Reasons Why I Tweet at a Conference (Inspired by Kent Brooks’ “10 Reasons to Tweet at a Conference”)

AACC 94th Annual Conference in Washington, DC

AACC 94th Annual Conference in Washington, DC

The American Association of Community Colleges (AACC) is about the descend on Washington, DC, this weekend! This annual conference is where the leaders, movers, shakers and do-ers who work at or affiliated with community colleges assemble. With the theme of the 94th conference being “Great Expectations: Implementing a 21st Century Student Success Agenda“, you can imagine that the conversation will be forward-thinking and inspiring.

The University of the District of Columbia Community College (UDC-CC) is sending nearly twenty representatives to the conference, taking advantage of the location being our back yard. The divisions of Academic Affairs, Student Achievement and Workforce Development and Lifelong Learning all have poster sessions and various representatives attending. (Keep an eye out for us; we’ll be the ones with the UDC-CC lanyards!)

With a mission that is focused on student success, UDC-CC has made an effort in recent years to send staff whenever possible to this conference in order to connect with like-minded professionals who are working toward similar goals. Every time we have attended we have taken a great deal away from the conference.

Now, most of my colleagues are still not inspired by the world of Twitter. In a previous post, I noted 7 Reasons Why You Should Be on Twitter. That was two years ago, and while I have not won all my colleagues over (*wink wink nudge nudge UDC-CC folks*) I feel it is once again time to take up the call, this time in relation to tweeting at conferences.

Anyone who has seen me at conferences, whether NACUBO or HACU or EDUCAUSE, will know that I’m the one typing away furiously on my iPad, flipping between notes on my Notability app to Twitter where I’m also taking notes and sharing quotes. Tweeting during a conference is one of the best ways I have found for keeping track of all the information I am taking in and for seeing what is happening in other sessions.

Kent Brooks wrote a blog on “10 Reasons to Tweet at a Conference” (which you should read). I love this list, because it quickly points to all the reasons I find Twitter use appealing during conferences.

  • I, too, type faster than I write, so typing my notes is a great way to store them.
  • I like sharing “take-aways” from the various speeches and sessions I attend.
  • I find other individuals who are tweeting their thoughts about the session (or other sessions) and can compare that to my own experience, which helps broaden my perspective.This is also helpful if I missed an exact quote – a fellow tweeter may have caught it, tweeted it, and then I can copy it into my own notes.
  • I meet people! “Hey, aren’t you the one who was posting all those tweets? Those were great!” (I have even been asked to take on a more official tweeting capacity while in attendance)
  • I gain resources, both human and other. A simple example of other types of resources gained is a great picture from somebody sitting closer to the front of the room of a prominent speaker. (At AACC, we’ll have several well-knowns, including Colin Powell and Joe Biden).

If you haven’t tried tweeting at a conference, I really encourage you to do so. I can elevate your experience and broaden your appreciation for the conference you are attending.

And if you make new friends in the process, all the better!

See you all at AACC!

Hashtags of Note:

  • #AACCAnnual (main conference hashtag)
  • #UDCCC (check out what my team is up to!)
  • #comm_college
  • #AACC
  • #DC

Student Loans: Millennials, We’re All in it Together

At last! The nation is talking about student loans issues!

Student loans have been coming up in national news, in financial magazines (Kiplinger’s – see below), in online petitions…everywhere!

This is great news because student loans have been a looming problem for quite some time. The cost of education in this country has risen dramatically in the last few decades. I’m sure many of you have heard your parents talk about how they went to college and worked at the same time to pay their way. Haha! If only! Those days are long past, and now young people struggle with the cost of higher education. Some are just beginning to think about it (oh, you recent college grads…if I had known what I know now when I was your age!), others of us are working out the best way to pay down our debts.

