Let me be the first to admit that being president of the Pioneer Activities Council (PAC) has its challenges.
However, there are even more moments that make being a student leader worthwhile. One of these occurred last month when I was given the privilege of traveling to Peoria, Ill., with fellow PAC leaders Levi Holbert ’15 (Marietta, Ohio), Rachael Freeman ’16 (Parkersburg, W.Va.), Jessie Hamon ’16 (Cardington, Ohio) and Rachel Wigal ’15 (Ruffin, N.C.) for the National Association of Campus Activities Conference.
Peoria isn’t exactly the most glamorous place in America. But what I gained from this city was more than just what its sights had to offer. I returned from NACA not only with ideas for future events, but with a broader perspective of the student activities world and what it means to be an event planner on a college campus.
First of all, in student activities, attending a conference does not mean sitting through a series of lectures. At NACA, the majority of my time was spent in a large, old-fashioned theater while musicians, comics, speakers and magicians took the stage one after another to showcase their talents. Each performer had 15 minutes to convince me and hundreds of other college programmers to bring that person to their schools. Needless to say, some performances were better than others. I saw more 20-something men with acoustic guitars than I care to count. But after three days and hours of showcases, my four fellow PAC members and I were finally able to hand pick the most talented of the crop.
While on the surface NACA may sound like one large circus performance, it required more than just sitting back and being entertained. We had to remember that we were not there for ourselves, but for the students at Marietta College. As such, objectivity played a huge role in choosing performers. Our own partialities had to be set aside while the preferences, demographics and culture of our student body had to be considered. We recognized that our favorite showcases may not be the favorite of the rest of the school. And while there were many performers who were very talented, some would be of no appeal to our student body.
In addition to showcases, NACA offered me the opportunity to talk with programming boards from a diverse representation of other colleges from across Mid-America. Some had even fewer students than Marietta and half the budget, while other, larger state schools had hundreds of thousands of dollars to spend. Yet no matter how similar or different, all had valuable ideas to offer the Pioneer Activities Council. Students from other programming boards were more than happy to share their event ideas, logo designs, advertising methods, and the like — information I absorbed like a sponge.
The final and largest component of NACA was block booking, a term that is notorious in the student activities world. Block booking events eventually resulted in saving PAC thousands of dollars on performers — but it was a trek to get there. To me, the fast-paced, competitive atmosphere of block booking felt like an auction. All the schools gathered in one room to sign contracts for their favorite performers. Once the performer’s name was called, the decision of whether or not to enter into contract with them had to be made. The process challenged my introverted, thoughtful nature, but translated into business skills that I was certainly thankful for the opportunity to hone.
On the last day, our small group embarked on the eight-hour van ride back to Marietta. I returned with a binder full of materials and my head full of ideas. After having almost no expectations for the city of Peoria, I left pleasantly surprised. NACA reassured me of the importance of my involvement in PAC. Ultimately, being at the conference was a reminder that the Pioneer Activities Council is not just an organization of entertainment and after-hours amusement. It is one of service — one that works to meet the needs of the student body by enriching their college experience.