Archive for July, 2013

Being Prepared for Curve Balls

Posted on: July 29th, 2013 by Michael Lepage No Comments

Author: Melissa Wiebe, Event Coordinator, University of Lethbridge

Our summer started out unassuming; we had pushed through a hectic May, and it looked as though we would have some time to catch up from the past month’s activities, and tie up the remaining loose ends from hosting the Canada-Wide Science Fair.

On Friday, June 21st we received a call from the Canadian Red Cross, inquiring if we had rooms available for victims affected by the flood that hit Southern Alberta earlier that month. The entire university pulled together to form an emergency response team that was tasked with ensuring rooms were set up and ready for their arrival, arranging offices for various organizations (such as Alberta Health Services, Canadian Red Cross, Services Canada and Victim Services), arranging access to the University gym and pool, as well as providing access to activity camps for the children. Various departments donated their time to ensure our guests were well taken care of and made our facilities feel like a home of sorts.

As many of you know, summer accommodations is a constant juggling act– or as Paul O’ Driscoll puts it– “a game of Tetris”. This “piece” came at us unexpectedly, but like the game that personifies Conference and Event planning so well, you adapt and play on! The pieces came together and we are still playing strong– balancing communications with various groups on campus, accommodating hundreds of Southern Alberta evacuees– all the while maintaining our summer hotel operations.

This summer has been unexpected, eventful, and flat out crazy. But hey, you never really know what you’re going to get. Adapting when faced with new challenges is just another day in the life of an event planning department, and Conference and Event Services at the University of Lethbridge saw this first-hand this summer. From the Canada-Wide Science Fair and Flood Evacuees to the up-and-coming Youth Retreat and Air Cadet Exchange, you learn new lessons, adapt to changing situations, and apply new skills to ensure that with each new curve ball thrown, you’re more prepared to react and handle the situation at hand.

Melissa Wiebe, University of Lethbridge
Telephone:(403) 329-2650

The Summer of Renovations and Upgrades

Posted on: July 22nd, 2013 by Michael Lepage No Comments

Author: Carla Lavigne, Univeristy of New Brunswick Saint John

It is always exciting when we get the news that there will be renovations to our facilities, or upgrades to technology. Finally! Maybe we can address our wish lists and will be able to enhance our guests experience while they stay with us. During the planning stage we allow ourselves to get excited about the end result…state of the art FibreOP internet service for all! FibreOP Tv and phone service! Newer and better key card technology which will make our Front Desk staff more efficient!! Which in turn improves our guests overall experience!!  Complete overhaul of traditional residence rooms with new flooring! Newly painted walls! New fixtures!!! Wow, sounds great doesn’t it? Our guests are going to love it, our students are going to love it when they return in the Fall and we are going to love it…right?

Then comes the scheduling and implementation nightmare. Let’s just say that the promise of all these improvements is what keeps us going during the tough times.

Here are some the challenges we have dealt with this summer:

  • 4 different groups/contractors onsite at one time, all working on different projects
  • At times we were able to have the different contractors working on the same section of rooms, but typically, due to the work involved, the contractors were all working in different areas at the same time.
  • Juggling of guest reservations, constant switching of room blocks as some work projects progressed and others stalled.
  • Too many cooks in the kitchen…resulting in miscommunications
  • Complex reporting structure…resulting in miscommunications
  • Multiple meetings to correct reporting structures….fixing miscommunications
  • Contractors getting in each other’s way or affecting each other’s projects….here’s an example. Contractor A installed some equipment in a control room which was the power source for System A. Contractor B was also installing equipment in the same control room. Contractor B accidently loosened a cable which resulted in System A going dead. After much panic, and a service call to Contractor A to fix their “malfunctioning” equipment the cause was determined. Sigh…frustration and panic…all’s well that ends well I guess.
  • Sub-contractor doing work incorrectly…wow, this one is still causing us grief. Still fixing this one!
  • Result of sub-contractors incorrect work = timelines DELAYED!!!
  • We still have 1 project which has not even begun yet, they are waiting for delivery of specialized equipment. We are really excited about throwing another contractor into the mix, lol.
  • On a side note, while all the above is taking place in the residence system, we are transitioning food service providers for the first time in 20 years and are working with new people, tight deadlines, and awaiting a grand renovation in our dining facility. Another project, another set of meetings, another dose of stress. Forecasted outcome looks fantastic…transition period is tough work.

Those are some of the highlights folks. It’s been a wild summer so far. Again…the promise of improvement is dangling in front of us, keeping us going.

So here is my small bit of advice to anyone attempting to work on renovations during the summer season…simple reporting structure and daily progress updates (side note – bi-weekly updates are not enough); adhere to the plan as much as possible, but be prepared to be flexible; advise contractors of heavy business periods WAAAAY in advance so they can plan too; and last but not least, just when you think everything is clear as mud, the mud turns to muck so expect the unexpected…yes, I know it’s cliché but it is the 100% truth.

