of excitement at the opportunity to see what such a large group of IR professionals was eager to share.

Stephen Childs: I had been excited about attending the AIR Forum, since a few of my colleagues had gone and said it was very valuable. I heard just before the university closed for the winter break, so it was a very nice Christmas present.

Jessica Hutchings: I was flattered and relieved! The money really helps, especially since I needed to send some of our newer staff to the conference!

Fiorella Penaloza: I was so grateful for MidAIR and all of their support throughout the years. Had it not been for the travel grant, I would likely not have been able to attend the AIR Forum, so this opportunity made a world of a difference for me professionally.

Nicolas Valcik: I think the Travel Grant is a great program and naturally both of us were excited and honored to be able to win such an award. It is nice to know that your hard work is recognized and rewarded by receiving such an award.

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

Shiloh Bradley: Talk to everyone! Everyone is very welcoming and friendly. AIR Forum attendees seem genuinely interested in working with people from other institutions and collaborating to make all of higher education better, not just their own institution.

David Cawthorne: Openness is the key to making the most out of the AIR Forum. There is so much going on at any given moment, and you can always catch a session of interest and learn something new. Sharing a coffee with an attendee who works in a completely different area can also present you with a viewpoint that you can take back to your job to perform more effectively!

Stephen Childs: First, don’t be afraid to strike up conversations with anyone at the conference. This environment is one of the few places where you have something in common with everyone there, so you will find something to talk about. The AIR Forum is a great opportunity to meet people and network, so bring your business cards.

Jessica Hutchings: Ask yourself where you have gaps in your knowledge, which data-related initiatives are happening on your campus, and what problems you're trying to solve. Plan your program sessions as soon as the information is available and collaborate with colleagues so that you can share what you learned later. 

Fiorella Penaloza: I encourage AIR Forum participants to explore their regional associations and seek ways to get involved, if possible, as it can increase exposure to a cadre of professionals at the national level.

Nicolas Valcik: Make sure to network with individuals you feel can assist you with your research, job, and career.

What was your biggest take-away from the 2019 Forum in Denver, Colorado?

Shiloh Bradley: It would have to be how large the association is and how much our work varies based on institution.

David Cawthorne: There are an immense number of challenges in our industry, and our colleagues spread across institutions all over the world are each applying themselves to the most pressing, lowest hanging, or most strategic challenge according to their own set of needs. Whatever challenge you’re facing, there’s someone else out there trying to overcome it as well, and having another perspective can be a great way to meet your own professional challenges.

Stephen Childs: I was quite inspired by the work Andrew Merrill presented in his session “Creating Dynamically Generated Reports with R Markdown.” In a matter of months, he went from having no experience with R to having a really useful set of reports.

Jessica Hutchings: After attending several AIR Forums, I notice the shift toward more discussion of student learning, learning assessment, and student achievement. A lot of institutional effectiveness work is infiltrating the institutional research world, and vice versa. It's great that AIR is reflecting these changes. 

Fiorella Penaloza: The feedback provided during my session and the networking opportunities that have emerged as a result have been invaluable. Thank you MidAIR and AIR for this tremendously beneficial professional opportunity.

Nicolas Valcik: It was definitely how many people I was able to contact and communicate with for my job and research.