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Spartapalooza: Where York College’s classroom and real-world experience meet for one night of fun

December 19, 2016

Behind every cardboard boat that floats or fails in the regatta, every brick cautiously placed on the giant Jenga tower and even every sip of a slushie at York College’s Spartapalooza, there’s a group of students making it all possible.

They’re the students in REC250: Special Events Planning, and they’re responsible for every aspect of planning and executing the annual night of fun, food and entertainment for the campus community.

They hold the responsibilities of choosing a theme, recruiting volunteers to run the event, marketing, vendors and contracts – all within a set budget.

Getting their hands on it all

It’s a great opportunity for the students to gain experience in all that goes into planning a special event, said Emily Connors, adjunct professor of Recreation and Leisure Administration.

“They’re really getting that hands-on experience in every aspect of planning,” Professor Connors said. “Even though they are on committees that focus on a single area, they know that we are all part of this team, and we’re all going to do what we have to do to make it happen.”

“Any stress that arose was handled as a cohesive unit to find the best solutions,” said Mari Taggart, a junior Hospitality Management major. She worked on the entertainment committee and headed up decorations.

Sara Zalkind, also a junior Hospitality Management major, oversaw the volunteer committee, which was tasked with lining up more than 150 volunteers.

“This was a huge part of the event because there were only nine people in the class, and we needed so many more people to help us set up, during the actual event and to clean up at the end of the night,” she said.

But there were plenty of fun aspects to the responsibilities, too, Sara said.

“I think my favorite part of planning it was how excited the class would get when we got something nailed down,” she said. “One of my favorite moments in class was when we decided to get a slushie machine for the event this year. We all were so excited because that was something we had never seen before at a Spartapalooza.”

Measuring their success

So, was the slushie machine a hit?

That’s determined by another of the students’ responsibilities – creating and collecting a post-event survey used to evaluate what went well or not so well at Spartapalooza. In some ways, the surveys provide some stress relief, Professor Connors said.

“At the mid-term point of the semester, they’re feeling overwhelmed and nervous,” she said. “It’s always great to be able to talk about it and look at the evaluations from campus and see what they did well, what they could improve upon, and see that process through the semester.”

“When we all sat down to have our meeting about what we thought went well and what needed improvement, we were all just so happy,” Sara said. “To me, the best part of the whole experience was that feeling I had when it was over, just knowing that your work made someone have a great time and they did not have to do anything.”

Gaining confidence for the future

After taking on every aspect of planning such a large event, Professor Connors noted, the students have solid selling points when going on interviews for internships or jobs.

“It gives them legitimate experience. They can talk about every aspect of planning and implementation,” she said. “I think it’s the best experience they can get because it is so hands-on that it allows students to add those skills to their resumes and build their confidence.”

Mari hopes to enter the sales or beverage sector of the hospitality industry, and in either of those, she said, “you need to be able to handle stress and deal with many different work ethics, and this class has helped me with that.”

Sara said the experience prepared her for a career working in country clubs, which host member events all of the time.

“This class really gave me that hands-on experience that I will need to be successful in the future,” she said. “I can now say that I planned an event for over 1,000 people.”

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