Student Loans in the News

You may have heard that Congress is taking up the subject of keeping interest rates on some student loans from increasing. Subsidized federal Stafford student loans currently have an interest rate of 3.4%. However, that rate could double to 6.8% if no legislative action is taken to maintain the status quo. Subsidized federal student loans (given out based on demonstrated financial need) are only one type of loan students may take while in college, but they’re receiving the bulk of the attention right now. “Unsubsidized loans, which are available to students regardless of financial need, already have an interest rate of 6.8 percent,” states Inside Higher Ed, “and the interest accumulates while borrowers are still attending college.” Many students have unsubsidized loans, yours truly included, so its important to know where you stand and how the news on student loans relates to you.

Student Loans in Various Media Forms

So how excited was I to arrive home today and find my June 2012 issue of Kiplinger’s Personal Finance in my mailbox? I enjoy this personal finance magazine more than I can say, and I would (and have) highly recommend it to individuals interested in learning more about the world of finance. (Also, follow them on Twitter: @Kiplinger). As I sit back to flip through the content, I find myself reading the “From the Editor” page. I like to start here because Janet Bodnar always takes some time out to talk about current events and how they shaped content of the issue. As I’m reading along, I find she’s giving a shout out to Gen Y (millennials) [she even uses the term!]. And she’s addressing all the major issues: a poor labor market for recent grads, large student loans, a bear market, and moving back home!

Millennials, which of us have not faced at least one of these challenges since 2008?

It isn’t just the news media or personal finance magazines picking up this discussion. #studentloans is a prominent hashtag on Twitter. This blog is one of many sounding off on the subject. Lots articles I see my friends sharing on Facebook relate to the latest issues surrounding student loans. I even received an email from a friend, who was only half-kidding when they said that they couldn’t buy a <$15 LivingSocial deal with a group of us because they had to pay their loans starting this month. Shoot, when you’re coming out of your master’s with student loan debt, every penny counts!

My Story

I happen to be one of the lucky ones. I came out of my undergraduate years with around the average level of student loan debt that most Bachelor degree holder’s find themselves managing. My loans were a mixture of federal and private, the bulk of them being federal. The private loans were the result of the FAFSA doing me absolutely no good – I have a lot of issues with that application that I won’t go into here and now – and going abroad for a month right when financial aid information was due for the next academic year. I had thought all documentation had been submitted, but apparently ONE form had failed to submit properly… and by the time I realized the issue, all that was left in the world of student aid was loans. Looking back, I could have worked with our Financial Aid office to a greater extent but I was, for all intents and purposes, a first-generation college-goer and didn’t know enough to camp out in their office. Again, to know what I know now then.

I was very conscious that my grace period was not a lengthy one. I had also established that rather than jumping right into a master’s degree, which would have allowed me to defer my loans a bit longer, I wanted to join the working world. It was time to gain some skills. I also wasn’t entirely sure what I wanted to get my master’s in, and spending  thousands of dollars (and probably adding to my loan debt) without being certain didn’t make sense to me.

In the end, I was lucky. And blessed. I worked three part-time jobs after graduation and had a very generous living situation (thank goodness for friends!) that allowed me to save my money. My home state did not have much to offer in the way of job opportunities, and that was right at the start of the Recession. I knew I had to move to where the jobs were – read: the East Coast. Particularly the nation’s capital, where it was clear entry-level jobs still existed at the time. My grace period ended two months before I made my move, but I was able to cover those costs and still save enough to relocate.

I was again lucky and blessed to find a job VERY quickly after arriving in town, and this allowed me to continue paying the bills and to begin saving. The big questions: save, invest, pay the loans off faster?

The Friends’ Stories

Many of my friends had different stories. A wonderful few had no undergraduate debt. Their parents had been able to help them pay for those four years of postsecondary education. However, many went on to get their master’s degrees and accumulated debt that way. Most graduated to find jobs and have settled or are settling into making their monthly payments.

Some friends have put off starting their master’s because they’re hoping to find an employer that will pay their bill for them. Again, I happen to have that benefit. Another friend of mine does as well, and we’re taking full advantage. For my friends who are still looking to start their master’s and whose employers don’t offer that perk, the question of where to get their degree has been dominated by the price of the various institutions they’re researching.

