Aspiring meeting planners will find a growing list of industry scholarships and internships. Here's one example: the University of Nevada, Las Vegas' William F. Harrah College of Hotel Administration's tourism and convention department now offers four scholarship programs. To apply, students must have been at the school for at least a semester and have taken or be enrolled in at least one meeting and event management class.

Many meeting industry associations and trade shows have programs that invite students to attend their events registration-free. At the IMEX trade show in Frankfurt in May, 180 students from across Europe attended a Future Leaders Forum that included a panel discussion about the advantages of working in tourism and travel. About 30 of those student attendees were invited to Meeting Professionals International's Professional Education Conference, held in July in Denver.

The Professional Convention Management Association offers working and nonworking scholarships for students who want to attend its annual meeting. “There's a lot of competition for the working scholarships,” says David Kushner, CEO. “They want the experience. And they work — 12 to 16 hours a day. They do everything the staff does.”

The International Association for Exhibition Management also recruits student interns to help run its annual meeting and exhibition. Interns — who are not paid — are involved in much more than attendee registration, says Steven Hacker, president. “We involve them in more meaningful work than baby-sitting,” he says. “They meet with the staff every morning at 6, and are debriefed at the end of the program. It tends to be an accurate depiction of what it's like to run a program.”

Arguably the most ambitious student-driven initiative is operated by PCMA, which has a network of 16 student chapters on about 50 campuses across the United States. Some 500 students pay a reduced rate of $40 to join the organization; 100 to 150 of them also attend PCMA's annual meeting.

Kushner says the student chapters serve as much more than a recruiting tool; they offer members real-life experience structuring and running their own chapters within PCMA's guidelines. Membership also “connects them with a network, gives them access to our job postings, and gets them exposure to high-level members,” he says. Recently, PCMA expanded its online student newsletter content and hired a staff person dedicated to student members.

Not for Students Only

Not all incentives focus on students. A $10,000 scholarship at UNLV was previously divided among four students; today, half of that is used for 10 awards of $500 for industry professionals interested in taking the school's online convention education courses. Joan L. Eisenstodt, moderator of the MIMlist listserv and a Washington, D.C., independent planner, recently launched the Maralyn Levinson Eisenstodt Scholarship Fund to encourage less-experienced planners or those interested in expanding their professional skills. Scholarships cover cross-training in related fields as well as registration and travel expenses for between-jobs professionals looking to network at industry events.

Meeting Professionals International started offering scholarships through its Women's Leadership Initiative last year, primarily targeting planners in the early phases of their careers who are taking classes to hone their skills. An MPI scholarship program to attract multicultural candidates at the campus level also is in the works.