eAIR recently sat down with several members to find out how volunteering with the association has helped them grow their networks and engage in their professional roles. As a bonus, these members shared useful tips for first-time AIR volunteers.
Thank you to Eric Atchison, Arkansas State University System; Becky Bell, Howard Community College; Felice Billups, Johnson & Wales University-Providence; Marlene Clapp, Massachusetts Maritime Academy; Steve Graunke, Indiana University-Purdue University-Indianapolis; Mike Le, Humboldt State University; Terry McCamish, Technical College System of Georgia; Steve Miller, University of Cincinnati-Blue Ash College; Junelyn Peeples, Scripps College; Suzanne Simpson, University of Alabama in Huntsville; and Jazmin Zane, Pepperdine University, for their valuable feedback and insights.
eAIR: How has your participation in AIR volunteer opportunities helped you learn and engage with your profession?
Eric: When doing something positive for your profession is so easy, it’s hard to say no. Each year when the call for volunteers goes out, I’m reminded of how organized it is. AIR provides a thorough overview of expectations for the variety of ways we can volunteer, so I know what’s expected and how I can best serve.
Becky: I’ve enjoyed volunteering for AIR because it has given me an outlet to continue to be involved while engaging/retraining some skills that may not be currently used in my current position. Reviewing proposals for the annual Forum has allowed me to understand the process and made it feel less intimidating to write/submit one for myself.
Felice: There are numerous benefits to volunteering with AIR, but to me, the most important ones are: 1) Volunteering and engaging with other IR professionals provides a valuable outlet for professional growth and exchange. 2) The opportunities to learn about IR “best practices” come with exposure to and interaction with other members. 3) Without volunteers coming together in service, AIR would not be able to remain as vital and productive.
Marlene: One of the most exciting and engaging volunteer roles that I have participated in with AIR was as a subject matter expert for the development of the National Survey of Institutional Research Offices. Not only was it rewarding to make a long-lasting contribution to the field, it was valuable to engage with and learn from so many talented colleagues.
Mike: Volunteering with AIR has allowed me to strengthen my professional identity. As a Forum proposal reviewer, I’ve been able to help with the production of peer review knowledge. As an eAIR Visual Display of Data contributor, I’ve been able to share my knowledge and expertise. As a First Time @Forum volunteer, I get to welcome new members to the Forum and the profession.
Terry: I spent many years as a teacher; and I missed the special give and take of the classroom. I always learned as much as I shared. I saw volunteering for AIR as an opportunity for that kind of interaction. The experience has been everything I had hoped. The engagement with the top professionals in IR has deepened and expanded my knowledge in the field.
Steve M: Volunteering with AIR helps me see the variety of perspectives and ingenuity that other AIR members bring to their work and organizations. Whether it's reviewing Forum proposals or serving on an advisory group, I get to see how others might research a topic or present data in a way I didn't consider. I also get to share how I've displayed data that might help answer someone’s question.
Junelyn: Being a volunteer opens up the possibilities of connecting with others in your profession who come from different institutions with different missions that you can interact with to get other perspectives about how institutional research functions across different platforms.
Jazmin: For the AIR Visual Display of Data group, seeing the incredible dashboards and reports that my respective colleagues are producing has inspired our team to create deliverables that are both visually appealing as well as informative for our community stakeholders. It also encourages us to stay on top of our own professional development, which is really important in this field.
eAIR: How has volunteering with AIR helped you increase your personal or professional networks?
Marlene: I believe my volunteer work with AIR has helped open up other opportunities. I do a good deal of professional service work at the regional level and both the experience and exposure that AIR has afforded me have supported me in that work.
Steve G: Here’s one example: An ask eAIR article I wrote was seen by an IR professional in Japan, who came to our university to learn about our FERPA training and data governance practices. It was an enlightening visit for both of us, and it wouldn’t have happened if I hadn’t volunteered!.
Terry: Occasionally, someone will email me or come up to me at a meeting and say they found something useful or interesting in a Tech Tip or Visual Display of Data that I produced, and it is totally gratifying.
Steve M: Volunteering with AIR has reinforced connections I've made at the AIR Forums and also introduced me to other AIR members trying to solve similar problems. Submitting a brief article, be it a 'Tech tip' or 'Ask eAIR', has led to AIR members reaching out for a quick follow-up, usually resulting in some additional idea sharing and problem solving.
Junelyn: I have made some great connections as a volunteer and those professional networks have turned into personal relationships as well. It’s nice to know there are others who understand what you do and that you can bounce ideas off of, so being a volunteer really does open up the possibilities of making both broad and deep connections.
Jazmin: Participating as an AIR volunteer has truly contributed to my professional development in IR. I have found that meeting/networking with and learning from those who have served in this field has shaped how I approach my work and personal life. It is helpful to brainstorm and share ideas to help reduce workload and burden. Networking helps pull us away from our computer silos and engage one another in thoughtful conversations.
eAIR: Based on your experience, can you share some tips for first-time volunteers?
Eric: Find a volunteer opportunity that feels like the best fit for you. Explore all of your options but consider the option where you will excel most. Also, consider something you haven’t done before. Taking on something new or different can help you grow professionally and personally.
Becky: I would recommend picking something that relates to your actual interests and try it out. If you’re not sure you can commit to what it entails, email AIR and offer what you can.
Felice: Never hesitate to get involved! Everyone has a unique perspective to share, and we all have experiences that can help one another. AIR creates opportunities that are specific and meaningful; there is always a way to find something you can do that fits within your skill set, body of knowledge, and time constraints. You will be richer for the experience!
Marlene: Be open to new possibilities. Good work gets rewarded! Don't be surprised if you are called on to serve the organization in a larger capacity than you might have anticipated.
Mike: If you're thinking about volunteering, do it! If you've already decided to volunteer, welcome! Some committees work in isolation of other members while others do group work. When selecting a committee, you should consider both the function of the committee and the level of group work. If you can't decide, sign up for multiple committees!
Steve M: Just jump in and share a bit of your time and experience. There are many opportunities to volunteer, ranging from those that take just a little time to those that require more time, but it'll be worthwhile to you and to other AIR members. We all started somewhere, and I'm still learning new technologies, new perspectives, and new ways of looking at problems.
Junelyn: Be willing to volunteer for anything! Seek out other volunteers purposefully that are from a different institution and conduct different types of IR work to help expand your perspective of our field. Talk with the AIR staff – they can offer networking opportunities and are always happy to introduce their volunteers to other members.
Jazmin: Plan ahead and try not to bite off more than you can chew! If you don't have a current Visual Display or graphic-related deliverable that you can share, try to incorporate your project into something that you are currently working on at your institution.