@Warren, I will say that I am a Junior at Massart. Last year was my first conference.
I think it was a really awesome idea to have different talks go on at the same time, but if you picked one that didn't fit snug with you it was a loss.
Its hard to spend that much money to go as a student, even if it is so reduced, for that sort of thing to happen and say it was a worth while experience.
The portfolio review was better than last year by a ton, I think it would be one of the best things that ever happened to have a workshop or lecture on portfolio building.
To answer the question about the walk abouts, the Ximedica party was freaking awesome.
Did this hit points you guys were looking for?
Thanks for the feedback. I understand your reluctance to identify yourself, but my hope is that you eventually will. I have a lot more respect for poster (students and professional alike) that are confident enough to take ownership of their opinions. In any event, it wasn't that difficult to figure out who you are based on your e-mail address... but no matter...
Bearing in mind that I didn't attend the NEDC (i went to the Southern), I have a few general questions and comments to help the discussion go a bit deeper...
First, you get HUGE PROPS for attending this year as a Junior and last year as a Sophomore. If we could convince more students to start attending these conferences as early as you have, it think it would transform how young designers see these events and relate to IDSA in terms to what it means to their careers. You don't know how many students wait until their Senior year before attending a conference and are kicking themselves because they already feel behind. So the good news is that you're already ahead of the curve.
Second, it's a gargantuan feat to put one of these events together and have every presentation appeal to everyone. It's a real catch-22: Do one single track of presentations and you risk folks walking out because they're not into it vs. multiple parallel tracks to give attendees more choice, but then they feel cheated because they feel like they're missing out on something. That's one reason we're trying to do a better job video recording the presentations so you can see what you missed afterward. I'd personally like to see this be standard operating procedure at all our conferences, but the challenge is finding volunteers and/or sponsors to support this. Once all the conferences are done, we'll start posting what we did capture and you tell us if you think it makes a difference.
I understand your frustration with regards to your portfolio. The Southern District conference had such a workshop and it's probably a good idea to offer something like that at every conference every year, but we're trying to balance student-based content with presentations that will draw more professionals. Again, another catch-22: too much student stuff and the professionals won't show up, but it's the professionals that the students are hoping to meet... So finding a balance is the trick.
I think what it really comes down to is: was going to this conference valuable to you? before you answer the question, I'd like you to think about what, specifically, are you looking for at these conferences? Sure, informative and inspiring content is always a key component to what makes these conferences valuable... particularly if it draws more professionals. But for a student such as yourself, aren't you looking to get introduced to the professionals who can (a) give you real-world critique and advice on your portfolio, (b) introduce you to other professionals who might be hiring or (c) hire you themselves? I think this is what makes going to these event valuable for students.
The network building you're doing (you are networking with professional by introducing yourself, asking good questions looking for advice, right?), that's where the real value is. A year from now, you're probably not going to remember some presentation you saw, but you will remember hanging out with that dude from the design firm that's now hiring... right? These events are as much a social mixer as they are a design conference. So for those students who choose to sit it out for a year or two before attending one of these, that give you two year's head start to get to know you future colleagues and that's what's going to help you get your first job. Given two equally matched portfolios, I'd hire the kid I had a chance to meet and hang out with at an event they were willing to invest in. It shows me they're serious about their career.
At least that's the value proposition I make to students I talk to. Of course it costs money you don't think you can afford. I make an investment in my career every year to go to these conferences. But like you said, you're spending a ton of $ on your education; why not give yourself the best chance to get your first job? Trust me: this will be some of the smartest money you spend in your entire career.
Thanks again for the input and I hope you'll continue to share your thoughts. As Marco said, we're not looking to make any money on the students and actually loose money when you attend. But you are our profession's future and we need talented, motivated young designers to hire and you need us to get that job and valuable experience. So we need each other.