Monday, December 3, 2007

An Event Planner's Worst Nightmare

Over the last few years, I’ve learned from first hand experience that bad weather is an event planner’s worst nightmare. Most of my work in the Office of Admissions focuses on planning large-scale recruitment events on campus and around the country for prospective and admitted students. One such program is an invitation-only overnight visit program for top admitted students. Less than ten-percent of admitted students are invited to attend, all of whom are very much Ivy-league caliber students. Our goal is to give these students a personalized and in-depth campus experience, in hopes that they will ultimately choose Wisconsin!

The program takes place over two days (essentially 24-hours in the life of a Wisconsin student), with programming for the visiting students as well as their parents. The program’s primary component is the opportunity for the visiting students to stay overnight with current student hosts in the residence halls, and then attend meals and classes with that student the following morning. The event also consists of a faculty presentation, admissions presentation, university staff panel, current student panel, campus walking tour, a resource fair with close to twenty university offices represented (i.e., honors program, academic advisors, student organization office, etc.). Luckily, I have a wonderful student worker named Chloe who recruits and matches all of the current student hosts with the visiting prospective students, which is no easy task.

The planning for each of these events spans an entire year, and this past weekend (Sunday and Monday) was the first of this year’s three sessions. This session was exclusively for Wisconsin students, and families were planning to travel in on Sunday from all over the state. Imagine my anxiety on Friday when first learning of the approaching winter storms heading towards Madison. I had forty-five students and their parents registered to attend, and countless other details confirmed, the success of which all hinged on Mother Nature. The unpredictable whore.

As many of you know, it snowed and snowed all day on Saturday in Wisconsin. After getting my car stuck in the snow on Saturday night (and having to abandon it there on the side of the road), I thought to myself that there was no way these students were going to make it to campus on Sunday. After walking into the office on Sunday morning, and expecting to find a barrage of e-mails and voice messages from students canceling their visit due to the weather, I was pleasantly surprised to have only received three such messages.

In an effort to be proactive, I composed and sent an e-mail to all of the program registrants letting them know that the program would go on, but if they did not feel safe traveling, we would be more than happy to transfer their registration to a different date. Then, I sat and waited. The fate of my program was no longer in my hands. It was up to mother nature. And I’ve already established my thoughts about her.

Amazingly, thirty-eight students and their parents were able to make it to campus safely yesterday afternoon for the start of the program. A few hours ago we finished up with what I think was a very successful program. Just another day in the Office of Admissions. And now, I am ready for a drink.

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