New Facilities Make Storrs
Attractive Conference Venue
By Richard Veilleux
ince 1997, as the first fruits of UConn 2000 have begun to mature, more and more high school students looking for a college education have chosen the state's flagship University. Now, as dozens of new and refurbished buildings welcome students, faculty and staff, UConn also is becoming the school of choice for major conferences.
The increase in activity, administrators say, should be a boon for both enrollment and faculty hiring.
"It sets up a very positive cycle," says Chancellor John Petersen. "Professors from across the country who attend conferences at UConn have an opportunity to see the excellent facilities - classrooms, offices and laboratories - where our faculty work. And high school students, perhaps making their first visit to a college, leave campus with an impression of UConn that will be hard for other universities to match."
The campus was on display for nearly 4,000 guests in early June. While the Department of History hosted the nearly 30-year-old Berkshire Conference of Women Historians, the Future Problem Solving Program's International Conference also occured, bringing more than 2,000 students from the 4th through the 12th grade, their parents and coaches, to Storrs.
The professors and researchers attending the "Big Berks" conference, traditionally held at small, private, liberal arts colleges, were impressed, says Susan Porter-Benson, a professor of history and chair of local arrangements for the conference.
"The conferees were very happy with our ability to make South Campus a center of activity. The campus as a whole was absolutely beautiful, and the food - by Catering Services - was spectacular," says Porter-Benson. "They also were very impressed with all of our high tech classrooms."
The visiting middle and high school students left with more than just good impressions. Students in the 10th, 11th, and 12th grades also left with UConn viewbooks and brochures.
"Conferences give us a wonderful opportunity to expand our appeal to potential students," says Dolan Evanovich, associate provost for enrollment management. "Every time prospective future students visit Storrs - for the Problem Solvers' event, the Invention Convention a few months back, or basketball camps - it is an opportunity for us to demonstrate UConn's strengths."
Those opportunities are sure to expand, says Deborah Huntsman, executive director of professional studies in the College of Continuing Studies who, among other duties, is in charge of staff who plan conferences.
"Not only do we have more conferences this summer than ever before, we have more inquiries from groups about future conferences than we've ever experienced," she says. "There's a real diversity of fine facilities available here."
That diversity of facilities was never more evident than during the first week of June, Huntsman says:
"On Saturday morning (June 8) we needed 18 classrooms that could each hold at least 100 people for the Problem Solving Program. At the same time, the Big Berks group needed 27 venues that could support lectures, seminars and panel discussions. It was a challenge we were able to meet.
"Any organization with a conference that draws from 100 to 2,000 people, that needs affordable, air conditioned overnight accommodations and good food service, located in a clean, safe environment, with meeting rooms, airport transportation, ample parking - they're going to gravitate toward us," Huntsman adds.
During the academic year, too, UConn's facilities are available for academic and other conferences. Last October, workers were still finishing details on the new Nathan Hale Inn and Conference Center when the Department of Mathematics hosted a major international conference that was based at the hotel. At the same time, the second annual Comparative Human Rights Conference, which attracted more than 500 faculty, staff, students and members of the community, took place in South Campus.
And many of the speakers for events during the Human Rights Semester were housed in the hotel.
Upgrades to the University's athletic facilities, too, have brought new interest to Storrs. The George J. Sherman Family Sports Complex, which opened during the 1995-96 academic year and boasts a 400-meter, eight-lane track, allowed UConn to host the Big East Conference Outdoor Track and Field Championships May 3-5 - a first for the University. And the Ice Arena, a UConn 2000 project, has now hosted two consecutive Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference men's hockey championships, as well as the 2002 East Coast Athletic Conference women's hockey championships.
During the week of June 8, about 200 data librarians spent several days in Storrs for the IASSIST 2002 conference and, in early July, the granddaddy of them all, the 25th annual Confratute, will welcome more than 1,000 teachers of gifted education to campus - teachers who will take their impressions of a transformed UConn with them when they return to the thousands of gifted and talented students they teach.
"Conferences are a wonderful way to showcase our campus, our faculty, and our students," says Petersen. "We've always had excellent faculty and staff who could organize, promote, and run national and international conferences. Now we finally have the facilities to support them."