Hi there! My name is Leigh M. Tolley, and I’m a Research Assistant at Hezel Associates, LLC in Syracuse, NY. As an advanced doctoral student in Instructional Design, Development and Evaluation at Syracuse University, I have been fortunate to present at two annual conferences of the Eastern Evaluation Research Society (EERS), my AEA local affiliate. EERS, the oldest professional society for program evaluators in the United States, welcomes participation by all interested individuals. In my experience, they have been particularly welcoming to students.
Lesson Learned: Local affiliates are a great way to get to know others interested in evaluation in your area. Their smaller conferences are ideal networking opportunities for students and new evaluators, and a chance for you to meet and interact with professionals in the field. For example, I was able to meet other evaluators in different states that are now go-to colleagues when I have questions about how they have approached issues that I face in my own work.
Lesson Learned: I submitted my first solo proposal to EERS after co-presenting with my advisor at the AEA conference in 2010. Although it was initially a challenge to figure out how to frame my thoughts, submitting a proposal was a way for me to start developing work I had done in class into a research focus. Preparing a paper presentation one year and a poster the next helped me refine my ideas and determine the best way to disseminate my findings. The more intimate venue of a local affiliate conference was less intimidating, but I still was able to get great feedback from talking about my emerging research from other students, evaluation professionals, and even current and past AEA Presidents! Through presenting at EERS, I felt much more comfortable in preparing proposals for and presenting at subsequent AEA conferences.
Lesson Learned: Regional conferences tend to be more informal, and can help you hone your presentation and discussion skills. For me, EERS was also a chance to attend some amazing plenary sessions and hear prominent evaluators share their work—even better, these were the same people that asked me about my research when I presented!
Hot Tip: EERS is currently accepting proposals for its 2015 conference. The theme this year is Let’s Get Real: Evaluation Challenges and Solutions. Undergraduate and graduate students are invited to submit proposals, too! The proposal deadline is Friday, December 12.
Rad Resource: To find your AEA local affiliate, check out the list of organizations here. There are almost 30 organizations at both the state and regional levels. Contact information for each affiliate is given, and many affiliates have their own website, too.
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