Jessica Ryan
Jessica Ryan

Monday marks the beginning of my absolute favorite thing about living in Boulder — the Conference on World Affairs, where 100 of some of the most incredible people in the world come to Boulder to talk about everything conceivable.

Seriously, everything. No longer just focused on international affairs, CWA truly is a nerd's paradise. Topics for the 200 sessions cover everything from Tinder to Tehran, from Bitcoin to the Bechdel Test.

And the best part? It's completely free.

I've been involved with CWA since the beginning of my freshman year, and now I'm a community member of the planning committee. My work on the Conference over the last few years has taught me a number of tricks to make the most out of the week while still getting my work done and finding my way to (most of) my classes. Here are some tips for optimizing your CWA experience next week:

Grab some grub

While a ton of people come from out of town to attend CWA, the event is really designed for students. To show their gratitude to students — and maybe to bribe them just a little — the Student Perspectives subcommittee hosts a free student brunch in the UMC fountains on Monday morning. This is your best way to meet-and-greet participants and eat some delicious food before the procession to Macky for the keynote address.

Join the conversation

CWA has become even better over the last few years, thanks to the use of social media. The Conference itself has Facebook, Instagram and Twitter (@cwaboulder), but people who attend the conference — and even a number of the participants — use these platforms to live-tweet sessions, ask each other questions and plan mid-week meetups. If you want to join the conversation, make sure you use the official hashtag, #cwa2014, or risk being lost in the Twitterspheric abyss.

Do your research

I hate to give you an assignment right after you get back from spring break, but CWA truly is better if you've done some planning ahead of time. Visit the CWA website at colorado.edu/cwa and read up on the participants, including the extended versions of their bios. Comb through the schedule and add the sessions you want to attend to your Google calendar. Planning it out will help you find the time to pop in to a session between classes.

My biggest piece of advice — aside from to go to a session or 20 — is to step out of your comfort zone. Pick one panel you wouldn't normally attend, and go. Ask a question during a session. Trust me, you'll be glad you did.

Jess Ryan tweets at @jessicalryan but will be joining the #cwa2014 conversation from @JessRyanCU.