Information Communication Technologies & Digital Media Sector Team

Many throughout the ICT-DM sector look forward to starting the year with the Western Academy Support & Training Center ICT Educator Conference each January. Like every big event over the past few months, it moved online but that did not stop organizers from capturing the same high-spirited atmosphere that’s become a signature part of the in-person events.

“This was a wildly interactive group of attendees. It was pretty amazing. I was overwhelmed. I was reminded of my son 12 years ago in middle school on AOL’s instant messenger,” said Richard Grotegut, ICT-DM Regional Director, Bay Area. “The conversations would just scroll off the screen – I couldn’t keep up with it all!”

Grotegut and WASTC Coordinator Karen Stanton pared the conference down to 36 presentations in three tracks — Workforce Forward, Top Tech, and In Practice. Attendees could also visit 20 virtual vendor booths or hang out at the virtual Tiki Bar to keep with the event’s Hawaiian theme.

“The Tiki Bar was a social lounge for participants to visit with features that promoted engagement,” Grotegut said. In this space, participants could click on a list of event attendees and message any of them or engage in a forum where they could select or start a topic and post messages about it.

The event planning team also added a point system to incentivize participation and awarded prizes to the top five point-earners. Points could be earned by participating in sessions and chatting with vendors, and the prizes included an Apple iPad, Bose Audio Sunglasses, and an Amazon Echo Show 8 among others. This aspect of the conference was a hit with attendees, as noted by prize-winner Melissa Carlysle, CEO of “Thanks so much for a wonderful conference,” she said. “It’s great to have won a gift, but I honestly won so much just by attending,”

While it will never be exactly the same as an in-person event, attendees said it came just about as close as possible.

“It had a personal touch and I think everyone felt engaged and almost like having a hallway chat,” said Paula Hodge, ICT-DM Regional Director in the South Central Coast Region.

Wendy Porter, ICT-DM Regional Director in the Far North Region, added, “If I wasn’t on the platform and someone was trying to message me, it would email me so I could pop back in and talk to people. It was a very engaging platform!”

The conference’s keynote speakers and topics were:

  • Laura Chappell, CEO and Founder of Chappell University, on the SolarWinds hack
  • Vanessa Russell, Founder and Executive Director of Love Never Fails, on untapped urban leaders
  • Renee Cummings, Data Activist in Residence at the University of Virginia, on the conscience of a data scientist
  • Peter Coffee, Vice President for Strategic Research at Salesforce, on preparing for opportunity: 2025 starts now

“I like this better than in-person,” said John Bjerke of AWS Academy.  “I’ve been in back-to-back sessions all day, in a continuous chat with instructors, and finding new customers via chat/email!”

For more information about IT training through WASTC, visit their website at

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