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Q&A With Katy Weisenburger, FAAC®, Chair of the NASFAA 2024 Conference First-Time Attendee Task Force

By Hugh T. Ferguson, NASFAA Managing Editor

The NASFAA 2024 National Conference is just around the corner, and for many attendees, this will be their first time attending the annual gathering. Today’s News caught up with Katy Weisenburger, FAAC®, chair of the 2024 NASFAA Conference First-Time Attendee Task Force, on what first-time attendees can expect this year.Katy Weisenburger

Katy highlighted some of the activities and experiences first-time attendees will be able to partake in — beyond just sessions — as well as how the task force has changed from previous years. Before the conference even starts, first-time attendees can join a NASFAA Slack community just for them. There’s also the kick-off networking event and dessert reception at 12:30 p.m. on Sunday, June 16.

Read on to learn more about NASFAA’s 2024 National Conference the first-time attendee experience and be sure to sign up to connect with other first-time attendees and a conference mentor!

Tell us a little about yourself and your role on the task force.

I've been in higher education for 23 years and am now at my fifth institution, the University of Wisconsin at Madison. In the last five or six years I have gotten very involved with NASFAA. I earned my FAAC designation, I did all the credentials, I have attended multiple conferences, and I have served on a few task forces.

For this task force, I believe I was asked to join it partially because of my passion for talking to people and being from Milwaukee originally. Those of us from the area know just how amazing Milwaukee is, and we're so happy that people are going to get to spend some time here, especially during a beautiful time of year. I'm just so excited that NASFAA chose Milwaukee because I think it's very special. It is really just a beautiful city that I think a lot of people don't get to visit very often.

What work does this task force do and how does it impact NASFAA’s National Conference?

Something exciting this year is that we're actually changing it from the “Mentor Task Force” to “First-Time Attendees Task Force.” This is a response to people's experiences at previous conferences. Originally, the thought was that we want to get people who maybe are new in the profession, and are new to NASFAA and the conference, with a focus of connecting them with  people who have more experience.

What NASFAA and previous task forces have found was that a lot of times we have first-time attendees who have been in the industry for many years, and they're not necessarily looking for direction on financial aid, or direction on how to attend a conference. We have found that attendees want to make connections at this conference because it's so big and there are a lot of different activities. So we're actually changing it more to be focused on first-time attendees and what that experience is, whether you've been in the industry for three months or 20 years. I myself didn't attend my first national conference until I was probably in financial aid for 15 years.

What can first-time attendees expect at the NASFAA National Conference?

They can expect a lot of fun, of course! They can also expect to have some opportunities to really connect with other first-time attendees and other people who have attended multiple NASFAA conferences.

We're also going to have a kick-off event, which was a huge hit last year. It's really a great thing and everybody seemed to have a great time last year. We want to make sure that we are, number one: prepared, number two: make sure that we make it fun, and number three: make sure that we're making it inclusive for everybody.

Why should first-time attendees participate in this mentorship program?

First off is just having a mentor, having someone who has attended the conference before, who can tell you just about how the conference works, and then also can help you determine what might be the best schedule or sessions for you to attend. NASFAA offers so many great sessions, but for first-time attendees it may be a little overwhelming because there's a variety of sessions that they may not get at their regional or state conferences. So it's a great way to connect with someone to just give you a little more information. 

The group just allows you to form connections with other people across the industry and across the nation. As an example, when I was in Austin, I knew a couple of people from my state who were attending a NASFAA conference for the first time. I asked them to join us and now they've built connections with people that they may not have otherwise built connections with.

Another reason why people should get involved in this is figuring out what activities they want to do in their free time while they're in Milwaukee. There are so many fun things to do in Milwaukee and we are hoping to build some connections so people can go do those fun activities and have a really great experience in a new city or maybe an old city if they are familiar with it.

Why should NASFAA members serve as mentors in the program?

The main thing about being a mentor that people take away is just that feeling of connection, connecting with people and helping someone else. I think that we, as people, get so much more out of helping people than we realize. 

Helping each other, especially during this difficult time in our careers, really motivates me and it gives me more and more energy.

Is there a particular event or activity you’re most excited about that your task force has organized?

We're obviously doing a ton of fun things and we're aiming to build a lot of connections, but honestly the thing that I'm most excited about is having that first-time attendee lounge. It will be nice for some attendees to know that there's a place where they might recognize somebody, and have a smiling face who can help you connect and help you just maybe take a break, or ask a quick question. 

When I first started attending conferences by myself, it was very intimidating. I didn't know who to ask about those silly questions. I think that alone is going to be a great place for people to come together, build connections, take a deep breath, and ask the questions that you don't want to ask somebody else.

Is there anything you are most looking forward to at the conference? 

There are so many great places to eat within walking distance of the conference. The Public Market is always a highlight. It's always crowded ,but the food is worth it. 

I would also say if you haven't ever visited the shores of Lake Michigan then you've got to make some time to do that while you're in Milwaukee. The Great Lakes are wonderful and beautiful, and it's a great place to visit. I would also just like to highlight that if you love nature, then you should check out the state park that's along the lakefront. Lake Shore State Park is also a great place to walk.

Anything about Milwaukee folks should know? 

Milwaukee is a beautiful city with lots of water. You've got Lake Michigan and then you also have the river, and there's tons of opportunity for food. This is a surprise, but there's actually a lot of wildlife in the city. You're in the city, but there's also a lot of green space with opportunities to get some walking in. There are a lot of local restaurants and local businesses that I encourage people to visit.

The NASFAA 2024 National Conference in Milwaukee is quickly approaching, but it’s not too late to register! Attending a conference for the first time can be an overwhelming experience, even more so if you are attending alone. Be sure to use our resources to justify your attendance, and if you can’t join us in person, consider registering your office for the NASFAA Virtual Conference just two weeks later. 



Publication Date: 5/22/2024

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