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Planning the shit out of a conference: Emergency Leadership

On February 5, the Executive Committee learned that the Undergraduate Research Committee failed to select a chair and instead voted to cancel the Undergraduate Research and Creative Activity Forum (URCAF) this year.

I’m writing this as kind of a journal of the steps taken in order that the event succeeded.

Oh hell no. #

I had chaired the committee for four years (2016-2020), relocating it to the heart of campus and growing the event by 57%. It was my baby, and I wasn’t going to let some administrative disfunction kill it.

I called the lady who had initially been labeled co-chair, in order to ask her what has been done. She said, “I resigned. I resigned. I have nothing to do with it.” I was less than pleased with her as a person.

Next I contacted the whole (remaining) committee, introduced myself, explained why it’s important to host the event, and asked if they would vote me in. By the next day, I had the majority, and so I took over.

Baby steps (February) #

I learned that the University Conference Office was no longer helping run the event (after doing it for 24 years), so I needed to learn all the logistics. I contacted my friends over there, and received a lot of materials.

After confirming the location is still reserved, I mocked up (with the help of Adobe Firefly and Illustrator) some ad materials and sent them to be published in the various WSU channels.

  • I updated the URCAF website, because I apparently still have admin access.
  • I created the Qualtrics surveys
  • I sent out the materials to every committee member to start their own recruitment in their colleges.
  • I emailed the Honors College Dean as they prioritize first year research experiences
  • I emailed the Graduate School so I could coordinate with the folks who run their Graduate Research Conference.
  • I contacted the Academic Affairs money person to ensure we had funding (We do!)
  • I collated a list of every faculty member who mentored a student for the last three years using the previous years’ programs. It was tedious, but I was able to BCC almost 80 faculty members letting them know the conference was in April.

Another member of the committee volunteered to recruit and coordinate judging, so that piece was off my plate.

February and early March were always about getting the word out – students always wait until the last minute (in this case, March 29) to submit their abstracts.

Lost sleep (Early-mid March) #

At this point, I’ll tell you that my wife told me I shouldn’t have taken over the committee. I was under a lot of stress (and my new Apple Watch showed heart palpatations on my ECG. Tech is neat). It’s only until April 12…

I was really stressed because:

  1. I had no idea what the financial awards were that were given.
  2. I had no idea where these poster boards used by the presenters.
  3. I had no idea how to go about ordering food. …

So I reached out to the committee to delegate out my stressors. They were very receptive and many volunteered to tackle individual items. This is possibly the biggest outcome of the whole endeavor – that I learned to delegate.

I kept:

  • corresponding with students regarding questions / event confirmation
  • writing the program (since I had the data on Qualtrics)
  • ordering catering

Last stretch (March 28) #

Today is March 28; we’re one day away from the abstract submission deadline. Yesterday we had 6 submissions, the day before was 5. I think we’re on a good pace.

Going forward (making the list now to help me plan):

  • I’ve asked the committee to be available on the event day.
  • I’m going to ask them for at least 2 people (with large vehicles) to pick up the poster boards and get them delivered on the day of.
  • We’re going to order catering for the event next week, since by then I’ll know exact numbers.
  • We’re going to order nice paper from the campus print shop that we can use for certificates
  • I’ll confirm with the person who coordinated the financial awards
  • … depending on number of presenters, I’ll delegate out someone to source additional poster boards (we have 40 available right now).
  • I’m going to confirm the reservation at the RSC
  • I’ll ask someone to “layout” the presenters on a map.
  • I’ll write the program (I’ve already made the structure, so it’s copy-paste from Qualtrics. Huzzah!)
  • I’ll email everyone on Monday to see if we want to have some printed programs …

Afterward #

(I’ll update this after the event…)

Looking at my notes from September 2020 that I wrote to the lady who took over chairing the event, the last line of advice I gave her was: “Hold the event. Then relax because you’ve done a great job.”

I never wanted to be in charge of this again… this is now that 5th time I’ve done it. I don’t regret it, because as an R1-aspiring institution, Undergraduate Research is vitally important. I’m glad to have worked with some good people on the committee, and I’m proud of the work we’ve done.

… but I’m never doing that again.