Craig “Pro Skills” Skilling – CLT Article

Co-Curricular Event Champions

Imagine yourself as a campus events professional, securing an off-site 17,000 plus arena and paying tens of thousands of dollars for headline talent, only to have your event flop. I have seen this happen firsthand at a university in my early years in higher education as a career advisor, adjunct hospitality industry instructor and freelancing agent for exclusive musical talent.

Juggling a career, family and business was challenging, but nothing prepared me to be a sports, entertainment & event management professor and consultant more than my time in higher education. I reflect on the failed event not as a critic, but as a motivated champion of enhancing the overall student experience and achieving university goals through strategic, co-curricular programming.

Learn from Your Past Experiences

The original event’s talent lineup included a headline performance by Grammy award winning artist Ciara and a multi-platinum award winning artist named Omarion among other named talent. As a campus champion myself who wore many hats, I could see the effort in promoting the event that took place 30-35 minutes away from the campus.

The Coordinator of Campus Activities at the time was also a student of mine finishing up his bachelor’s degree in Event Management. The Director of Student Activities was new to the campus as well, so the Coordinator was empowered to lead the charge as he had been with the university for some time and was a student and staff champion of providing students with high level entertainment.

Unfortunately, I could tell from experience that the model to host almost six figure concert budgeted events was not sustainable for a small private institution. The student body at any campus, however, needs to feel like they are getting value and experience beyond the classroom. In recognizing the two issues, I also saw future collaboration possibilities.

I reimagined that 17,000-seat arena show as a more realistic co-curricular program. There was an opportunity to have a course under the University’s Hospitality program where curriculum objectives included creating a budget, booking talent and executing an event. This was a perfect marriage.

The tricky part was convincing senior leadership to support that, especially when budgets were drastically cut the next year following the failed campus spring concert. As an educator and champion of campus activities that enhance the student learning experience, I immediately prepared a proposal requesting academic funding to have the Hospitality department partner with Campus Activities.

I proposed executing a strategic, end of year, co-curricular live entertainment campus event experience. Notice I did not say “concert”. I left the door open for the live entertainment to include “musical talent or other”. I was able to share a sustainable vision to have courses that supported Campus Activities’ goals and program curriculum objectives merged into a programming plan that provided value-added results.

I vividly remember getting the call by my then Director of Career Services who said, “Craig, the Campus worked on my proposal to be sure I crossed my t’s and dotted my i’s. You have one shot to get it right. The proposal answered questions and provided solutions to problems that I’d learned about by frequenting campus events and having the ear of most campus stakeholders.

Recruiting Your Champions

If you consider how to apply this example of increased DIY programming on your campus, you’ll probably realize the identities of potential cross-department champions for many situations. Everywhere, multiple campus departments from the Career Center, the DIY division, various clubs and organizations, and even Criminal Justice departments all have event calendars. Don’t we all have the same goal of educating and providing a rewarding student, staff and/or faculty and community experience? Why try to reinvent the wheel and duplicate efforts? Events need buy-in from all sides to be inclusive, raise awareness and to provide a reason to attend beyond “something to do”.

I know for instance, that some Campus Activities programmers implement virtual event initiatives just to meet an administrative spending directive. Many of them have a challenging time getting students, staff or faculty to support yet another online event. Students are simply no longer as enamored by the novelty of virtual or hybrid events. They need a more pressing reason, like in-classroom exposure or even faculty syllabus directives for credit.

Be more strategic! Join in with each other. Streamline those conversations. Have one master calendar and proactively have departments submit joint approval for similar events. Partner up and align budgets for more impact. Collaborate to at a minimum secure impactful speakers, performers or events that look more official and not low budget.

A Psychology Arts and Science course might include as a course objective that students showcase the various forms of mental awareness when faced with tragic media images. The college chair could then task an instructor to execute a fair or speaker event regarding that same topic. A co-curricular champion will try to be sure that as many students, faculty, staff and/or community stakeholders as possible attend the event.

The main idea is to foster a co-curricular collaboration between all programming stakeholders looking to conduct similar programming.

Search Out The Greatest Showman on Campus!

The dictionary definition of a champion is “a person who fights or argues for a cause or on behalf of someone else.” If it is not my problem, then why should I fight for it? We’ve seen this mentality by some during a year filled with virtual over programming and uncertainty due to the pandemic along with political and social justice uproars. One could easily find themselves wanting to do more to help a cause, but their voice tends to fall on deaf ears.

As we look ahead post pandemic there is an opportunity for student programming to shift to a more strategic and collaborative approach. To do this, Campus Activities Advisors need to identify their super campus event champions and then work with administration to meet larger university goals.

We know instinctively who co-curricular champions are. They are educator superheroes who will consistently attend your calendar of events although they have a busy life outside of campus. They are the PT Barnum’s of their campus. PT Barnum (the founder of Ringling Brothers Barnum and Bailey circus) was known as a master showman and hype man long before social media existed.

Imagine having one or two faculty PT Barnum’s on your campus who can meet their course curriculum program objectives while working with campus activities’ staff members to strategically collaborate on campus events. They can help avoid red tape and internal politics, and they can help make collaborative events between academic and other college department stakeholders a reality.

Co-curricular Events Check More Boxes

On the education side, students would get to experience the hands-on component of planning and executing events. The Campus Activities programmers would get a champion to hold students accountable in partnering with their department to meet their annual programming objectives.

The model also crossed over into athletics where the challenge was getting campus stakeholders to attend home games. For most of the large-scale events (including a spring concert and fashion show) the university saw an increase in participation, attendance and overall student satisfaction by embracing the co-curricular collaboration. As for student engagement, instructor feedback in courses that embraced co-curricular programming saw high reviews and student satisfaction leading to increased program retention.

Conclusion

In our society we recognize the professional sports champions who hoist trophies above their heads after all their hard work and efforts. In the world of higher education there are champions just waiting for campus programming leaders to reach out. Together they can combine their efforts to be much more impactful. All it takes is a champion!

Craig “Pro Skills” Skilling is currently a college professor under the award winning Chaplin School of Hospitality Mega Events program at Florida International University, Miami, FL. As a dynamic speaker, he has traveled across the globe engaging audiences with his charisma and positive vibes. His research interestes include race, culture, activism, co-curricular involvement and student achievement.