Every year, the Foundation awards young Credit Union professionals and DEs a $5,000 Scholarship to attend the World Credit Union Conference. Named in honor of a retired Arizona League President, the Gary Plank Scholarship Program is a tremendous opportunity for Credit Union leaders to acquire valuable information and get inspired by the passion and enthusiasm for the worldwide Credit Union Movement.
I sat down with last year’s Gary Plank Scholarship recipients to ask them about the impact that last July’s Conference in Singapore has had in their lives. This is our conversation.
Last year’s scholars are:
Nidia Gonzalez, Senior Retail Sales Consultant for Arizona Federal Credit Union
Layna Officer, Member Experience Trainer, Blue Federal Credit Union
Gena Carroll, VP of Risk Management, Meridian Trust
Q: What made you apply for the scholarship in the first place?
Nidia: I am super passionate about our movement itself. I’ve had the opportunity to work closely with some of our volunteer partners and be involved in financial education classes. I knew I wanted to learn as much as I could about the entire movement, bringing back that passion, excitement, and information and sharing it with those I work with.
The primary theme of last year’s conference was about technology, which really opened my eyes to how our advancement as an industry is largely dependent on how well we keep up with technology, using it to better serve our members. Having the conference in a country that values technology so highly was a perfect fit.
Layna: I was really looking for opportunities to expand on my leadership skills and my knowledge about the Credit Union movement as a global force. I felt that attending the conference would be a great opportunity to continue to further my own education. Truthfully, when I applied, I thought there was no way I would be selected as one of the recipients. So, I was so surprised and honored to find out that I was chosen!
Gena: For me, I felt that the conference would be a great opportunity to meet leaders from other countries and learn more about their unique challenges and opportunities. We are all connected within this global movement and I really wanted to find out how can I be an advocate for those Credit Unions in other countries that don’t have the same resources that we have here in the US.
For example, during the conference, I talked with a woman from a Credit Union in Ireland and learned that they don’t have share draft accounts. I had assumed that all Credit Unions had standard products like that, so it was a surprise to discover that they don’t. These are the kinds of challenges that we, as a global movement, can work together to solve.
Q: What was the experience like for you? Did it meet your expectations? Did you receive what you wanted to?
Layna: It definitely exceeded my expectations. The overall experience was so much bigger than I thought it was going to be. Not only was I able to learn new things about the movement, but it really opened my eyes to what Credit Unions are doing on an international level. It’s actually a very close knit movement that’s having a huge impact on the world.
I participated in the young professionals group, which was really nice because I didn’t feel like I was on my own during the conference. It was inspiring to see people my age who are in strong positions of leadership in their Credit Unions. Getting to know them helped build confidence that I can move forward in my career and have an impact on something that’s so much bigger than my professional goals.
Gena: I really enjoyed learning about advances in technology that can support our members in new and exciting ways. The technology that exists now that can help educate our members and support them in making better financial decisions is remarkable.
Having many years of experience in Credit Union operations, it was wonderful to come away with new insight about how we can use technology at Meridian Trust to streamline our processes, function more efficiently, and provide more effective services for our members. The conference really communicated to me that there’s no reason to settle for anything less than the best.
Nidia: I came to the Credit Union industry almost 4 years ago, after working in corporate banking. Because I’m still relatively new to the industry, I didn’t fully understand the global impact of the Credit Union movement until last year’s conference.
For example, at one point during the conference, I learned about how Credit Unions are developing in Kenya and how they are working to help communities there become more financially stable. This really resonated with me because working to ensure that mycommunity is financially stable is very important to me. Realizing that the Credit Union movement is focused on creating financial stability in communities across the globe reassured me that I am in the right industry.
Q: I know one of the things that can be powerful about attending the World Conference is the networking opportunities. How did the opportunity to meet people from all over the world affect your experience?
Nidia: Being able to network with people from all over the world was a little nerve wrecking at first, but it forced me to step out of my comfort zone, and I’m so glad I did! I talked with people from a lot of different countries and received a much broader perspective from being exposed to such a diverse group of people.
The conference also taught me a lot about the power of networking and that knowledge has translated into improving my relationship with our vendors. I feel that I can communicate with our vendors more effectively so that they really understand our products and services.
Layna: The people I met there inspired me in so many ways and those relationships have presented opportunities that I never knew existed. Just one example is that through the connections I made at the conference I’ve been invited to be a part of a committee focused on fundraising that benefits Children’s Miracle Network and Credit Unions for Kids. In fact, I’m scheduled to present my research findings to the CU4Kis National Advisory and Activation Boards in March of 2020, which is really exciting.
Gena: I’m very passionate about the collaboration between Credit Unions, not only here in the US, but worldwide. I think it’s vital that we support one another regardless of our size and location in the world and that’s what this conference is about.
I’m a huge advocate for financial literacy and have done a lot of work in schools to promote financial literacy to our youth. This year, I’m heading up our youth month and we came up with the idea to have an escape room that teaches financial literacy concepts. I found someone to create the escape room game, but it was going to be more money than we wanted to spend. So, I reached out to people that I know at 5 other Credit Unions and we went in together to have it created. The name of our game is Escape the Night of the Living Debt, and it’s so much fun.
That’s just one example of how we can have a much greater impact by working together. This conference presents many opportunities to build connections that make the work we’re doing on an individual level so much stronger.
Q: What would you say to someone who might be considering applying for this year’s Gary Plank Scholarship?
Nidia: Go for it! It’s a remarkable experience and you never know what’s possible until you try.
Layna: Say yes to opportunities like this! Attending the conference has opened so many doors for me. It really inspired me to continue to grow and learn, knowing that we really are doing so much good in the world.
Since the conference, I’ve implemented a training called “You Make a Difference” that aims to help Credit Union professionals understand how their work contributes to the overall success of our Credit Union, the financial stability of our community, and ultimately how their work impacts the entire global movement. Our work matters.
Gena: It’s an experience of a lifetime. Knowledge is so important and this conference gives you the opportunity to learn things you don’t even know that you don’t know. It’s a chance to really get outside your bubble and experience comradery with other Credit Union Professionals from all over the world.
Would you like to attend this year’s Conference?
This year’s World Council Conference will be held in the Bahamas on July 28-31 2019, and promises to be an international Credit Union experience second to none! Applications are now open and the deadline for submission is Friday, April 12, 2019.Click here to learn more.