This October, Johnson & Wales University hosted the third annual SEEM Conference on campus! The conference exposed students to industry professionals, alumni and businesses within the Sports, Entertainment, Event Management (SEEM) realm and provided a glimpse of their everyday life. Unsurprisingly, the conference showcased amazing women within the industry that not only have made a name for themselves through the creation of their own business but also have simply pursued their passion within the SEEM world.
The conference began with an opening keynote speaker, Dusty Rhodes, President of Conventures, INC. Dusty, who moved to Boston after graduating from Penn State found herself sleeping in her car and waitressing to make ends meet. After accepting an offer to sell tickets at Gillette Stadium for the New England Patriots, Dusty found herself adapting and being quickly promoted within the world of professional football, which led her to become the first and only female general manager in the 1970s. By 1977, Dusty was looking for a change and combined $200 with a new idea – to use special events as a marketing medium – and created the first company of its kind, Conventures. Today Conventures is the leading Special Events company in New England and has covered a multitude of events that secures their prestigious reputation, including having originally organized and executed the largest women’s running event in the United States – The Tuft’s Health Plan 10k for women – which is now in its 39th year! Dusty’s insight and perception of the event industry was truly inspiring and offered students a different perspective of event management, specifically from a business owner perspective. It was just a plus that she so happened to share the building blocks Conventures use to execute their flawless events!
After Dusty’s opening keynote speech, the SEEM Conference continued with two signature panels. The first, which featured prominent event professionals within the industry, showcased Megan Duclos, Senior Manager of Corporate Events at Alex & Ani, and Mia Hall who is the owner and founder of Mia Hall 19 (and a producer at NBC – how cool is that?!). With certain questions asked by faculty, there was a few that stood out and truly inspired the student audience:
What has been the most challenging and the most exciting in your job experience?
For Mia, who was extremely involved in sports and community engagement during her childhood, explained that the hardest part for her was the transition from working in community centers to corporate offices. After getting a taste of the event industry through high school and college programs, where she found herself hooked, Mia was eventually promoted within her field after her hard work and dedication took notice. Megan, who has always loved events, explained that learning to roll with the punches and dealing with constant change within her position was the hardest. But luckily enough, the two female panelists could agree upon the exciting job experiences they have had. Being at Alex & Ani, Meagan explained she is lucky enough to work for a company that has access to high-profile clients, new experiences, and opportunities which have led her to travel the world and grow in her position. For Mia, it is how her role within the events industry has allowed her to attend the NBA All-Star Weekend which her year is definitely focused around.
How did you figure out how to brand yourself?
A dilemma that all students seem to struggle with, Megan and Mia were able to identify a universal constant struggle and offer key advice that everyone seemed to benefit from. Megan, who explained how she always has a hard time saying no, offered the advice of working hard to showcase diligent work and taking accountability for your actions. Mia made the excellent point that the most honorable can under-promise but over-deliver. This enables event professionals to take responsibility of what they can take on but never promise what you can’t.
The Alumni Panel that followed showcased former Johnson & Wales Students who were once trying to figure out their place in the world, just like JWU students are today. The ladies on the panel included Brittany Abber ’14, now a touring and events coordinator at Columbia Records, and Cristen Faherty ’11, owner of Cristen & Co (and a PVD Lady Project member!). These women were once in the shoes of students not too long ago, were able to provide advice and a glimpse of their everyday life through questions from the JWU students and faculty, some include:
What is your best advice for students at Johnson & Wales?
Cristen, who has fought her way as an entrepreneur and weddings specialist, told students to never let anyone ever tell you you’re not good enough. This expands on her past experience with working in the industry and also for the insecure students who are stepping out into the working world for the first time. Brittany, who added to Cristen’s point to never let someone discredit you, also gave the advice to step out of your comfort zone. With the audience ranging from freshman to seniors in the undergraduate event management program, a boost of confidence from alumni is just what everyone needed and all the panelists made sure to express that point that no one is better than another and everyone has to be confident in themselves.
Explain some things you wish you knew during your time at Johnson & Wales.
Brittany, who was an active volunteer during her time at JWU, wishes that someone told her it was okay to have no idea what you’re supposed to do in the first job out of college. She assumed that all classes apart of JWU’s curriculum was going to give a solution to every problem but the reality of it all is, it is a good thing to ask questions to get more experience to understand your role. Cristen, who got her start in the industry by contacting wedding planners, wished that there was an outlet at the school that taught her how to tailor a master resume and be strategic in job applications.
In addition to being able to hear from the amazing women speakers involved in the SEEM Conference, additional activities were set to get students involved. In between panels, students participated in an elevator pitch completion, where they were given a random scenario and would have to sell themselves to get the job, a networking breakfast and a luncheon was conducted in honor of our guests, and a SEEM Alumni Networking Reception took place in JWU’s Rhode Island Room to wrap the day’s festivities. The Conference, which was planned and executed by mostly students, was extremely successful in its third run and laid a fabulous foundation for the years ahead.
Kaitlyne Steele, Special Events Intern @ The Lady Project. After growing up in the Greater Boston Area, Kaitlyne chose to study at Johnson & Wales University due to her love for New England (ok, definitely not the cold and ugly winter months!) and for her passion of Hospitality. Now a Junior studying Event Management, she is graduating in November 2017 and is the current President of JWU’s on-campus organization and ILEA RI’s daughter chapter, The Special Event Society. Kaitlyne has a deep interest for crafting and traveling, and dreams to one day use her creative talents and be a part of an event team for an international lifestyle company, with the hopes of traveling to be a major part of the job description!
In her spare time, she focuses on her intensive volunteer work for local events, searching for cool vintage-shop finds and enjoying time with family and friends!