Engaging Student Event Planners in Your Chapter
Tuesday, October 10, 2017
By: Dr. Linda M. Robson
I am often asked how to recruit and engage student members, so I wanted to share what we do in Boston. Two years ago I was elected as the director of students for our chapter and tasked with growing the student membership. I was fortunate to have an incredibly supportive board and membership, which has resulted in a large, passionate and engaged student presence.
There is not a magic formula to having active students; however, some tips I can offer are: understand the student demographics, engage faculty, offer one-on-one mentoring, and create student-specific events.
In order to market to students you need to know what their demographics are. For instance, in Boston we have a combination of two-year and four-year programs. The two-year programs typically have older students, who are working and tend to be more applied. The four-year programs have younger students, who don't always have any work experience (some have never had a part-time job). Furthermore, the four-year programs vary in terms of the courses offered and when students can take them. For example, at Endicott College all hospitality students must take the course Fundamentals of Events in their freshman or sophomore years, whereas at other schools students are juniors before taking their first events class. In addition, the younger students are typically interested in wedding planning, so a lot of my focus is on helping them understand there are more event opportunities beyond weddings.
The next piece is to engage the faculty, but this needs to be done carefully as academics tend to be protective of their classes. This is not to say they are not open to collaboration, but they need to be approached from the standpoint of “this is how I can make your life easier.” One tactic is to use attendance at a meeting as extra credit. I do this myself in my event courses. It takes no effort on my part, and the result is the students come back to class excited to learn.
One thing to keep in mind with faculty members is that some of them don’t know about the different event associations, so you will need to spend time educating them. Timing is another thing to remember when dealing with faculty; most faculty are off and/or work a lighter schedule between May and August. So trying to contact them in June or July lowers the chance of getting a response. I reach out to a program’s faculty via email at the end of August to invite them to an ILEA Boston chapter meeting, then follow up with a phone call at the end of September. I also formed a faculty advisory board. This benefits faculty because it can become part of their annual evaluations, which can help them achieve promotions and raises.
For the students I make sure I know who is coming to a meeting and reach out to them individually by email to find out what their interests are. Then I look at the registration list to find people who would match their interests, and I connect them at the meeting. I also create a private Facebook page for the students where I post pictures, tips and job opportunities.
In the last few years we’ve launched a students-only conference called Inside the Events Industry. The first year we did it I co-chaired the conference with two students from different colleges. The second year two students co-chaired it and formed a committee of four other students. The conference is open to any student interested in events. ILEA student members have a lower registration fee. The speakers are all industry professionals, with a focus on practical, interactive presentations.
This year students are introducing the speakers at ILEA Boston’s monthly chapter meetings, and some will participate in an internship panel. Students are also taking on the challenge of planning our February meeting. They have been given complete control over the content and structure of the meeting.
This was all done very deliberately. For students with whom we didn’t have a prior working relationship, myself or someone on the board worked with them on projects, so that we all became comfortable with one another. Once we developed relationships, it was easier to delegate. Now our students are all very active on committees.
One of the best-received initiatives was the creation of a “Student of the Year” award for our annual Heart & Soul Gala two years ago. This recognizes student contributions to ILEA Boston, and the students are thrilled to win.
It’s my hope that by taking into consideration the factors mentioned above and implementing some strategies employed by ILEA Boston, your chapter can generate similar success in terms of student engagement. Creating the channels to get students involved can provide increased support for your chapter while also affording members the opportunity to give back by mentoring the next generation of event planners.
Dr. Linda Robson is an Associate Professor at Endicott College in the School of Hospitality Management. She worked as an event planner for over 20 years, planning events in New Zealand, Europe, the United States, and Canada. In 2003 Linda returned to school and has a Master of Tourism Administration and a PhD. Linda’s combination of experience and education has given her a unique perspective on the events industry. She brings a practical, applied knowledge to her classroom, her speaking sessions, and to the events she plans.