Maximize Student Attendee Engagement

Student attendees often feel overwhelmed and intimidated when they arrive onsite. To ensure they don’t get lost in the shuffle, associations have found success in offering student-specific programming and events.

The Institute of Food Technologists’ annual meeting attracts upward of 20,000 attendees, including 1,250 students.

While those numbers were great for IFT, staff also recognized that the size of the meeting could be intimidating and difficult to navigate for student attendees.

“We knew we needed to create a curated experience for these students,” said Amy Clarke Sievers, IFT’s student and new professional relations manager. “We wanted to do something that was right-sized for them and where they would be leaving with something that would help them in their school life and future career.”

During a session at the ASAE Annual Meeting & Exposition earlier this week, Sievers and her copresenters discussed a new student-focused effort launched at IFT2017. (IFT was able to fund it thanks to an innovation grant it received from the ASAE Foundation.)

Called the IFT Student Association Global Challenge, it was an intensive learning environment that “gave students a real-life laboratory to discover solutions, apply theory to practice, and ultimately understand how global collaboration will advance innovation in the science of the food,” Sievers said.

Here’s how it worked: Participants were organized into teams; presented with a case study that is representative of a pressing global food issue; and challenged to develop solutions using the knowledge available to them through sessions, presenters, and exhibitors at the food expo. In addition to having access to the conference, they attended workshops specifically designed to help them get the most out of the event. Plus, teams composed of students from around the world received guidance from experienced mentors.

It’s not surprising that giving these student participants the opportunity to put what they’re learning in school into practice at a face-to-face industry meeting was a huge success for IFT.

“Doing this really allowed these students to get to the heart of what our meeting and industry is about,” Sievers said. “We created value for them, and in return, they’ll value our association more.”

IFT is not alone in offering student-specific programming at its conference. Take, for example, the American Sociological Association’s Honors Program, which it hosts at its annual meeting. The program provides undergraduate sociology students from around the world an introduction to the professional life of the discipline. Among other things, the selected students can participate in an Honors Roundtable program and attend exclusive “Conversations With … ” sessions with prominent sociologists.

Then there’s the Association for Psychological Science. Its annual Champions of Psychological Science event gives student affiliates the opportunity to talk in an informal setting with some of the most respected and well-known scientists in psychology.

What all of these examples show is that in order to engage your student attendees, you need to create something of value for them and their future careers—and connect them to industry leaders. What have you done to boost student engagement at your conference? Please share in the comments.

(ajr_images/iStock/Getty Images Plus)

Samantha Whitehorne

By Samantha Whitehorne

Samantha Whitehorne is editor-in-chief of Associations Now. MORE

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