Conference Testimonials

By Jayna Johns, NASFAA Communications Staff

The 2019 NASFAA National Conference is around the corner, and to kick off this year's event we wanted to look back at how the conference has changed and what keeps our members coming back, highlighting those who have been with us through the journey. This year, nine NASFAA members will be attending their 20th (or more!) consecutive conference, and a few of them shared their thoughts and experiences with us.

NASFAA is proud to recognize the following members who have attended the NASFAA National Conference for 20 consecutive years:

2005 Conference LogoJanet Dodson

Do you remember the first NASFAA National Conference you attended? Where was it and what stood out to you about the experience?

I remember my first conference well. Billie Jo Hamilton and I were on the leadership track in Kansas, as well as good friends. We have roomed together—with the exception of our chair years—ever since. The conference was in Orlando and Bob Evans was the conference chair. I believe we were at the Swan and Dolphin then, too. The hotel decided to paint all the hallways and outside all the meeting areas. It was a mess, but as with every financial aid person I know, we adapted.

How has the National Conference changed in the last 20+ years?

The NASFAA conference has changed a lot. In the early days, the focus was on the NASFAA membership sharing their knowledge with NASFAA membership. While the Department of Education (ED) was in attendance, they did not provide the primary educational track.  Our associate members brought fun to the conference after hours of meetings and learning. Everyone needs time to unwind and enjoy life, and our associate members helped fill that need.

What's your favorite memory from a NASFAA National Conference?

My favorite conference memories are many. The year I served as Dave Myette's Commission Director, the conference was in Minneapolis. We had a beret made for him to toss up in the air at the opening session, just like Mary Tyler Moore! He hated it—everyone else loved it! My year as NASFAA National Chair holds many memories, both good and a few not so positive. The Washington Marriott Wardman Park Hotel was the site, and my high school prom was held there. So in honor of my prom, I wore pink. The NASFAA members and staff who worked with me during that year remain special today. I appreciated all the hard work and depth of knowledge and commitment all had—and still have—to the profession. I find myself still reading the kind words that fill my Distinguished Service Award and marvel how all of us survived the year, and what our professional looks like today. The relationships I built that year are still close and supportive to this day. What an honor to serve in the role as the face of NASFAA.

What do you most look forward to at each National Conference?

I most look forward to seeing all my friends, as well as making new friends. It is so exciting to celebrate the accomplishments of the past year and learn of the plans for the future. As my group of colleagues starts to retire, the conference will be more about meeting new people and making new memories.

For someone attending the National Conference for the first time this year, what is one thing you think they should know?

I can't stress enough that leadership begins in your home state. Give first to your state, then to your region, and ultimately to NASFAA. As you gain experience from your state colleagues, you learn how to present, how to share, and how to reach new stars. Each of us needs to share our talents at home first. Secondly, as a newbie to the National Conference, eat lunch at tables where you don't know folks and reach out to introduce yourself. Attend the first-timer's venue and meet and greet. Take your business cards and share them with other financial aid professionals. Above all, find a great roommate like Billie Jo Hamilton and I did. You will never regret attending the conference, and you will have the best of the best in friendships that will last a lifetime.

2006 Conference LogoPamela Fowler
Executive Director, Office of Financial Aid, University of Michigan

Do you remember the first NASFAA National Conference you attended? Where was it and what stood out to you about the experience?

I don't remember the location of my first NASFAA conference. I do remember being overwhelmed by all the people and the number of men versus women—we were quite outnumbered in those days.

How has the National Conference changed in the last 20+ years?

We have more female directors, especially at the large schools. I remember when we first starting inviting nationally-known keynote speakers. It was a big deal and great to see the membership respond to that even though the cost was high. We went from large numbers at our conference to smaller numbers, and then our numbers picked up again. We have had lots of transitions over the years.

What's your favorite memory from a National Conference?

There are so many it is hard to pick one. One that stands out was in New Orleans. We had breakout sessions in two hotels and had to cross the street to get to the other hotel. We took bets on who would get hit crossing the street. Also, my group went to dinner: Margaret Rodriguez, Vickie Crupper, one other person who I don't remember, and me. We asked the concierge for a recommendation and he sent us to a small place with red and white checkered tablecloths. We sat down and Margaret said she did not like the place, so we left. We went to a steak house without a reservation and we were seated by the door to the kitchen and waited forever to get a glass of water. Margaret, once again, said we are leaving. We walked to the third place and were seated in a nice area and offered water right away. When the waiter arrived I told him, please do this right, this is our third restaurant tonight and I am starved; if you guys mess up she (I pointed to Margaret) will make us leave and I want to eat now.

What do you most look forward to at each National Conference?

I always look forward to seeing colleagues I only get to see once a year. It is amazing how you can only see someone once a year, but it doesn't feel like it. Financial aid is a profession that brings people together and keeps them close no matter where they are physically.

