Conference Grants Lead to Networking Opportunities for iSchool Students

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An email from an instructor and an informal application process led to a transformative experience for a coterie of graduate students at San José State University’s School of Information this spring.

The email was from Dr. Virginia Tucker, who encouraged students enrolled in her INFO 246 Information Architecture class to apply for iSchool-sponsored travel grants that would allow them to attend the 2021 Information Architecture Conference recently held in late April. Four of her students applied by writing a brief statement of interest and then attended the virtual conference at no cost; the grants cover registration fees and airplane tickets.

Students may not be aware that they can use the travel grant for virtual conferences, as well as in-person professional conferences. And whether turning on a computer or boarding an airplane, the benefits of attending such events are far reaching.

“I learned so much and was able to make some professional connections,” says Dani Musick Ly. “There were amazing discussions and webinars about information architecture practices and design.”

Dani Musick LyLy is currently a high school English teacher and entered the iSchool with plans to become a teacher librarian. After taking Dr. Tucker’s INFO 202 Information Retrieval System Design class and discovering other facets of library science, Ly found herself gravitating toward information architecture. While she continued with her original plan and completed the iSchool’s Teacher Librarian program, Ly’s goals have expanded. “In the next few years I’d like to pivot into work with metadata and taxonomy, ideally within the educational technology industry or education-based organizations,” she says.

This year’s Information Architecture Conference was built around the theme “Emerge” and offered panels and talks on topics that included remote learning, digital harm, designing for an aging population, disinformation, online hate and intersectionality, among others—all viewed through the lens of information architecture. The conference provided mentorship opportunities and a game night.

The only downside of the conference for Ly was that it was remote—she would have preferred an in-person event. This was a minor quibble, however. “I especially enjoyed the talks on language and classification,” says Ly. “Taxonomy and inclusive design were major themes in the conference.”

For classmate Emily Cannon the virtual model made conference-going more comfortable. “I’m kind of a socially anxious person in general, and my experience of being in a place physically with people that I don’t know, is that I tend to shy toward the corner,” she says. Cannon found interacting via chat and comments freeing. “If people want to respond, they’ll respond,” she says. “You’re not interrupting a little cluster of people.”

Emily CannonCannon described the conference as both community and career focused, and she praised the conference’s inclusive, welcoming atmosphere and the many opportunities for participation and interaction. “The very first keynote on the first morning was a mom and a daughter, the daughter is trans,” Cannon remembers, “they were talking about why language and labeling matter.”

Cannon, who used to work for Yahoo, has a background in technology and has pursed that aspect of librarianship during her time at the iSchool, taking electives primarily in technology and data science. She’s looking forward to completing her degree at the end of the fall 2021 semester and found it helpful to see the breadth of opportunities that exist in the information architecture field.

The mentoring opportunities were another highlight for Cannon, who took part in both a group and one-on-one sessions. The first was with Abby Covert, author of How to Make Sense of Any Mess: Information Architecture for Everybody, and the second with a professional working in the public sector. “It was useful to be able to talk to somebody about ‘how do I talk about my experience?’” she says.

Cannon hopes to combine her technology skills with the service aspect of librarianship when she begins job hunting. She found an example of that kind of work in a presentation by a content designer who helped build San Francisco’s COVID-19 information website.

And while she prepares for her final semester at the iSchool, Cannon has already started to explore the field and build a network of professional connections. She exchanged information with another participant who encouraged her to return next year and present at the conference.

“I’m really grateful for this experience,” says Cannon. “I wouldn’t have thought of it if Dr. Tucker hadn’t let us know about it, and I got a lot out of it.”

The deadline to apply for fall travel grants is September 9, 2021. Students must be actively enrolled in the Master of Library and Information Science, Master of Archives and Records Administration, or Master of Science in Informatics program and have a GPA of at least 3.2. Seven grants up to $1,400 each will be awarded each fall and spring semester to help cover the expenses associated with attending a professional conference.