Monday, December 15, 2014

My First Federal Student Aid Training Conference

(by Melissa Haberman, University of Wisconsin-Madison)

As a first time attendee I was very excited to see an FSA Training Conference in person. I had previously watched the session recordings after the conference, but there is a lot to take advantage of by being there in person.

Federal Student Aid Training Conference Opening Session
The hardest part in getting ready for the conference was mapping out a schedule. The new staggered schedule doesn’t have a built in lunch break. With 58 sessions and 4 general sessions to choose from, prioritizing is a must.

My biggest tips for first time attendees:
  • Bring a water bottle and fill it up anytime you get a chance. (I was so thirsty!)
  • Wear comfortable shoes. I can’t say this enough. You will do a LOT of walking. (I should have brought a pedometer too!)
  • Bring some granola bars or snack food with you to the conference center each day. (So glad I did this!)
  •  Make a plan, but be flexible.

To make a plan, I narrowed down the list of sessions to a top 20. On the scheduled I greyed out the sessions not in my top 20 making it easier to determine a schedule. Make a plan A, a plan B and then be flexible. Sessions fill up and you may not be allowed to enter. You may decide that you just can’t wait another three hours to eat lunch and have to take a break. As I attended sessions I crossed them off of the schedule if they appeared multiple times making it easier to see what I still wanted to attend.

It is impossible to make it to everything you’d want to see. Fortunately, almost all of the presentations are available as session recordings after the conference.

Knowing that the recordings are available as a backup next time I would take more advantage of the FSATC Resource Centers. I did spend some time at the Ask-a-Fed table, but I would also want to visit a few others such as the COD, NSLDS, and Federal Loan Servicer centers. I recommend taking at least the month before you attend and writing down in detail any questions that come to your mind that you’d love to have more information about. It will help if you have detail and examples when you are at the resource center.

The FSA Conference back channel (Twitter conversation) really enhanced the experience for me. It was a great way for me to take quick notes and easily share them with people back in my office. Refer back to the MASFAA Blog Post on Making the Most of the FSA Conference, Even if You Can’t Attend for more info on the back channel.

One of the popular topics was the FSA ID which will begin replacing the Federal PIN number on April 25, 2014. Below is a small sampling of the tweets on that topic. I highly recommend taking a look at the Twitter search for #FSATC2014 to read more of the tweets from the conference.

One of the best parts of the conference was the chance to meet and get together with colleagues from all around the nation. I had a fantastic time meeting several #FAchat friends in person for the first time. I had a great dinner with @Susan_Johnson17 and @_lindanicholas. It was my first time at a hibachi restaurant and we had a ton of fun. We even ended up at a table with another financial aid administrator from California.

I was also fortunate to be able to meet many of the people who contributed to the back channel in person. We had a quick tweetup (an in person meeting of tweeters) and had fantastic turnout.

It was hard not to be overwhelmed with the shear amount of content at the FSA Conference, but making sure to connect with colleagues helped as we discussed what we were learning along the way.

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