By Cory Phare
With more than 400 companies setting their sights skyward, Colorado boasts the second largest space economy in the country.
That’s a lot of opportunity to build real-world connections with MSU Denver’s Department of Aviation and Aerospace. And with hosting the recent American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics Rocky Mountain Section Sixth Annual Technical Symposium came the chance to highlight some of the integral work happening here on campus.
“The University plays a vital role, as we’re directly providing a pipeline of employees for this industry,” said Wesley Kenison, project designer for the Center for Advanced Visualization and Experiential Analysis.
As chair of the symposium, vice president for the Rocky Mountain BEST robotics competition and a 2017 graduate in aviation and aerospace science himself, Kenison knew what else this meant: The high-stakes need for everything to go off without a hitch.
“This was a major event for the area aerospace field,” he said. “If things didn’t go well, the consequences could’ve reflected poorly on me as the chair – and MSU Denver as a location.”
So, where does one go to pull off a smooth-sailing shindig for nearly 200 registrants?
As it turns out, just across campus – to the experts in the Department of Hospitality, Tourism and Events.
“This is the first time in the history of the department that three major programs – brewing science, restaurant management and event management – came together to plan and produce an event,” said Andrea Peterson, affiliate faculty.
While each hospitality program participates in different applied efforts throughout the year, the chance to work across disciplines with both academic and experiential impacts proved to be an invaluable opportunity.
“This unique event brought [the programs] all together with student involvement in each area that ultimately affected their grades,” said Peterson.
“And, of course, the event students planned everything from start to finish, executing with finesse and great accolades from attendees and clients alike.”
When Kenison initially approached the department as a potential client, it became apparent the project would be a good fit for EVT 4030, an advanced planning and risk management class required for graduation.
Over the course of the semester, each element of the conference was discussed amongst the two groups split up to cover the separate programming needs. As the client, Kenison spent multiple class sessions fielding question and giving direction of what he envisioned the conference would be.
One of the outcomes of that process was the 2017 VIP recognition reception that took place on Thursday night to thank event sponsors.
“We really wanted to highlight what we do here in the hospitality program at MSU Denver,” said Emily Mathena, events and meeting management senior and lead for the VIP event.
The multisensory experience included a spread of torch-crusted salmon, skillet-seared tenderloin, vegetarian strudel, antipasti, cheese and desert stations stocked with a passion fruit nitro whipped cream, cherry banana split and coconut panna cota with mango gelee and Malibu lime syrup.
And though the dishes would be decadent on their own, they were also paired with five beers specifically brewed for the event: A farmhouse saison, tri-citrus wheat, galaxy India pale ale, Milky Way stout, and a nitro cherry black hole porter.
What really set the evening apart, however, was the educational element of having brewing and culinary faculty provide tasting information to understand each of the pairings.
“There was a lot of feedback from attendees that they loved it and that they really learned something,” said Mathena. “We really wanted them to tell their colleagues, ‘The VIP reception was amazing – you have to go to it next year.’”
For Ariel Keener, events and meeting management student and team lead for the event’s chock-full Friday schedule, it also meant finding out a way to deliver an in-flight meal.
“One of the conference personnel wanted to have their lunch delivered by a drone, so we partnered with students at Colorado School of Mines to build one that could accomplish this,” she said. “We wanted to rise to meet the challenge – and we did.”
Another consideration: Setting up the night before, to avoid having to come in at 4:00 a.m. during an already chock-full agenda the day of the event.
That might seem like a minor logistical point, but proved prescient as even the best-laid plans can run into turbulence.
An unforeseen issue with a parking code meant the event team had to improvise, posting personnel to record license plates and reconcile information manually until the problem was remedied.
Without the prior night’s setup, there was no telling if that maneuverability would be possible. And that’s the point.
“Studying in the program here at MSU Denver is fantastic; you’re learning everything from the ground-up and building this invaluable professional network,” Keener said. “You really see how it all fits together and how to expect the unexpected.”
Peterson emphasized how these kinds of situations help underscore the necessity of navigating the relationships between planners and partners in an applied setting.
“This is fabulous training for students in their future careers, as it’s absolutely true in the real world,” she said. “I am incredibly proud of this group of students and all they have accomplished.”
Comprehensive preparedness proved a key factor in making an event like this a success. And whether they’re high-flyers or any other kind of clientele, the attention to detail makes all the difference.
“It was fantastic working with the student teams,” said Kenison. “You’re probably not going to know everything about every industry your clients are in, so taking a broad interdepartmental approach really tied it all together to deliver. I’m extremely pleased with how it went.”
That kind of client satisfaction matters. Keener reflected a similar sentiment in the attendee feedback she received as well.
“Having so many people come up to us and tell us they had a wonderful experience – that was so rewarding,” she said. “I couldn’t ask for a more valuable experience.”
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