Spec. Events attracts varied groups

by Kaitlin Bell | 7/11/03 5:00am

Dartmouth may have a vast collection of employees devoted to making sure the institution runs smoothly, but when it comes to out-of-the-ordinary operations, it is reliant on one bureau: the Office of Special Events and Conferences. But for all the major programs that it runs both during the year and in the summertime, the office, which is hidden quietly away in Blunt Alumni Center, prefers to present itself as a service-oriented organization rather than a money-maker or image-booster for the College.

Even though many of the events the office runs, including Dartmouth's Commencement and prestigious academic conferences, may be high-profile, office staff said they are primarily concerned with diligent and careful planning -- and then seeing to it that everything runs smoothly. According to them, the heated debate over budget cuts and whether Dartmouth ought to bolster up its name recognition and research-prestige have not affected the office's mission at all.

"We like to give as much help and advice as we can for a successful event," office director Ann Malenka '80 said. "Our goal is just to make sure that whatever happens represents the institution well."

In addition to Commencement, the office runs such annual events as convocation, the Martin Luther King Jr. celebration, the College service award ceremony, the freshman class orientation dinner at President Wright's house and the College's holiday party. Other sporadic special events include presidential inaugurations and building dedications. The office collaborates with the Hanover Chamber of Commerce to run the information booth present on the Green during the late spring, summer and fall.

In addition, the office runs a number of conferences. Those that take place during the year are primarily small-scale affairs, since the dormitories are too full to house conference participants, office manager E.J. Kiefer said. The high volume of classes also makes it hard for conferences to book classrooms and lecture halls as far in advance as they typically want to, he added, since class schedules are not solidified until just two weeks before the start of each term.

During the summer, however, a reduced student population -- and the large number of students living off campus -- mean that the College is able to host between 18 and 20 sports camps and 22 to 24 conferences between mid-June and mid-August.

Most of the camps and conferences have been running their programs on the Dartmouth campus for years, Kiefer said. The annual turnover is low, and when it does come to choosing a replacement, the primary concern is whether or not there is space to accommodate the programs needs.

"We're more or less at capacity right now," Malenka said.

Despite space being of first concern, Malenka noted that for academic departments especially Dartmouth being a prestigious institution may considered a significant draw factor for participants. And during the summer, Dartmouth coaches run a number of rigorous sports camps for talented high school athletes -- some of whom they may be scouting as potential recruits, she said.

And although nearly all the non-athletic summer programs are academic in nature or "have some higher education component," overlap of purpose is also a concern.

This year, two programs were rejected because the summer term classes use up the bulk of available lab space, Kiefer said.

"The College doesn't want to compromise the academic experiences of students in the summertime," Malenka said. "It's about students first and the academic experience first."

In keeping with the focus on Dartmouth students, the office aims not to flood the campus with campers and conferencegoers during the summer, she said. Summer conferences generally involve between 20 and 350 participants, while camps enroll between 50 and 200 campers. In a given week, though, no more than about 700 to 800 total program participants are on campus.

Because classroom space is at such a premium, the College does not host summer programs simply as a way to fill empty dorms, Malenka said.

However, besides the few dorms used for student housing and those under construction, such as the River and the Lodge, all remaining dorms are devoted to lodging campers and conference participants.

"ORL pretty much turns the residence halls over to us," Kiefer said.

Still, both Kiefer and Malenka stressed that revenue is not the office's goal, even in a time of financial belt-tightening.

"Like everyone else, we make every effort to run efficiently," Malenka said. "But we are not a money-generating operation."