What to Know About Loans

For those not yet out of college, there is a lot to know. For those out of college, there is a lot to consider and keep in mind.

1) Learn about financial aid. 

  • For those who are new to college, I can’t stress enough the importance of educating yourself about your financial aid options. This is something I should have done a better job of in undergrad. More schools now, too, are taking the time to make things easier for students and their families; providing clearer explanations of financial aid packages, information on loans, and lists of things to consider before signing on the dotted line.
  • For those who are already past the college years, don’t forget your experiences and help those coming behind you. Share what you learned. Consider volunteering at financial aid workshops in local high schools or being a mentor to soon-to-be high school grads. Giving young students an edge before they walk into the complicated world of college is a great service.

2) Know what kind of loans you are going to get/have. It won’t do you any good to try to plan your finance life without having a clear picture of where you will be/are.

  • If you’re in college or about to start out, learn the difference between the loans you’re being offered. They may not all be right for you. Also, if you have questions, ASK. Talk to your financial aid counselors and make sure you have a very clear picture of how your education is being paid for. Even if your parents like to get involved, don’t sit on the sidelines. It’s your life and your future, so you should be right in the middle of the conversations.
  • For those who have graduated, make sure you know your loans. You should know your lenders, how much you owe each one, and your repayment status. If you have a grace period, know when it ends and plan ahead! Don’t let your first payment catch you by surprise.
  • If you’ve been out of college for some time, make sure you take time to periodically check your loans. Things may change. It’s especially important to keep track of things when you’re jumping in and out of deferments (if you go back to school) or forbearances (you might get a forbearance for a number of reasons – see here).

3) Know Your Repayment Options

  • For those who have graduated, make sure you know what your repayment options are. With federal loans, you are typically placed on a standard 10-year repayment plan.
  • If the standard repayment plan’s monthly payments seem to high, you may have the option of a graduated payment plan. This plan starts off with lower monthly payments which slowly increase over the years of your repayment plan. It’s important to note that a graduated payment plan will cost you more in interest payments in the long run.
  • Another option is the Income-Based Repayment (IBR) option. Your payments are based on and capped by your income. For more information about the IBR options, see here.

4) Keep track of your interest rates. Pay the loans with the highest interest rates off first if you can.

When it comes time to repay loans, you may look at your total debt and say, “Wow, I will never pay this off!” For many, it will take time…years. A lot of people want to know how they can speed up the process. If you have multiple loans with multiple interest rates, one important question to consider is which loan to pay extra on first.

  • Start by paying off the loans with the highest interest rates. If you have a mix of federal and private loans, these are almost always your private loans.
  • Make sure that if you pay extra on your monthly payment that you make it clear, either in writing with your check or via their online payment system, that you want any extra money you’re paying beyond your monthly minimum to be applied to your principal (the total amount your borrowed). If you don’t tell them in writing or make it clear by choosing the right option in the online payment system, they will apply extra money to your future payments.

5) Know about loan consolidation (and decide if it’s right for you)

Loan consolidation isn’t for everyone, but it may benefit you under the right circumstances. There’s a wealth of information on loan consolidation online, but a place to start to learn more about the pros and cons can be found here.

Clearly, there’s a lot to know about student loans. Just remember that you’re not alone and help is available!

  • Search for answers online. Any question you have about your student loans someone has probably had, and asked, online already.
  • Ask around. Family and friends can be great resources. With your peers, don’t share private information but do feel free to ask about their experiences. It’s a great way to get tips and learn from other people’s’ mistakes.
  • Keep up to date with the latest news. It could directly affect you, so better to be in the know! If you don’t watch/read the news, take two seconds to search the topic on Twitter to see what people are saying.
  • Don’t freak out!
  • Don’t ignore the issue. Sticking your head in the sand doesn’t make student loans go away. Confront the issues, arm yourself with knowledge and make the best informed choices you can.

