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Students With Diabetes: Conference Update

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Students With Diabetes: Conference Update

In April I interviewed former Miss America and founder of the Students With Diabetes (SWD)/Young Adults With Diabetes Conference Nicole Johnson about the annual gathering. I was hoping that I would be able to attend as a volunteer, but unfortunately, life got in the way. So I reached out to Nicole to hear stories about the event.

AM: This is your eighth year hosting the Students With Diabetes/Young Adults With Diabetes Conference, and during that time it’s grown from a small group of about 50 to a full weekend expo with over 200 students with Type 1 diabetes. Looking back, what’s changed since your debut? Has your mission evolved? How do you keep students (with their busy lives) returning year after year?

NJ: It’s amazing to think this all started with a focus group where I asked young adults what they wanted and needed to make their lives with diabetes better. Their answers all centered around age-relevant learning in a non-threatening, comfortable, social environment. That’s when the SWD conference model was born. I strive to have a mix of fun and learning, because we know people absorb information better when they are smiling and have a positive viewpoint. I also strive to emphasize hope for the future. This comes from science, from relationships, from skill development, and from applying positive psychology principles to daily living. We teach resilience!

AM: This year’s conference had a full roster of events and speakers. What were some of the highlights?

NJ: We had such a wonderful time together. Adam Lasher (of American Idol) and Kyle Cochran (of American Ninja Warrior) were our special celebrity guests. These men really taught attendees about attitude, spirit, engagement, and hard work. I loved watching the guests show off their leadership abilities and encourage attendees to risk and grow.

The highlight for some was when Adam Lasher donned a mermaid tail in our team challenge — for others it was when Kyle Cochran showed off his karaoke talents. To say we laughed and enjoyed each other is an understatement. While we were laughing, we were also learning. Everyone was able to hear from emerging companies like Bigfoot Biomedical, One Drop, Companion Medical, and Tidepool in our technology speed-dating session. This session really opened eyes to the rapid advancement of the diabetes commercial space. Fascinatingly, the open dialogue with the companies in the panel discussion started with technology and ended with employment ideas.

AM: A few of your breakout sessions included: “Alcohol and College Behaviors With Diabetes,” “Diabetes Advocacy,” and “Eating Disorders and Depression.” Can you give me a sense of your takeaways from these sessions? Or was there a particularly popular/well-attended session, and if so, can you share some nuggets?

NJ: Honestly, all the sessions had about the same attendance. There was a craving for knowledge amongst the attendees. I really loved how the session leader in the alcohol session turned education into a game and shared unique information with attendees. In the diabetes advocacy session, attendees were motivated to do more and use their voices in a bigger way. “If not us, then who?”

AM: What are your plans for next year?

NJ: Next year the conference will be in the Tampa area. We are planning for Memorial Day weekend again. I’m in the process of booking a hotel this week…and will be searching for unique speakers all summer. Stay tuned! You can bet my cadre of giant diabetes props will make a repeat appearance…and there will be more life-size diabetes celebrity cutouts to pose with, too.

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