Behind the scenes at major events
Two of the most significant events that a student experiences during their time at Illinois State, Welcome Week and commencement, are both coordinated by the Dean of Students Office in the Division of Student Affairs. While it is a privilege to serve students during these exciting times, there are countless hours spent in the planning and implementation of these major events.
Planning is a year-round endeavor, involving a series of the smallest details that ultimately combine to create large-scale events. In fact, even while the events and ceremonies are taking place, staff members are making observations to consider for future planning. Student Activities and Involvement (SAI), a unit of the Dean of Students Office, also utilizes student feedback collected through surveys and benchmark data from other institutions to help brainstorm new ideas for Welcome Week.
Student involvement is a large component to Welcome Week. Each fall, SAI staff members recruit their Welcome Week Student Crew, a team of 25 students, to help them begin planning for Welcome Week the following year. The student crew members often contribute innovative programming ideas, such as the popular event, “Quadchella,” a distinctive, engaging music festival on the Quad.
While it is beneficial for the department to utilize the Welcome Week Student Crew, the students also gain something from the experience, as they are able to learn transferrable skills such as program development and implementation, communication, and critical thinking.
Kate Piper, assistant dean for Student Activities and Involvement, said, “In the work that we do within the Dean of Students Office, we greatly value students’ experiences and opinions in developing our events and programs. To truly understand what is beneficial to students, we have to have diverse students who represent our student body involved in the process.”
The formal planning process for Welcome Week begins each spring, and involves such tasks as researching, budgeting, contracting with vendors, purchasing supplies, ordering food, scheduling facilities, and promoting the Welcome Week events.
Terri Haerr, commencement and special events coordinator in the Dean of Students Office, believes that “the key to achieving quality event execution is thinking through all aspects of the program and taking the minutest details into consideration.”
Haerr utilizes lists, visualization, and charting to help her stay organized in the commencement planning process. Visualization is particularly helpful in providing instructions to the various audiences. Haerr puts herself in the position of student, guest, faculty, administration, and speaker to think through what information she would want to know in that role.
Haerr explained, “It is my job to make sure they feel comfortable and prepared in their roles. The best way for me to make sure all necessary information is conveyed to them is for me to put myself in their position.”
Further, Haerr creates a master planning document that outlines the start and completion dates of specific tasks. Some of these specific tasks might be surprising to those who do not realize the countless hours and details that go into planning major events. Such details include customized eight- or nine-page scripts for each of the six spring ceremonies, a diagram of the number of diploma covers needed on each table, and color-coded tape lines to assist students lining up in the correct order, to name a few.
The Dean of Students Office partners with several departments across campus during the planning and preparation, including the Registrar’s Office; Graduate School; Office of Parking and Transportation; University Police; Emergency Management; Facilities; Event Management, Dining, and Hospitality; Alumni Engagement; University Marketing and Communications; Printing Services; and Redbird Arena staff, as well as with each of the academic colleges.
According to Haerr, these events are “truly a campus-wide collaboration.” In addition to the help of the entire Dean of Students Office staff, volunteers are essential to ensure that both events run smoothly. During Welcome Week, more than 100 faculty and staff volunteers are needed, while commencement requires the assistance of approximately 150 volunteers.
The Division of Student Affairs has the unique honor of serving students from the day they arrive on campus during Welcome Week, to the day they cross the stage as graduates at commencement. Our staff in the Dean of Students Office take great pride in creating these memorable experiences for our students.