January 24, 2012 — As any host will tell you, planning an event is all about the details. At the University of Virginia, the Office of Conference Services is ready to help with those details, thanks to the completion of a Process Simplification project.
Conference Services, based in Kent House in the McCormick Road first-year housing area, manages events around Grounds throughout the year. It is particularly busy during the summer, when 15,000 guests come to the Grounds for various conferences and youth camps.
The staff teamed up with Process Simplification – an office dedicated to improving the quality and effectiveness of services and processes at U.Va. – to expand Conference Services and streamline how activities are planned on Grounds. The result is year-round enhanced planning services for the entire University community, according to Kim Ferguson, assistant director of conference services.
Before undergoing process simplification, the office offered limited services focused on summer events, and it could be rather complicated to plan an event at the University, particularly during the main academic year. Planners would have to contact several different U.Va. offices to iron out the details of their events. Lee Baszczewski, director of process simplification, recalled that the former approach made coordinating and hosting conferences and events "difficult and cumbersome."
Process Simplification assembled a team of event planners, service providers, users and space owners to evaluate the problems, research potential solutions, and recommend ways to enhance the level of service.
Conference Services implemented the resulting suggestions in early 2011. The department now has national certification from the Association of Collegiate Conference and Event Directors International as a "one-stop shop," providing clients with one point of contact, one contract and one bill for an event.
Conference Services offers a full range of services and can plan as little or as much of the event as someone wants, whether they need a large academic conference or a meeting luncheon for 10 people, said Mary Kay Ohaneson, director of conference services.
Additionally, everything down to the menu can be researched by anyone needing to plan an event. To enhance its value to the University, Conference Services revamped its website to provide listings of event resources from limos to local hotels, as well as planning checklists to ensure nothing important is left out (e.g. parking, linens, rentals, printed programs and name badges).
Brent Kendrick, representing the Virginia Region of Phi Theta Kappa and the International Honor Society of the Two-Year College, is a repeat customer of Conference Services, which he says has a great service orientation.
"For months before the conference and all the way up to the last day of the conference, they've been there for us to make sure that all the little details were addressed."
"Our staff has over 40 years of U.Va. conference event planning," Ohaneson said. "We're very well-qualified to plan all types and sizes of University events any time during the year."
Amanda Nelsen, program director of the Rare Book School, uses Conference Services to house the book-preservation professionals who attend the school every summer.
"I am very happy to send our students to Conference Services and am confident that the needs of our students will be met by the Conference Services' staff in a timely manner," she said.
Baszczewski of Process Simplification sees her office's work with Conference Services as a success, saying it is gratifying to see when "the expected improvements of the initiative become a reality."