Selina Mirza-Cooper was pursuing a Bachelor of Arts in Spanish literature and international studies at Texas State University when she took a job as a secretary for the Texas Academy of Physicians.
“That is where it all started,” she said. “I fell in love with the idea of being a meeting professional.”
Twenty years later, she now serves as the project manager for the Texas Floodplain Management Association (TFMA), an organization that works to maintain the standards necessary to save lives and property from flooding. Mirza-Cooper said she “wouldn’t want to be anything else.” She recently shared some of her thoughts and experiences with ConventionSouth.
ConventionSouth Magazine (CSM): TFMA’s annual meeting has recently had to become a purely virtual event due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. What challenges are you facing with that change?
Selina Mirza-Cooper (SM): We are only seven weeks away [at time of the interview] from the dates of the virtual event. We’re behind one week already in identifying who will provide the services we need, due to the winter storm that paralyzed Texas in February. What I am finding is some major virtual providers are qualifying leads in order to weed out those organizations that have limited budgets, so finding a provider has been stressful.
Since we anticipate our August event to be hybrid, keeping our attendees safe for those attending in person will be a challenge and a huge responsibility.
CSM: What are your day-to-day challenges?
SM: Since everyone has been challenged with COVID-19, the day-to-day challenges that existed before the pandemic hit have just been exacerbated. We are staff of two full-time employees and one part-time, yet we have to serve a membership of more than 3,000 people, and growing. It is a challenge to keep up with the rapid growth and still be able to introduce new and innovative ways to keep our members engaged and involved in the association.
CSM: What are your current responsibilities for TFMA?
SM: My primary responsibility is serving as the meeting/conference planner for both our conferences and any special events. My job also encompasses the marketing aspects of these events from start to finish.
Since there are only two of us on staff full time and our executive director is part-time, I wear many hats. I serve as the accountant for the association and also as staff liaison for our communications committee, governmental relations committee, and conference committee. I also oversee the website for our organization and serve as IT support for the staff.
CSM: What changes have you seen with your work through the course of the pandemic?
SM: The main change I’ve seen has been the need to continue educating myself as much as I can in regard to legalities for events, and most importantly showing my worth to my Board of Directors. It is important they see that I am up to speed on the latest and greatest in the events world, and that I have the resources and networking necessary to find answers to questions they may have in anything relative to the day-to-day operations of the association. I’ve got to give them confidence in my abilities, and I feel this has become predominant more so because of all the job losses due to COVID-19.
CSM: Any final thoughts on the industry and its future?
SM: Meeting professionals are not only are very detailed-oriented, we are able to apply many of our meeting planning skills in areas such as accounting, strategic planning, education, crisis communications, etc. We do more than just plan meetings—we have a keen ability to see the overall picture in anything relative to our association.
Sitting on the board of the PCMA Gulf States Chapter has taught me so much and enabled me to network with other professionals who assist one another with questions and advice, so I encourage meeting professionals to join one or two of our industry organizations. I’ve always said being a member of an association is most useful if you are involved and stay involved.
Selina Mirza-Cooper started with the Texas Academy of Family Physicians (TAFP) in Austin, Tex. as a secretary for the education department. Her role evolved within a year of working with them into Conference Manager. She managed five big conferences for the association over her nine-year span with them. She started working with the Texas Society of Anesthesiologists in a similar capacity and now, with Texas Floodplain Management Association, she manages all conferences, meetings and special events.