How To Make The Annual Conference
A Smooth Ride

Too much to learn and see in too little time? Conference veterans offer practical advice on time management, session selection, networking, and other essentials for a productive meeting

By Andrea Gabrick

Illustrations by J. Lea Lansaw Sweet tea, software, southern hospitality, and sessions galore-that's what you'll find at the 1999 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, June 20-23 in Charlotte, North Carolina. It's the place to be for engineering educators.

Countless technical sessions, luncheons, workshops, business meetings, and social events give you the opportunity to learn about the latest software, textbooks, and innovative teaching techniques. They also provide a great forum for sharing ideas and making important professional contacts. But with so many options, it's easy to become overwhelmed. The following wise words from a few of ASEE's seasoned conference veterans should help keep you on track.

Illustrations by J. Lea Lansaw Plan Ahead

    With the dizzying array of scheduled events and activities, it's hard to decide what to do with your time in Charlotte. Regular attendees say that careful planning before you leave home can make for smooth sailing when you arrive.

    New for this year's conference, sessions are grouped around specific topics: ABET's Engineering Criteria 2000, assessment, communications, curriculum, distance education, diversity, educational methods, industrial partnerships, international/global affairs, K-12, professional development, retention, Web technology, and other/potpourri. The sessions under each topic will be noted in the final program. You can also use WEBMAT ( www.asee.org/annual99 ), the conference's online program planning matrix, to search for sessions by topic, as well as by sponsoring division, day and time, author, title, and meeting type.

    Shirley Pomeranz, a math associate professor at the University of Tulsa, suggests looking over the technical session and exhibit descriptions, and the list of speakers and paper presentations, to decide in advance which to attend. She also recommends finding out if colleagues and friends from other universities are planning to attend, and suggests that you "call or e-mail them in advance to arrange mutually convenient times to meet-to avoid hassles later and make it easier to connect at the conference."

    Lyle Feisel, dean of engineering and applied science at SUNY-Binghamton and most immediate past president of ASEE, recommends using the divisional listings to pick which sessions to attend. He suggests that you "get to a couple of ERM [educational research and methods] sessions," and advises going to a few divisional sessions as well. Which ones? "Go to the sessions in the larger rooms," he says. "There is a reason that someone thought they needed the extra space."

Budget Your Time

    Scanning the lists of workshops and technical sessions might seem like standing in front of a buffet-so many choices to whet your appetite, but not enough room for everything. In this case, it's best to heed "Feisel's Rule of the Smorgasbord: eat a variety, but don't try to sample everything." He suggests: "Pick three or four themes and go to a couple of events in each."

    Eleanor Baum, engineering dean at The Cooper Union and former ASEE president, feels that going to sessions and the Expo are important because they present new ways to teach and showcase new technology, but admits that "it's easy to be overambitious." She stresses that you "leave time to digest" and remember that you won't have time to do everything.

    Echoing Baum's sentiments, Pomeranz says "I don't set too strict a time schedule." She schedules time for the division technical sessions that are of interest, luncheon business meetings, and the exhibits, but says that the conference "works best if I leave myself open time slots and keep things flexible."

    Should you schedule something for every time slot? "Yes," Feisel says "but the something might be a cup of coffee at the hospitality center." He also recommends not spending all of your time attending sessions-"it's generally too passive."

    Pomeranz concurs. "I can only sit through so many talks," she explains, "For me what works best is to have fun while I am networking, sharing information, and learning new ways to teach-and these are not mutually exclusive things."

Illustrations by J. Lea LansawArrive Early

    Though official conference activities aren't slated to start until Sunday, it might be easier on your pocketbook and your state of mind to arrive on Saturday.

    "I've gotten into the practice of flying into the host city on Saturday, in order to get a cheaper airline ticket," Pomeranz says. "This also gives me some time to explore the host city, polish up my presentation, etc."

    Feisel agrees. "I like to get there on Saturday. Cheap air fares for one, but you also need to be settled in time for the picnic."

Illustrations by J. Lea LansawMeet and Greet

    More than an opportunity to broaden your academic and professional horizons, and much more than a vacation, the annual conference is a forum for networking. "The most important thing is the people you meet," Feisel says. "Most of the information you pick up at the sessions can be gotten by reading; what you want out of the sessions is the chance to talk with the author and people of like interests who are seeking answers to the same questions you are."

    "Walk around and be friendly," stresses Baum, "go to the events and talk to people." Pomeranz adds, "Give a talk; let others know your areas of interest and expertise, share your ideas. What can be a better way to get involved with others?" Feisel also recommends volunteering for a committee and attending meal events of your division.

    Networking opportunities constantly present themselves, so it's important to be prepared. "Carry enough of your own business cards," says Pomeranz. "And make sure you have them on you. I often ask someone if he or she has a business card and they often reply 'yes, but they are at the hotel.'" She also suggests that you wear your name tag to all meetings, including social events.

    Baum explains that planned social events are also a great way to network. "Luncheons, the picnic, the awards dinner-they're wonderful for making new friends and meeting old ones," she says.

    Don't know anyone? "It took me quite a while to figure this out," says Feisel, "but believe it or not, you're not the only person who doesn't know anyone. Go to a social event and look for someone else who is standing alone and go introduce yourself." And although ASEE members are usually friendly and welcoming, Feisel recommends that you "be a little cautious. Heed Feisel's Rule of Self-Introduction: Make new acquaintances standing up. If it turns out that you don't have anything in common, it's a lot easier to walk away if you're not sitting down."

    New to the conference this year is an orientation for new members and first-time attendees to be held on Sunday, June 20. The session will give an overview of the conference and ASEE as an organization, with information about how the society works and tips on getting involved. For more information, contact the Conferences department at (202) 331-3530.

The Party's Over...But Not For Long

    If you're out of business cards and have bags and bags of brochures about the latest products, it probably means that the conference is over. Now you have to use what you've learned. "Share information with colleagues in your department," Pomeranz advises. "This can be done informally or via department talks. Often I will tell colleagues in advance that I am going and they will ask me to check out certain sessions or look for specific information."
    Feisel suggests implementing one or two new ideas upon returning home and strongly urges that you stay in touch with the people that you meet. Drop new colleagues a note every so often.

Food for Thought

    The object of the game is to meet people. Whether they're new friends or old ones, the important thing is to share ideas and information.

    Visit the Expo
    It provides a wealth of information on what's new in textbooks and software, and according to Baum, "is a great way to learn about all the wonderful new technology." Feisel agrees-"it's invaluable."

    Don't miss the Society-Wide Picnic
    It's a great way to kick off the conference and catch up with friends. The mouth-watering menu is an extra incentive.

    Stick around for the Annual Awards Reception and Banquet
    End the conference on a high note by meeting engineering education's cream of the crop-your colleagues-as they are honored for their hard work and dedication.

    Consider your students
    Pomeranz suggests getting them to go to, and present at, regional and national meetings so that "they will have conference experience while they are still students."

    Think about next year
    Feisel offers this advice: "In the stock market, buy low, sell high. In carpentry, measure twice, cut once. In the annual conference, continuity counts; plan to come again next year and bring a colleague. You will get even more out of the conference if you have someone to discuss it with after you go home."

    Relax and have fun
     "Don't be too serious about the whole thing," advises Feisel. And get involved-the more you put into it, the more you get out of it.  

    Andrea Gabrick is PRISM's editorial assistant.

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