Carla Lavigne, Conference Coordinator, University of New Brunswick Saint John
T: 506-648-5909

Let’s Play Tetris!

Posted on: July 8th, 2013 by Michael Lepage No Comments

Authors:  Martha Wallace, Residence and Conference Centre – Kitchener Waterloo, Located on Conestoga College, Doon Campus; Susan MacKenzie, Laurier Conference Services; and Susanne Keppler, University of Waterloo Conference Services

Do you constantly feel like you are fitting the conference services pieces together? Are you feeling like you are going back and forth between campus departments and your responsibilities? Do you feel like you are winning the game? Does this sound like you are a player in a game of Tetris?

As conference services professionals we all are juggling the same tasks and trying to find strategies to achieve our best results. We need to work fast, to be efficient and effective, and to ensure the pieces fall into place. From May to August we are the ultimate problem solvers. As the go-to person for campus accommodations, conferences and events we must make the pieces fit together in order to ensure a quality guest experience on all levels. Ongoing challenges from parking lot repairs to new builds and renovations to staffing operations all require conference staff to reassess, readjust and reorganize.  Changes and upgrades affect many campus departments that count on conference services to assist with revenue generation. The juggling of schedules over the summer months can be stressful and cause friction between departments.

Maintenance is an issue that every conference office manages during the summer season. We work around schedules, commitments and last minute obstacles. We understand that upgrades and renovations are beneficial for the campus and the overall guest experience.  Residence and Conference Centre – Kitchener Waterloo located on Conestoga College – Doon Campus, recently changed all of their exterior building signage. This resulted in a reduction of parking spaces and additional work to coordinate trades. Three residence buildings at Wilfrid Laurier University have been closed for all or part of the season due to building upgrades.  In the summer of 2012, the University of Waterloo’s main summer residences underwent major renovations and the conference office was required to move to a new location for the season, causing a lot of logistical challenges for staff and guests. Project length and scope for these types of projects is often dependent on budgets that are not finalized until the conference season begins, resulting in a loss of available beds and having to make accommodation adjustments.

Every campus conference operation is dealing with similar challenges. We make scheduling changes and alternations as seamless as possible because as professionals, we always strive to make the pieces fit together. We are constantly playing the game of Tetris and aiming for high scores in providing guest satisfaction, hitting revenue targets and maintaining valuable campus partnerships. Best of luck to all CUCCOA members as you play Tetris throughout the summer season!

Martha Wallace, Residence and Conference Centre – Kitchener Waterloo, Located on Conestoga College, Doon Campus
Telephone: 519-895-2272 x713

Susan MacKenzie, Laurier Conference Services

Susanne Keppler, University of Waterloo Conference Services

Learn to Take Advantage of University Life

Posted on: July 2nd, 2013 by Michael Lepage No Comments

Author: Peg Cummings, Cape Breton University

As Conference Services and Event Management Officer for Cape Breton University, I often receive requests to provide information and help execute large and small conferences, workshops and seminars from faculty and staff.  In July of 2011, I was approached by the Teaching and Learning Centre to work with them to submit a bid to host the 2013 Society for Teaching and Learning in Higher Education (STLHE) International conference at CBU.  The bid was accepted and a faculty committee was put in place to plan the conference, with the theme of Sustainability: Learning to Live/Learning for Life. 

 CBU is a small campus and with almost 500 registered delegates, this was the largest conference ever to be held here, and we were certainly at capacity to accommodate.  Almost every building on campus was utilized for the many aspects of the conference; the downtown hotels were full and three of the largest venues in town were booked to hold receptions and banquets, and the closing plenary. Conference Services and the independently hired Conference Coordinator worked together to manage all the venues, catering and facility logistics.

It was a busy two years of meetings and planning, all in addition to the regular day to day events that take place on campus throughout the year.  The team working on the conference was dedicated and efficient, so much so that following the hectic pre-conference set up, there was actually a session I was able to attend by the 3M National award winning students.  They had an excellent theatrical presentation on Stop the Glorification of Busy-though you get to where you are by being busy, at some point you need to stop being so busy you get burnout and are not productive.  Enjoy life and take time for yourself.  That is very much a paraphrase of the presentation (can see more comments on twitter, but it reminded me that is what happens so very often.  I work at an institution of higher learning and so very often don’t take the time to attend a session during a conference, or workshop, where I can learn something, anything.  Just too busy setting up, attending to the client’s needs, and getting ready for the next conference to take the time to attend that new art exhibit or sit in on that history seminar.  I need to take the time to learn from what is offered in the University environment and to celebrate the balance of work and life.

Peg Cummings from Cape Breton Universities

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