For someone attending the National Conference for the first time this year, what is one thing you think they should know?

Don't be afraid to engage others in conversations. Financial aid is a great conversation piece. No matter how large or small your institution, we are all dealing with the same issues and we are happy to talk about them. Don't miss anything if you can help it. Don't go to your room and rest, you can do that at home. Attend all the social events and be amazed by the great people you will meet.

2007 Conference LogoCristi Millard
Director, Office of Financial Aid and Scholarships, Salt Lake Community College

Do you remember the first NASFAA National Conference you attended? Where was it and what stood out to you about the experience?

I don't really remember where it was. What I do remember is how many other financial aid people were there. I was a little intimidated, but was immediately struck by the friendliness of the others. They were so willing to answer questions and include me in discussions. I immediately felt like part of a group.

How has the National Conference changed in the last 20+ years?

It's gotten a lot bigger! But seriously, while the sessions and the people may have changed, it's still a great source of knowledge, a place to know you're not alone in your frustrations, and a great place to get questions answered.

What's your favorite memory from a National Conference?

Probably my favorite memory was when I received the regional award for RMASFAA. It was such a surprise, and unexpected.

What do you most look forward to at each National Conference?

Two things. First, the chance to see colleagues and meet new people. Second, talking to others about how they are handling complex financial aid issues at their institutions. I always learn so much!

For someone attending the National Conference for the first time this year, what is one thing you think they should know?

Don't be afraid to ask questions! Not just, “How do I find this room?” but questions about how things work in their office, who does what, how do they interpret this regulation? Ask everything. You can learn so much, and financial aid people are so willing to share and improve your experience.

2008 Conference LogoWilliam Spiers
Director of Financial Aid, Tallahassee Community College

Do you remember the first NASFAA National Conference you attended? Where was it, and what stood out to you about the experience?

Yes, it was in Washington, D.C. at the Sheraton, now the Washington Marriott Wardman Park. At the time, NASFAA had the training contract for the Department of Education (ED) and it was both the NASFAA National Conference and Federal Student Aid conference rolled into one. In the mid-1980's the intensity of the discussions between ED and aid administrators was amazing. Aid administrators spoke their minds freely and unbridled, and  ED listened. While we have discussions today in meetings with ED, there is a different dynamic. Because of the discussions, the general sessions with ED were exciting and people attended, anxiously waiting to see who was going to challenge ED first. People were always respectful, but they never let ED off the hook.

How has the National Conference changed in the last 20+ years?

In the last 20 years the NASFAA conference has seen multiple changes. We have gone through periods where ED wouldn't attend and back to where we are now with Federal Updates and general sessions presented by our friends at ED. The paradigm shift from being the FSA Training Conference, to a conference where more hands-on issue are discussed is also a major change. Today most people go to FSA for the rules, and to the NASFAA National Conference to learn how to implement the rules from a practical perspective. With ever-changing rules and regulations, the National Conference will continue to evolve, but this one thing we know—it will always seek to ensure financial aid administrators are prepared to face the challenges facing the profession.

What do you most look forward to at each National Conference?

Each year I attend the National Conference with the anticipation of seeing my friends from around the country and having the opportunity to find out what is going on in their lives and their offices. Many times, it is the conversations in the hall where I get a new idea or learn how to avoid a pitfall. The ability to spend time with people facing the same issues and concerns and share ideas, both formally in the sessions and informally in the hall, is invaluable.

For someone attending the National Conference for the first time this year, what is one thing you think they should know?

If you are attending for the first time, take the opportunity to meet people you don't know. The friendships you build will be instrumental in your success as you progress in your career as a financial aid administrator.

2009 Conference LogoBrent Tener
Director of Financial Aid, Vanderbilt University

Do you remember the first NASFAA National Conference you attended? Where was it and what stood out to you about the experience?

Denver in 1996 was my first NASFAA conference. What I remember the most were the great variety of sessions (too many to choose from) and having the opportunity to meet people from all over the country.

How has the National Conference changed in the last 20+ years?

I think the keynote speakers over the years have improved. NASFAA has been fortunate to increasingly attract a diverse and interesting group of speakers who have managed to both encourage us and challenge us to keep making a difference for the students we serve.

What's your favorite memory from a National Conference?

So many memories over the years, but I would say that NASFAA in New York over the 4th of July was the best. I attended a baseball game at Yankee Stadium (the old one) and then went to the tip of Manhattan to watch the fireworks with friends.

What do you most look forward to at each National Conference?

I look forward to seeing my friends and colleagues.

For someone attending the National Conference for the first time this year, what is one thing you think they should know?

Take the time to meet people, especially from peer institutions. Take time to visit the vendor area for ideas on how you can improve the way you deliver financial aid.

Publication Date: 5/21/2019

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