by Terence Baker | February 01, 2004

"The definition of what it means to be illiterate is changing. For example, we teach basic computer skills now..."

Melanie Hughes Younger, CMP, is director of professional meetings and conferences at the Newark, Del.-based International Reading Association (www.reading.org), a group that promotes literacy. A planner since 1990, Hughes Younger has been with IRA since 2002. She plans about 50 meetings a year, including a biennial World Congress.

How did you become a planner? I fell into working for associations when I moved from New Hampshire to Maryland. I was asked to help out with some planning and found I had a talent for it. Initially I worked on board of directors’ meetings. After being director of conferences at the American Neurological Association, I came to IRA.

What are some key differences between medical and education meetings? Certainly the audience needs are different. Teachers want practical, hands-on information and are not so focused on research. They also, perhaps, are not quite so demanding.

Is illiteracy an urgent issue? Yes, as the lack of reading skills is a worldwide problem. But the definition of what it means to be illiterate is changing. For example, we teach basic computer skills now, where before it might just have referred to the written word.

What project are you working on now? The Panafrican Reading for All Conference 2005, in Swaziland, a landlocked African nation surrounded by South Africa. The conference is affiliated with IRA. However, most of my time is spent on events in the United States.