Stop and think about the last time you attended a national conference and felt a sense of gratification and marvel; a conference where you expanded your professional knowledge, while sharing the experience with some very dedicated colleagues. This year’s FSA Conference provided just that.
About a week before the conference, an announcement inviting NJASFAA members to respond if they planned to attend was sent. At least twenty responses quickly followed before my departure Monday. By Tuesday, about another dozen NJ financial aid administrators appeared at the Georgia World Congress Center for the start of the conference. We gathered at general and group sessions. We participated in COD & NSLDS Hands on Training. We “Asked a Fed” and heard from the Feds about Comment Code 399, Campus Based programs, the new Borrower Defense Rules, SAP, Gainful Employment, Drops, Withdrawals, the Pell Recalculation Date and more. Wednesday, the week took an unexpected turn when cell phones began to chime and buzz with tornado alerts, complete with session evacuations. Luckily, there wasn’t much more than a few gusts of winds with passing rain so we returned on Thursday to chuckle at the blow-up Magic 8 Ball that Jeff Baker brought and placed at the front of the General Session meeting room where a veteran panel fielded questions that were difficult even for them to answer. Along with colleagues we toured the World of Coca-Cola, dropped in at Margaret Mitchell’s house, CNN and the Civil and Human Rights Museum. In the evenings we gathered for dinner at Max Lagers, Meehan’s Public House and Sweet Georgia’s Juke Joint for delicious meals and music. While taking in a view of the city from the top of Hyatt Regency, we shared our opinions on the future of financial aid and ended the week of professional training and development with dinner at Benihana.
I’m sure that by the time wheels touched the ground in Newark on Friday evening (or later) many were as glad as I was to be back home. But the trip and the time spent together with colleagues left me with a tremendous sense of wonder at the work we do and great pride in the talent that gathered in Atlanta (6500 hundred financial aid professionals from across the country). Financial aid administrators posses a wealth of knowledge on requirements, regulations and formulas (technical and other) that result in billions of dollars being awarded to students across the nation. It is an important job that we are called to do each day and I am proud to share that experience with very special NJ colleagues both in Atlanta and on a daily basis!