Students transform fall grad celebration from in-person to virtual, earn ASU sustainability award

Friday, December 11, 2020

A virtual celebration for fall 2020 graduates of Arizona State University’s School of Community Resources and Development and alumni earned its special-event management student organizers a top university award for sustainability.

The Dec. 3 virtual gathering, attended by 81 participants, received a gold sustainable-event certification from the University Sustainability Office. The event, which also celebrated the school’s 15th anniversary, was held live via Zoom, channeling the spirit of #BeTheSolution that are the bywords of the Watts College of Public Service and Community Solutions. Student organizers of a similar virtual event held last spring also received the gold sustainable-event certification from the University Sustainability Office.

Graduates, families, friends, alumni and School of Community Resources and Development faculty and staff heard insights from Watts College Dean Jonathan Koppell, school Director Christine Buzinde and professors Robert Ashcraft and Yunseon Choe. School of Community Resources and Development Instructor Claire McWilliams was the master of ceremonies. School alumna Nora Slawik and graduating student Samantha Nickel also gave remarks. 

Buzinde noted that while the COVID-19 pandemic altered everyone’s plans this year, the school’s students and faculty held strong.

“It has been exhausting to say the least, but we are all in this together and we will persevere. Please continue to have the courage to be kind to yourselves and to those around you,” Buzinde said.

Nickel, nominated by faculty members as this semester’s student speaker, offered additional reassuring words for her fellow graduates.

“We are going into our communities to make a positive change, we graduated during a global pandemic and we are resilient!” said Nickel, who will start work as a park ranger with the city of Phoenix once her internship with the city is concluded.

Students enrolled in PRM 145, Introduction to Special Events Management, planned and produced the event alongside their instructor, Clinical Assistant Professor Erin Schneiderman. The students spent the semester learning about fundamental components of event planning and how to successfully produce one themselves. They formed committees to complete every component, learning as they went, understanding the full picture of event planning from start to finish.

Extra measures were taken to allow for the most interactive experience possible for those in attendance. Attendees were able to play along in an ASU-themed trivia game and graduates had the chance of sharing their favorite ASU memory if their name was chosen randomly from a game show-like wheel.

Student organizers pay attention to details

Student event planners worked closely with Student Accessibility and Inclusive Learning Services to ensure accessibility for all guests. There were multiple American Sign Language interpreters signing the event to ensure everyone could participate. Also, using Zoom’s chat feature, the audience was encouraged to send in feedback to ensure that the event flowed smoothly without distractions on the direct screen. This enabled speakers to participate in an interactive question-and-answer session.

School of Community Resources and Development, 15 years, logo, fall 2020, 2020

Arizona State University's School of Community Resources and Development celebrated its 15th anniversary in 2020.

Kendall Gehrs, Victoria Heppner and Emily Ferguson from the PRM 145 Sustainability Committee said the planning experience – what it takes to put on a sustainable event – was extremely rewarding and eye-opening.  

“We worked as a unit and our hard work paid off,” Gehrs said. “Erin Schneiderman and Erin O’Connor were huge supports for us. Erin Schneiderman got us in contact with all of our necessary resources. She was ready and able to answer any questions we needed. Erin O’Connor did an amazing job with helping us figure out the certification process.”

Schneiderman said there were plenty of lessons learned from the spring 2020 event. But most importantly, she said that she, the PRM 145 class and the faculty that helped lead the students had the time to create a well-thought-out plan for the virtual event.

“It is very impressive that even during a pandemic, our Sustainability Committee was able to secure a gold designation, meaning we committed to plan and execute the most sustainable event possible,” Schneiderman said. 

Schneiderman said the event was a team effort. “I always preach that it is very rare that an event planner works solo and this was a perfect example of a large group coming together to successfully host an event,” she said.

Speakers inspire graduates, emphasize community 

The celebration included messages from various notable speakers, including Choe, who is based at the Hainan University-ASU International Tourism College in China.

Choe spoke about her experience with the school and announced the exceptional scholarship recipients.

Slawik, the former mayor of Maplewood, Minnesota, told the attendees about her personal and professional experience over more than 30 years in government, nonprofits and education. Twice elected mayor of Maplewood and having served seven terms as a Minnesota state representative, today Slawik is executive director of the Century College Foundation.

In speaking about her inspiring and relatable journey during and after her time at ASU, Slawik acknowledged the turmoil that the COVID-19 pandemic has created for graduates everywhere.

“The world has changed and so have the opportunities. We all know these are unprecedented times,” she said. “COVID is spreading like wildfire. It is tough to get and keep a job.” 

Slawik offered graduates advice in the form of some remarkable quotes.

“These are some of my favorite quotes and two of these are on my refrigerator: ‘Go confidently in the direction of your dreams. Live the life you always imagined.’ – Henry David Thoreau. ‘Never, never, never give up.’ – Winston Churchill.”

And she offered a quote of her own: “Watch more sunsets while walking.” 

Scholarship recipients honored

Choe announced the recipient of the Glenn Cheatham Memorial Scholarship, Christian T. Cervantes, and the co-recipients of the Phoenician Scholarship, Katherine Scher and Roberto Rico III. Both scholarships were created to acknowledge the exceptional work of students pursuing careers in recreation management and tourism.

McWilliams told graduates not to take anything for granted.

“Staying close to the ‘why’ we are doing what we are doing is key and that the need for service-related professions has never been more evident,” she said.

The celebration of the fall graduating class of 2020 and the School of Community Resources and Development alumni was a chance to come together and celebrate what Watts College stands for above all: community.

This article was written by School of Community Resources and Development students from the PRM 145 class: Jordan Fezler, Maya Garrison, Lauren Kuhman and Madison Zumstein.