Preparing for the HI-TEC 2021 Virtual Conference

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Always a popular event in the ATE community calendar, the High Impact Technology Exchange Conference (HI-TEC) is a national conference on advanced technological education where secondary and postsecondary educators, counselors, industry professionals, trade organizations, and technicians can update their knowledge and skills. Charged with preparing America’s skilled technical workforce, the event focuses on the preparation needed by the existing and future workforce for companies in the high-tech sectors that drive our nation’s economy. 

Due to public health concerns related to the COVID-19 pandemic, HI-TEC 2021 will be held virtually this year. The conference will take place on Wednesday and Thursday, July 21-22, starting at noon EDT. The virtual conference will feature live keynotes and panels, as well as a variety of  “on-demand” pre-recorded sessions which will be available for 6 months after the conference. Participants will need to register (either individually or as an institution) to access the live virtual sessions and “on-demand” content.

Highlights of this year’s event include keynote addresses, one on each day of the conference. The first keynote speaker is Mark Maybury, who as Chief Technology Officer from Stanley Black & Decker manages a team across the company’s businesses and functions and advises on technological threats and opportunities. The second speaker is Jessica Gomez, Founder, President, and CEO of Rogue Valley Microdevices who has gone on an inspiring journey from homeless teen to CEO of a microelectronics firm.

HI-TEC 2021 Virtual logo

HI-TEC 2021 Virtual logo

The conference will also feature three panel presentations focusing on the opportunities and challenges STEM educators and other stakeholders are currently facing. This year’s panels center commentary from industry experts on how today’s STEM innovations will drive tomorrow’s technician hiring; a discussion from college administrators on best practices for spurring diversity, equity, and inclusion; and a reflection from educators and students on the new pedagogical practices driven by the sudden shift to remote learning. 

While many in the ATE community have gained experience with remote collaboration and networking over the past year, virtual conferences can still be stressful and intimidating to attend. Here are some tips for participating in remote conferences and meetings:

  • Plan for fatigue and build in breaks. The same way you would when attending an in-person conference or meeting, you should plan to take a break from digital events. Schedule your breaks ahead of time. This will help you select sessions to attend around other work and life responsibilities.
  • Minimize distractions and take an interactive approach. Turn off notifications and avoid multitasking. Check whether slides will be made available or presentations will be recorded. If so, do not get bogged down in taking too many notes. If attending live, ask questions and engage deeply to get the most out of the experience.
  • Select sessions wisely. Attend only sessions that are valuable and relevant to your own work and interests. Do not feel pressure to “see it all,” or sit through talks that you are not engaged with.
  • Familiarize yourself with the streaming technology and related etiquette. Conduct yourself professionally and remember that video conferencing platforms take some work to master. Be aware of whether your video is on and, when not presenting or asking a question, keep your mic muted to avoid detracting from presenter audio.
  • Learn and implement best practices for video conferencing. Consult video conferencing guides such as this one on best practices for using Zoom.

Even a virtual conference is a great opportunity to focus on outreach and dissemination as part of the broader impacts component of NSF grants. To do more effective outreach, it can be useful to develop a strong brand identity. Your brand is the impression that audiences get of your center or project through visual, auditory, or experiential interactions. Clear and effective branding is essential for outreach, engagement with key audiences, and building awareness of everything your center or project produces. 

As a first step toward building a brand, spend some time thinking about what you want your center or project to be known for and which target audience needs to hear about the work you do. Craft a mission statement to describe the activities that your center or project carries out to pursue your vision. It should be instantly associated with your center or project and contain a key takeaway point -- the one thing you want someone to know about your work. Center the mission in your outreach activities to build this association in the mind of your audience.

Target your branding toward the media that you think will be most effective and engaging for your audience, including social media or blogging. Set outreach priorities using SMART (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, Time-bound) goals to develop a public persona that centers your brand and create strategic engagements with key audiences. 

HI-TEC 2021 will be a great opportunity to put your brand identity into motion and engage in networking opportunities with a friendly, receptive audience. 

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