Get to know Ushma Suvarnakar, AAA’s Director of Meetings and Conferences. Ushma is responsible for the strategic planning, fiscal management, and direction of the association’s meetings, conferences and related products. She manages the AAA staff and vendors who produce AAA’s meetings and conferences and is staff liaison to the Annual Meeting Executive Program Committee and the AAA Committee on Labor Relations. You can reach Ushma via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
What lead you to your current position with AAA?
I had been working at the American Association of Pharmaceutical Scientists for 4 years as their Annual Meeting Manager. I truly loved my job and my colleagues, but I was ready for the next step in my professional career. I was fortunate enough to use my network to get connected to individuals who knew the association and were able to provide me with insight to the role and the amazing opportunity. It’s now been 14 months, and I’m incredibly happy with the changes that I’ve already made to the association’s Annual Meeting and look forward to more years of improving the meeting to provide a better experience for our members.
What is your favorite on-the-job task?
It’s funny, what I expected to like the least I actually end up enjoying the most. When I got this position, I was terrified to give up the meeting logistics because that was the element I loved the most in my previous positions. I knew that I would have to give some of that up in order to work towards strategic thinking on how to improve the meeting and the department. As it turns out, the strategic aspect of the position has become my favorite part of the job. I enjoy thinking 5 or 10 years out and working towards improving the Annual Meeting on a grander scale. I was so used to working “in the now” in my previous positions, I definitely need to adjust my mindset and approach once I got into this role.
What is the most rewarding on-the-job moment?
As anyone on the AAA staff can attest, I hate all things paper. One of the first things I wanted to change after experiencing the 2014 AAA Annual Meeting was the on-site registration process. Seeing the binders upon binders full of pre-printed name badges and incredibly long registration lines was my worst nightmare. Not only did we not have the ability to accurately report check ins or no shows, we also hired far more temporary staff than was necessary to manage registration. Using my experience as an attendee at other conferences, I worked with my colleagues to update the process to more of a badge on-demand print on-site. I was incredibly nervous that this new process would fall flat with the membership. Luckily, we received positive feedback and the wait, at most, was 4-5 minutes per person during our peak periods of check in. Not only did we improve the attendee experience, we are now able to report more accurately on how many attendees checked in for the meeting and better anticipate the times of day we can expect the rush of check ins.
What is the most bizarre object in your office?
If by bizarre, we actually mean absolutely amazing… I have a Pittsburgh Steelers tumbler cup that I use obnoxiously on a day to day basis to further emphasize my healthy (or unhealthy?) obsession with the Steelers. This is paired with the Steelers Terrible Towel, a Steelers pennant flag, and an autographed signed photo of one of my favorite Steelers (Troy Polamalu) hanging up in my office.
What is your favorite activity outside of work?
As cliché as it might be, I really enjoy traveling a lot. I am fortunate that in my role I get to travel pretty extensively throughout the year whether to conduct site visits, attend conferences, or speak at events. While I try to make the most of my travel on behalf of work, I relish the opportunities that I get to travel for leisure, either domestically or internationally.