Conference Co-Chair Cameos: Kari Whittenberger-Keith & Jan Abramson

Who: Kari Whittenberger-Keith, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee; 2019 NORDP Conference Co-Chair, NORDP Board Member 2016 – 2020

Who: Jan Abramson, University of Utah; 2019 NORDP Conference Co-Chair, Board Member 2017 – 2021

Conference Co-Chairs in Rhode Island: Do you know where this is?

Number of years in research development & length of NORDP membership:

Kari:  Depending on how you count it, I have been doing RD for 17-20 or so years.  When I came back to RD in January 2012 after several years as a faculty member, I joined NORDP at the suggestion of Peg Atkisson, who was doing a workshop on my campus two weeks after I started.  I took her advice and have been a member, and attended every conference, since 2012.  (Thanks, Peg!)

Jan:  I have been working in Research Development—once I learned what RD was—for almost 10 years. I joined NORDP in 2011 and have attended 5 conferences. I knew early on I wanted to be involved in planning the Conference—I love organizing and implementing big events.

What should conference attendees look forward to this year?

An amazing group of NORDP colleagues have put together an exciting and educational program. The conference starts with a welcome reception on Sunday night—and be ready to hit the ground running on Monday morning! We are piloting a “Long-Form Day” where every session will either be 2 or 4 hours. This will give attendees an opportunity to take a deeper dive into content and learning. Tuesday and Wednesday will have traditional 1-hour sessions, Lightning Talks and Round Table sessions. The Idea Showcase will also have time to meet the candidates running for open board positions, meet the members of the current Board and learn about the committees and other opportunities to get involved with NORDP. This year, be ready for more opportunities to network, engage with sponsors, learn, and enjoy the company of our colleagues.

The NORDP Members who are serving as Local Hosts are putting together a slate of morning activities, great dining options, and some experiences—like a trip to the Planetarium—that will give people an opportunity to explore Providence. For those new to NORDP, or at their first conference, the Member Services Committee has also developed a slate of activities to make you feel welcome.

Providence is an amazing city—it is walkable, with great restaurants (don’t miss the lobster rolls!) and shopping, great history and other activities, just a terrific destination.

What motivated the change in the duration of the conference?

For the past several years, members have consistently requested a three-full-day conference in the evaluation feedback. The opportunity presented itself to address member requests when we reserved Providence as the site of the 2019 conference. It is a little daunting to make such a big change; adding 20+ hours of educational content, getting the message out, and with the increase in length came increased costs, which had to be passed along to attendees. All of the many committees and NORDP members that are working on the conference are committed to making sure conference attendees have a stellar experience.

How does the NORDP conference come together?  Who are the players?

 Over and over, you’ll hear that NORDP is a volunteer organization. Nowhere is that more evident than during Conference planning. There are 12 committees, working to develop the Best. Conference. Ever. Committees can be small—with 3-5 members, or very large, with 20-25 members. On lots of committee conference calls (the major way we get things done), you will hear laughter, commitment and genuine concern for the needs of NORDP members.

How did you personally get involved?  What made you decide to become a conference chair?

 Kari:  I was a member of the Professional Development Committee when it still included Mentoring and the Pre-conference Workshop working group, which I was active in.  When the chair of that group left NORDP in 2014, I was asked to step into that position, which brought me into the conference planning in a big way, since that group was part of both the Planning and Program Committees.  I have learned a tremendous amount working on the conference for the last several years—about event planning, budgets and logistics, strategy for effective programming—but what I have enjoyed most is learning from my fellow volunteers and drawing on their creativity as we try to develop a terrific experience for all of our members.

Jan: Working on the Conference Committee is a great way to get to know NORDP members from across the country. The needs of the conference are a great match for my skill set. I received a conference attendance award for the first conference I attended, and was asked to give back by volunteering at the conference. Which I did—and found it was a great way to feel a part of the organization. Every year, I do at least one volunteer turn at the registration desk. And have a lot of fun seeing colleagues and meeting new people.

I love being involved in a behind-the-scenes role, to put on major events. Over the course of my career, I have been involved in a planning role on professional conferences nationally and internationally, with the 2002 Winter Olympic Opening and Closing ceremonies, and as a company manager for a professional children’s dance theater. I enjoy paying attention to the details, organizing and reorganizing the puzzle pieces, and then, watching attendees and participants experience the results of the work.

What are you most excited about having this year’s event in Providence?

Jan: I lived in Rhode Island during high school, so this is a little bit of a homecoming for me. Like every year, I am excited to catch up with colleagues, meet new people, and expand my personal and professional network. I’m excited to share my old stomping grounds during Networking Dinners, and hear from members about the revised conference format.

Kari:  I am excited to see the expanded format and learning experiences come to life and to see how our members embrace these new opportunities to further develop professionally and build new connections among our colleagues throughout the country and the world.


Visit the NORDP Store online now through March 15! We hope to see you at the Conference, which will be held April 29 – May 1, 2019, at the Omni Providence Hotel in Providence, RI. For more information about the conference program or to register, visit Follow @NORDP_official on Twitter for all the latest #NORDP2019 updates.

NORDP fosters a culture of inclusive excellence by actively promoting and supporting diversity, inclusion and equity in all its forms to expand our worldview, enrich our work, and elevate our profession.

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