By Liz Friden
Budget cuts” is an answer Catholic University students are getting all too used to hearing after asking questions about why the hours of the upstairs student restaurant were shortened, or why the music library was shut down. It is no secret that CUA has had budget cuts in many departments. In today’s environment, more and more colleges just like CUA are experiencing cuts. Many high school seniors are now applying to ten or more schools, making it hard to predict where they will end up. In a time when budget cuts have become increasingly common at Catholic, one office has flipped the script and increased its staff while shifting its overall vision.
The Office of Events and Conference Services (ECS) came into being in the in the winter of early 2017. Based off the old Center of Pryzbyla Management (CPM), the office has more than doubled in professional staff positions. ECS has managed to do this by moving existing positions from other departments on campus to Przybyla 202, their office, as well as consolidating existing jobs. ECS made just under three million dollars over this past summer for the University.
Since the fall of 2016, many positions and offices have changed. The trio of positions once held by Chris Hodes, Chris Hamm, and Victor David has become a team of eight. Robyn Smith is the University Scheduler, and Jacques Moore is the Director of Conference Services. Together, the two of them make sure that any group, whether affiliated with Catholic or not, has the best space for their events. Brandon Carr and Chris Hodes handle operations. Carr takes care of set-ups, while Hodes makes sure everything in the building runs smoothly, with the help of student workers. Lyle Spain, Associate Director of ECS, handles technology. Suzanne McCarthy and Ieva Vitola are in charge of event planning. Oftentimes, a client will be working with Smith or Moore and not be familiar with which space is best for their event; McCarthy and Vitola are there to help. Bill Jonas is the Executive Director of the Office.
Overlooking the view of the loading dock, Jonas was asked about his expectations and hopes for this new office. Before becoming the Executive Director of Events and Conference Services, Jonas worked for the president’s office since 2011. About three years ago he and McCarthy were working in the president’s office and had the idea to make an office that can specifically cater to student organizations and professional and academic conferences.
Once Jonas and McCarthy pitched their idea to create an office that would exclusively handle events and conferences, the process moved quickly. Vice presidents of the university met and the idea soon became an approved plan. As to how this office was able to double in staff without going over budget, Jonas clarified the situation.
“Only three positions were actually added,” Jonas explained. These were Moore’s, McCarthy’s, and Vitola’s positions.
“The location of the Pryzbyla is perfect so they combined with Pryzbyla management. We can run things smoothly from the center of campus,” Jonas replied when asked why they chose the Pryzbyla.
He and McCarthy are no longer work in a mysterious office for the president of the university. Instead of scrambling to plan events and collaborate with different offices, they are now the sole coordinators of those events.
Hodes started working in the Pryzbyla in May of 2015. In his two and a half years working for the office, there have been many changes structure-wise and worker-wise. It has been quite a bit of change. Hodes has gone from working mostly with student organizations to working with external events. He is happy about the new additions to the office because now he can now be “focusing on the Pryz again.” Hodes explained a huge part of this job is going to be “making things in the Pryz attractive to internal and external conferences.”
This focus is important because external conferences, which are not associated with the school but use the space and services of the Pryzbyla Center, are the big money makers. Moore was recruited from Colby College in Maine in order to attract more clients who want to come to D.C..
Jonas notes that many of these external conferences are high school summer camp programs. “In some cases, it can be used as a recruiting tool.” With thousands of high schoolers living on campus for camps, it sure is an effective recruiting tool.
What makes ECS unique compared to “auxiliary offices” in other universities is that it is in the same hallway as the International Students Office, Office of Campus Activities, Student Government, Program Board and the Center of Cultural Engagement. There are twenty-five students on the staff of ECS. Directed by professional staff and five team leads, these students work at the university Information Desk, open and close the Pryzbyla Center, and handle all the set-ups for any event or meeting in the building. The Information Desk is directly connected to ECS, making it central to whatever is happening on campus.
With the success of this office comes more income for the Catholic. The more external conferences, the more money the school makes. All of the employees and students here have a lot of time and money invested in this university, and now so do more and more conferences from around the country. With the success of every event comes the possibility of clients returning to CUA who will help the school gain an even better reputation. The success of this office can lead to more investment in university projects.
Jonas highlighted some of the advantages Catholic has compared to other D.C. schools saying, “We have a metro stop on campus, green grass and trees. No other D.C. school has all those things.” With that comparative advantage comes the responsibility to spread CUA’s message and hospitality. Events and Conference Services is up to the task.