Each October scholarship professionals from across the U.S. and Canada converge at the annual conference hosted by the National Scholarship Providers Association (NSPA). The shared goal: learn, collaborate, innovate, and do everything possible to continue to maximize the value of scholarships for students. The conference location rotates—this year it’s in Minneapolis—but the immense value of this event never wavers. I speak from experience as this will be my ninth conference. The event organizers make sure that every attendee leaves feeling energized about the importance of the work we all do. It’s a welcoming community where scholarship teams can talk candidly about the unique challenges they’re facing—and first-time attendees are often elated to discover they are not alone in the work they do, and that others speak their language.
5 Ways to Maximize Your NSPA Attendance
Like I mentioned, I’ve attended the conference for nearly a decade. It’s a full schedule—more than 50 sessions, interactive learning circles, and off-site events—so you’ve got a lot to choose from. Here are my top five recommendations for making the most of your time:
- Play The Newbie Card
If you’re attending the pre-conference and you’re a first timer, be sure to participate in the First-Time Attendee session. Meeting other first-time attendees immediately helps you connect with others. The pre-conference isn’t as packed with sessions and content as the other days, so you’ll have more time to spend developing relationships. Trust me that those people will become familiar faces to you throughout the week.
- Leverage Your Circle
Foundations have different challenges than institutions—and that’s why there are Learning Circles. Find the one aligned to your organization/institution type, and you’ll join conversation around hot topics, issues, and challenges you’re dealing with every day. These are also great for forming new relationships you can reach out to for advice after the conference.
- Divide and Conquer the 50
If you’re lucky enough to have a colleague or two attending with you, try not to attend the same sessions (there’s more than 50 available this year). Splitting up means your team can take in as much value from all the great sessions available. And you can reconnect at breaks and lunches to share the key things you learned.
- Future Conferences
Think about a topic you could present on at next year’s NSPA conference. You are a wealth of information—people can learn from your knowledge and experiences. If there’s a topic you wish was on the agenda this year but wasn’t, think about submitting it yourself for next year. It’s one more way to connect with the truly welcoming NSPA community.
- Get Outside (Literally)
Making connections outside the conference is just as important as networking during the conference sessions. Plus, they are just fun. Meeting new people in a new city is the icing on the cake that NSPA coordinates so well for its attendees.
My 10 Don’t-Miss Sessions
Getting back to those 50-plus sessions I mentioned earlier, it can be hard to choose where to go at NSPA’s conference. Therefore, I put together a list of 10 hot topic sessions for you to consider when making your selections. By no means should these substitute for any sessions that best suit your own individual interests but seeing at least a few of these will help keep you apprised of important topics impacting students today. I made sure to pick a few from each of the program tracks: Scholarship Programs 101 (SP), Access, Support, Connect (ASC), Professional Development (PD), and Leadership (L).
- Technology – “Increasing Scholarship Applications and Awards with Tech (SP)”
- Implicit Bias – “Addressing the Elephant in the Room: Understanding the Impact of Implicit Bias on Scholarship Recruitment, Selection, and Retention (ASC)”
- Award Displacement – “Mitigating Scholarship Award Displacement through Collaboration and Advocacy (ASC)”
- Emergency Funding – “Crossing the Finish Line: Impact of Emergency and Completion Funds (ASC)”
- Selection Criteria – “Development and Measurement of Selection Criteria Using Non-Cognitive Metrics (SP)”
- Radical Candor – “Effective Communication Takes Real Leadership, and Radical Candor (PD)”
- Program Assessment – “Research Basics: Effective and Actionable Evaluations (SP)”
- Free College – “Free College and Its Impact on Private Scholarships (L)”
- Taxes – “Update on the Tax Status of Scholarships (SP)”
- Trends in Student Aid – “NASFAA Washington Federal Update (L)”
Bonus – my recommendation list goes to 11. Check out “Smarter Scholarship Management: How AI Moves Everyone Ahead” on Wednesday, October 2 at 2:20pm in Salon “E”. During this session you’ll get a chance to see how AI in VirtualAdvisor serves relevant scholarship information to your students right in their award letters, or embedded across your institution’s channels.
Have Questions? Just Ask!
With a 10-year background in scholarship management, I joined CampusLogic a few years ago to help integrate ScholarshipUniverse seamlessly into our student financial success platform. Stop by to meet our team and ask us questions—we’re here to help you drive student financial success through scholarships, crowdsourced tuition, and more. Here’s a bit more about myself and the amazing team heading to Minnesota:
- Ken Downs (Product Evangelist) – A former financial aid, scholarship and technical project manager professional, I’m focused on sharing the vision and impact technology plays in the student financial success space to improve the student and staff experience. I helped develop ScholarshipUniverse, which recently won a national CODiE award as the best emerging edtech for administrators. I’m also a Michigan Wolverine Alum. I can’t get you tickets to the Big House for a game, but I’ll take any you have.
- Darren Wacker (Regional Director) – A Minnesotan with three children, Darren’s son graduated from the University of Wisconsin, his daughter is attending the University of Minnesota, and he’s proud dad to a first grader. Given this breadth of parental experience, Darren has great insight on how student financial success technology can help students and parents. He can also be your guide on things to do in the area or can get you answers to obscure trivia facts about the state. He is at least as good as Google.
- Daniel Gonzales (Regional Director) – A former financial aid director, Daniel now helps countless financial aid and scholarship teams around the country modernize and streamline their processes with technology. A former Division One collegiate athlete, you can pick his brain on who is going to win the game this weekend—but you’ll never get him to bet against the University of Colorado at Boulder.
- ToAnh Crutchfield (Director of Solutions Consulting) – Also a former financial aid director, ToAnh’s experience spans multiple institutions including in Hawaii. Her unique experience means she knows first-hand the technical challenges institutions face and what solutions work best. Also, if you’re planning a trip to Hawaii, ToAnh has you covered on the best things to do on the unbeaten path.
- Kristi Punches (Customer Success Performance Director) – An expert on change management and communication, Kristi leads the best customer success team in the financial aid and scholarship space. From tips and suggestions on how to best drive staff and student engagement with a new technology to the best roads to take when RV’ing, Kristi’s got you covered.
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