Spartans for Life

Published On: February 15, 2016

It takes meticulous planning and scrupulous scheduling to accommodate thousands of university guests. Thankfully, that’s what Laurin Gierman and her team at Michigan State University’s Conference Services does best. Gierman is the senior sales manager at University Conference Services (UCS). She and her team are responsible for booking conference clients and ensuring the stay at MSU is planned and executed properly. Although summer is peak conference season, it is a year-round job to ensure each conference is a success.

This past conference season was full of accomplishments for UCS, which is a unit within the Division of Residential and Hospitality Services’ Spartan Hospitality Group. In addition to planning the numerous camps, programs and conferences that Michigan State hosted, the team also oversaw both classroom and culinary bookings, which packs a great deal of work into the short 12-week conference period.

In June, the Academic Orientation Program (AOP) took place on campus. AOP is an overnight introduction to Michigan State University in which students take a campus tour, have their first experience living on campus and eat at the dining halls. UCS welcomed the newly admitted students by planning an informative and engaging Spartan experience.

Many of the conferences held at Michigan State throughout the summer are sports and academic programs for youths. These programs introduce young people to the university and help foster physical and mental development of future Spartans. UCS takes pride in their involvement in youth programs and the mark they leave on the participants during these youth conferences.

“The number of youth who come in who would otherwise not be impacted by Michigan State and their experience is insurmountable,” Gierman says. “If we can get them to love Michigan State at 12, 13 or 14 years old, then they are going to want to come back as a student. Our offices create Spartans for life.”

Spartan alumni also play an important role in many of the conferences at Michigan State. Connecting alumni with today’s students and faculty is important to celebrating the past and looking to the future. This summer, Grandparents University celebrated 10 years on campus. The event gives alumni and their grandchildren the opportunity to experience MSU together. Through this program, alumni and their grandchildren stay in residence halls, attend classes and explore campus. Participants have the opportunity to relive their days on campus while strengthening the bonds between grandparents and grandchildren.

It is an event that creates lasting memories for Spartans of all ages, and, with more than 1,190 attendees, this year’s event was dubbed the biggest and best of all. While the majority of conferences take place in the summer, the planning and scheduling goes on all year. UCS oversees culinary and classroom bookings during the academic year along with finalizing details for the summer conferences. April marks the transition into conference season.

This year, UCS was honored to plan two of the largest campus events of the summer. Gierman refers to these events as “mega-conferences,” and this year, MSU hosted both The Odyssey of the Mind World Finals and the National Order of the Arrow Conference. In past years, Michigan State has hosted only one mega-conference every other year.

These events took a vast amount of planning and preparation from all Residential and Hospitality Services (RHS) team members. A team of 35 university-wide departmental appointees met on a monthly basis to ensure the success of these events, and staff for these events work tirelessly to ensure that all participants receive superior Spartan service.

The Odyssey of the Mind World Finals kicked off in May with 850 teams from all over the world arriving to campus to compete in problem solving competitions. UCS starts planning large-scale competitions, such as Odyssey of the Mind, months in advance. The department begins communicating with divisional partners and culinary teams as soon as planning begins. The planning process includes weekly meetings with hall staff year-round to ensure a cohesive event. Gierman attributes the success of the conferences this summer to consistent communication between departments.

Because Odyssey of the Mind was scheduled immediately following the 2014-15 residence hall moveout, the division of RHS had to work exceptionally hard to clean and maintain all of the facilities used for the event. Some of the work included the installation of more than 200 air conditioners, the cleaning of 1,800 suite bathrooms and the preparation of more than 8,000 bed spaces, which included placing mattress pads, pillows and blankets in each room – all this just following the move out of 14,000 residence hall students and another 1,000 University Village and Spartan Village residents.

Odyssey of the Mind regulations required that more than 6,000 lofted beds be lowered to a standard height. Accommodating the evolving guest needs for each conference is a task that Smart Technology-based Education and Training (STET) takes head on. Chip Hornburg, STET manager in East Neighborhood, says the training as well as departmental cooperation plays an important role in planning and preparing for large conferences and is essential to the continued success of conferences at MSU: “Conference Services brings clients to Michigan State, but it’s up to Facilitates to create a lasting impression for them so we have repeat business come back time and time again.”

Michigan State was also chosen to host the 2015 National Order of the Arrow Conference (NOAC), which brought 15,000 Boy Scouts from around the country to East Lansing. Conference participants were provided the opportunity to participate in scout activities and special events. The NOAC conference housed participants in all neighborhoods on campus, which required RHS team members to work overtime to ensure all residence and dining halls were ready for occupants. The organized planning and hard work by all RHS team members made NOAC a successful experience for all who participated.

MSU’s UCS puts extraordinary Spartan service into every conference they plan. Teamwork and effective interdepartmental communication help make conferences successful at MSU, and the success of NOAC and the Odyssey of the Mind conferences showcases the hard work and dedication from all RHS team members. All RHS departments worked tirelessly to make this year’s conference season successful, and the 85 percent return rate for Michigan State conferences is a testament to the hard work and dedication of everyone involved.