A final thought on paying back your loans early. There’s a lot of information out there on this, so research this question carefully. But here are a couple of things you may want to consider if you find extra cash burning a hole in your pocket and you’re wondering how to use it:

  • Have you paid off your credit card debt? If you don’t have any, congratulations! Gold star for you! If you do, make sure this is the first thing you take care of with any extra cash floating around. Credit card debt is not “good debt” like your student loans – and your student loans being “good debt” is coming into question these days. Too much of credit card debt can put you in a really bad position. Handle your business, pay off your card(s), don’t run them up again and then start looking at the other points below.
  • Have you started an emergency fund? Paying back your loans early is great but those payments that could have stocked your rainy-day fund won’t help you if you have a medical emergency or your car gets totaled. Having an emergency fund is something I’m sure I’ll talk about again in this blog, but I cannot stress its importance enough. Make sure you consider creating such a fund right away if you don’t have one.
  • Have you started contributing to your retirement fund? Yes, I know. You’re young. Retirement is a long way off. But saving young has been advocated by financial experts over and over (and I read yet another article on it just today – that I can no longer put my finger on!). For those looking to be millionaires by the time they retire, starting to save young is key! Also, do you want to be 65 (or 70-something, the more likely age-range for when millennials will be allowed to retire) and realize you have no money to live on? No cushion whatsoever? Start now. We’ll talk more on this, but again…start now.
  • Have you saved up for any major expenses you know are looming? Ok, you have cash today. But didn’t you just say you needed to buy a car in the next 3 months? Weren’t you planning on moving into the city center where rent is a few hundred more every month (but it’s the right choice because it’s nearer to your job and cuts your commuting costs in the long run)? If you know you have expenses on the way and that you might need the cash, put it away somewhere safe (short-term savings) so that it’s ready when you need it. (This category is for needs, by the way, not wants. If the choice is between buying a flashy new toy or paying off money you already owe, pay where you owe.)

So I hope some of this was helpful and gave you food for thought. Tell me –

Do you feel you have a good handle on your student loan situation?

Do you feel you know where to get more information regarding your questions?

What other advice would you offer millennials about student loans?

Any other words of solidarity you care to share! After all, we’re all in this together!

Image credit: Occupy* Posters, Flickr

What do You Do With a B.A. in Anthropology?

What Do You Do?

Anyone who has seen Avenue Q remembers Princeton singing “What do you do with a B.A. in English?” and, if they were college graduates with a humanities degree, sharing that questioning  feeling. I remember being in college when I first heard the song and being able to empathize. After all, what do you do with a B.A. in Anthropology??

I remember trying to explain to my family what an anthropologist was and why I had chosen that degree. In my parents’ generation, students chose degrees that led to particular careers. Females, all the more so. You were either a nurse, a secretary, or a teacher. I spent a great deal of time crafting intellectual responses to queries such as “But what does an anthropologist do?” and “So what are you going to do with that degree?” I would throw as many long words in my answers as possible in order to confuse my interrogator: “[insert family member/family friend’s name here], it’s all about understanding the ethnic and racial ethnographic information that clarifies historical misperceptions while at the same time clouding postmodern twenty-first century comfortable categorizations blah blah blah…oh, your eyes are glazing over? Great! How about this weather?”

Transferable Skills

The strange thing is that “transferable skills” was an easy concept for me. I knew that explaining my various skills to a potential employer was going to be more of a challenge but in day-to-day life, the application of concepts learned while studying for an anthropology degree were endless.

