My name is Jean King, Professor Emerita at the University of Minnesota. I was honored with the Robert Ingle Service Award in 1999 for my work organizing and running AEA’s annual meetings; I was Local Arrangements Chair in 1988, then served as Associate Conference Chair (1992-1995) and Conference Chair (1996-1999). I continued to serve, first as Conference Chair for AEA’s joint conference with the Canadian Evaluation Society in Toronto in 2005, then as Local Arrangements Chair for Evaluation 2012 in Minneapolis, and finally on the Conference Advisory Committee (2014-2017). I never viewed my service as “labor” with the potentially negative connotations of that word; rather, I was a volunteer who chose to help shape AEA’s culture by fostering a tradition of community connection during our annual get-togethers.
Three anecdotes to add to the historical record:
- My first experience helping to run the conference was in New Orleans. Michael Patton was AEA President and Marv Alkin was his Program Chair. As one of the few AEA members in New Orleans, I was strong-armed into becoming Local Arrangements Chair. At that time all AEA activities were entirely volunteer-led, and Bob Ingle ran the conference with absolute authority. Bob had a feisty, cantankerous way. Nan, his gentle long-time assistant, thankfully kept him in line most of the time. My first task was to purchase the alcohol for Bob’s hotel suite where he entertained conference attendees: a fifth each of multiple hard spirits, red and white wine, and beer. I met John McLaughlin when I needed help carrying a weighty box to the suite. Sharing drinks and meals became part of creating a welcoming AEA atmosphere that hopefully continues to this day.
- Fast forward a couple of years, and picture John McLaughlin and me in a conference room on the University of Minnesota campus with sheets of poster paper taped all over one wall, a collection of Post-it notes of various colors, pencils, erasers, and a pile of accepted proposals for this year’s conference. There were no computers for completing the task of putting the program together. John and I spent two days writing each session’s title and participants on a Post-it, trying it out in a day/time slot, checking to make sure we had not double-scheduled anyone, and readjusting (erasing, moving notes) as needed.
- A final memory of my conference-organizing years occurred during the poster session in San Diego on Saturday afternoon. The hotel layout was awful, and the session was held in a large room in a separate building. It turned out there was a bar mitzvah celebration in the adjoining room, and at one point a line of enthusiastic hora dancers wound its way through our array of posters accompanied by loud music. Certainly a conference highlight (or lowlight) for those present!
- AEA is about connections and collaboration. Creating positive experiences and relationships makes a difference.
- Volunteering for a cause you care about never feels like work when you do constructive things and make life-long friends.
- Even the best-laid plans can go awry, and it’s good to expect an occasional lesson in humility.
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