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Reflecting on AIRUM’s 2020 Virtual Conference

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AIRUM

By James Cousins, Analyst Manager

The COVID-19 pandemic disrupted so many elements of daily life. Any opportunity to (safely) reclaim normalcy is an absolute win. The Association for Institutional Research in the Upper Midwest (“AIRUM”) 2020 digital conference was an especially powerful recent example.

AIRUM, like many regional meetings of the Association for Institutional Research (“AIR”), is not just a great opportunity to congregate as a group of like-minded professionals. It’s also a way to connect at a more personal level. Attending 2020’s AIRUM digital conference took me back in two ways:

  1. It gave me a chance to celebrate my former life in Institutional Research (“IR”).
  2. I was able to reconnect with AIRUM members from previous events.

In the first sense, AIRUM is a fantastic microcosm of the institution research field at large. Hearing the uniquely passionate-yet-objective approach that members take to handle modern challenges (accreditation, surveys, safeguarding student success) is always refreshing. Rarely has the problem-solving skillset of an institutional researcher seemed more relevant than now. Despite concentrated and unprecedented influence, we can still rely on data. AIRUM showcased several of the ways that data remains critically important as we plan to move forward. 

The Critical Relevance of Institutional Research

What stood out to me was that the presentations this year tied directly into the world around us. The work of AIRUM’s members (and IR overall) contextualizes an institution’s circumstances. The range of presentations did not stop at descriptive work, though. It’s clear that members are working to provide measured, thought-out findings to guide their institutions. These efforts benefit institutions, but more importantly, the students they serve. 

Institutional Researcher at Digital Meeting

This is not news to anyone who works in IR. Still, I reflect on it because A) it was inspiring to be reminded of the virtue behind IR work as I attended the sessions, and B) because it’s also inspiring to write about the work that I saw on display. In describing the event for this blog, I was reminded of my work’s value as I help our customers (many of whom institutional researchers) solve their data problems.

Further, it is inspiring to stay up to date with the impressive individuals who make up AIRUM’s membership. The collaborative nature of the IR field inevitably leads to organically forming mentorships. I regularly check in with specific people in IR who have done work that impresses me. I will avoid naming names, but several at AIRUM are aware of my genuine admiration.  AIRUM 2020 introduced me to yet more professional role models.

In short: AIRUM’s 2020 virtual conference was both a “2020 win” and something I eagerly look forward to in 2021!

Have any takeaways of your own? Please leave a comment below!

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