I concentrated in cultural anthropology, which means I had all of one class about bones. (It took me a couple of years of study and that course to understand why everyone had asked me about bones when I first announced my degree choice). My focus was people. I wanted to learn the story of People, wherever they might be from, whoever they might be, whatever sub-groupings they self-(or not)-identified with. One of my favorite anthropology professors spent an entire semester showing us the theory behind ethnographies. (Side note: I love my alma mater. I had classes named things like “Creative Composition and the Neuropsychology of Language”. I sounded magnificently collegiate just reading off my course schedule. Go Blue!) To get back to ethnographies, the key to the “enthnographic theory” was understanding that everything was a story. Anthropologists do their best to enmesh themselves in other people’s worlds. Everyone has a story, and we know it. Whether we’re after the story from their perspective (cultural immersion) or the story from our perspective having observed a group for some time from the outskirts of the scene, we know we can help inform the rest of the world about what such-and-such group is, believes itself to be, feels, hopes, desires, etc.

“Being an Anthropologist”

Being an anthropologist means you must communicate with people. We have to learn the language of a given situation. This might not be easy, because language is not always what is spoken. It is what is sung, drawn, painted, rapped, danced, signed, etc. Often times we seem to be doing our best to serve as translators to the wider world for the group in question.

Why is any of this important? Because it shows anthropology B.A. candidates their options. What we do is what sociologists, psychologists, communication majors and marketers do, but we do it from a different angle. Many other professions rely on the information anthropologists can provide. Combined with writing and critical thinking skills (how you could get a degree without those is beyond me), a newly stamped B.A.-carrying anthropologist can go just about anywhere.

For example: I have a B.A. in Anthropology. I currently work in higher education, at a public university that is closely connected to the local government but is just shy of being a government agency. (Washington, D.C., is like that sometimes, given its unique nature). I work as an administrator in what I like to call a mid-level management position focused on finance and facility management for the institution. (I won’t bore you with a title. Everyone is D.C. asks each other “What do you do?” when they first meet, but my title only tells you a portion of what I do. It’s a step up from “Staff Assistant” though, so at least you know I do more than answering the phones all day). You would think finance and facilities is a far cry from what most social science majors do, but I use the skills I learned every day in an urban university setting.

What I’m Interested in Now

Beyond my clear interest in my job and the postsecondary educational field, I am also heavily interested in technology, social media, social media marketing, and personal finance. I particularly like any applications for combining these interests. I find social media to be an excellent platform for connecting with other people who are intent on sharing their stories. (My friends ask me what is the purpose of Twitter all the time. I’ll get into that in another post, but it has a great deal to do storytelling). I love that technology (including advances in social media) can help educators spread a message to students. I’m a huge fan of technology invading classrooms and changing the status quo of 1.5hr lectures into an interactive forum for innovation and collaboration. I watch how much information passes through the various social media platforms and see how we can easily be lifelong learners on any topic, from marketing to personal finance to computer science.

What about the “Who”?

The stories of young people (by which I mean those of us in the 20s-to-30s range) are what I find the most interesting and also relate to best. They say to write about what you know. Being a young professional in my 20s, it seems useful to talk about the world from a 20 year-old’s perspective. We’re in the thick of global changes, especially when it comes to technology and social media. We have more tools at our disposal than ever before and more are being created all the time. We have to embrace these changes, but so much information out there is for those who have already embraced and are moving forward. I want my peers to share my passion, to not be afraid to the changes.

Moving Forward

This is my blog, and it will showcase all the things I find fascinating from the interests mentioned above. I hope to engage further innovative discussion around connective activities that can help various professionals come together to create new ideas across a range of topics. Some days we’ll talk tech, some days we’ll talk personal finance, some days we’ll talk education. Some days we’ll talk about combining all three (hello, financial literacy month!).

What We’ll Do Together

As anthropologists says, let’s problematize the issues, make them more complicated so that we don’t oversimplify issues but rather expand our approaches to encourage disruption. We all know that as humans we love grouping, categorizing, and “boxing” things. What I am suggesting is that we add a little chaos to the mix, break open some boxes, and see what we find.

Oh, Should I Answer the Title Question?

So what do you do with a B.A. in Anthropology? The answer is: whatever you want. What do I encourage you to do? Find the stories, wherever they are, and share them. Add to this and other discussions. Together, we can add to the global human story and make it one for the ages.