Program Planning Committee: Behind the Scenes

Do you ever wonder how the ACHA Annual Meeting program gets made? Ever curious about how we go from about 250 submissions – yes, 250! – to approximately 150 sessions? Well, today is your lucky day! This ACHA staffer got to experience the process firsthand earlier this week, and I can tell you, you won’t find a more dedicated group of college health professionals working hard to bring you the best possible program at ACHA 2018.

Generally speaking, here’s how the process works. Each of the nine ACHA sections elect a Program Planner. They’re responsible for combing through the submissions and selecting 12 programs they think their section would be most interested in based off their needs assessment and previous meeting feedback. Many sections also use a team of reviewers to help them. It takes many hours over the course of several months to complete this process.

The Planners then plug those 12 selections into one of the 13 timeslots available at the meeting. The affiliate planner, Mid-Atlantic College Health Association (MACHA) also appoints a program planner who selects six sessions based off the needs of their Affiliate. From here we have our starting point.

Then comes the fun part, arts at crafts at the ACHA National Office.


Each session is printed onto colored paper by section so we have a large visual representation of each time block. Now comes what I can only describe as a giant game of Tetris.

The Program Planning Committee (PPC), along with ACHA staff scrutinize the program as a whole. If there are similar sessions, we consider combining them or eliminating one. This allows for more space to open up on the program, and more topics to be covered over the five days. After that, each time block is looked at individually. Are there too many similar topics during this time? Is there something that every single attendee will find appealing? More swapping, rearranging, scrutinizing.

We also keep a running list of “gaps” that the committee feels should be addressed on the program, but aren’t currently represented. Sometimes sessions are pulled from the alternate list, and sometimes those gaps can’t be filled by one of the current program submissions and planners reach out to other experts in health care to see if they could join us at the meeting with their expertise. There’s a reason this process takes about 10 hours!

Now, you may be wondering, what about the ACHA Committees, Coalitions, and Task Forces? Once the sections are satisfied, a few members of the PPC tackle the 15 or so submissions from these groups, and place them on the board.

At the end of two days, we have our program – or a least a good working skeleton of the program. There’s still a lot more work to be done before the meeting in May, but it was fascinating to watch the program take shape. We hope this little insider’s view into the process gets you as excited as we are for ACHA 2018!

Huge thank you to Gerri Taylor (chair) and the rest of the 2018 Program Planning Committee for all their hard work and dedication – we couldn’t do it without you!


If you submitted a session and are wondering if your program has been chosen, ACHA will notify you in December. Thank you again to all those who submitted programs for consideration!

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