This is an archived article. For the latest news, go to the Advance Homepage
For more archives, go to the Advance Archive/Search Page.

Banner Advance Home Navigation Bar Advance Home Issue Index Read past articles Weekly Calendar

  October 25, 2004

University Events Office Makes
Every Occasion Memorable

Whether it’s an elegant luncheon for eight, an academic conference dinner for 50, or a black-tie extravaganza for hundreds, University Events is equal to the task.

The office plans and executes events for all UConn campuses and the Health Center, including building dedications, award ceremonies, special lectures, the hosting of dignitaries, and fund raisers hosted by the president, the provost, deans, and the Board of Trustees and Foundation Board.

Image: Cara Workman

Cara Workman, director of University Events, at the Campaign UConn gala held recently at the Field House. Workman and her staff organize events that create lasting impressions of the University.
Photo by Dollie Harvey

Workman, who with her four staff members handles about 90 events a year, says her office “presents the best face of the University.

“As UConn’s national and international stature has risen, our role is to ensure that our events reflect that quality,” she says. “It starts with the invitations or the first telephone call.”

University Events has hosted Nobel and Pulitzer Prize-winners, ambassadors, scientists, public officials – including a current and a past U.S. president – educators, artists, musicians, and authors. The guests come from all over the world.

The staff handle everything from guest lists, invitations, travel needs, and photography, to food, flowers, linens, color schemes, special lighting, and seating arrangements. They also meet with university clients to discuss budgets, venues, protocol, and parking concerns.

Attention to Detail
The staff at University Events pay close attention to details. “It’s often the little things that make an event special,” Workman says, “whether it’s a guest’s favorite food or song, or paying special attention to an honoree’s family and friends. These are the things that make UConn feel like home.”

At a recent luncheon for the Armenian ambassador, the staff decided on orange, red, and blue tablecloths – the colors of the Armenian flag – and the food had an Armenian influence. For an occasion to honor a former Board of Trustees Chair Roger Gelfenbien, an avid golfer, the office had flowers arranged in a pair of golf shoes.

Sometimes events are larger than life.

For the recent 350-guest Campaign UConn gala, the field house was transformed into a Cirque du Soleil replica. The extravaganza included trapeze artists and UConn puppeteers, who practiced their craft on 20-foot-high scaffolding towers.

“We wanted it to be a fun, ‘wow’ event,” Workman says. It took about a year to plan.

John Martin, president of the UConn Foundation, says Workman and her staff are vital to the University.

“Through events that are well designed and executed, Cara’s professionalism and that of her staff play an important role in helping us engage our donors and friends, while showing them the best parts of the University,” he says. “Our recent Campaign UConn gala at the Greer Field House, which drew rave reviews from the more than 300 attendees, is an excellent case in point. Cara’s attention to detail and creativity makes every occasion very memorable.”

Richard Schwab, dean of the Neag School of Education, has used the services of University Events for several occasions, including the naming of the Neag School celebration and their building dedication.

“Cara is a tremendous asset to the University,” Schwab says. “Our events were handled with both style and taste. Most importantly, the details were taken care of, from picking someone up at the airport, to the food being ready when needed. Someone
in her position needs the skills of a juggler, the attention to detail of a planner, and the class of a professional in the hospitality field.”

Team Work
Workman and staff members Anne Hill and Robbyn Haboian are UConn alums, and the newest staff member, April Isley, is currently pursuing an MBA degree at UConn. Tina Savoir, who “keeps the office humming” says Workman, has been employed at the University for more than 15 years.

“The staff’s connection to the University is a tremendous benefit,” Workman says. “As alums and loyalists, we’ve witnessed UConn’s transformation first-hand. The progress energizes us and gets us excited about communicating the changes that have occurred to our visitors.”

Workman was hired in 1995 by the Special Events office, to manage the database for President Clinton’s visit to campus for the dedication of the Thomas J. Dodd Research Center. “I entered all the invitation lists,” she recalls. “It was a full-time job.” When the director of Special Events left, Workman was hired to replace her. Since that time, the number of events hosted by the University has tripled.

Workman says she has the “best staff on the planet. We enjoy an extremely collaborative, supportive environment. No single event occurs through the efforts of one individual. We all take part in making each event a success, whether it’s sharing resources, answering phones and questions, or brainstorming ideas.”

In her office, she opens the door of a storage closet stuffed with everything from baskets, candles, confetti, and flags to planters, easels, flagpoles, and shovels. “We put candles in these if we want to light an entrance or walkway at night,” she says holding up a metal lantern.

Either Workman or one of her staff is at every event “from the very beginning until the last guest leaves,” she says. “Often things come up during events. Someone needs a question answered, someone wants to get to the Co-op, someone’s ride didn’t show up. The image of the institution depends on us. It goes back to hospitality.”

When a visitor comes to campus, “it could be the first or last time he or she will ever be here,” Workman says. “As the famous saying goes, ‘You only have one chance to make a first impression.’”

Workman says her job is “to support our clients. We enhance the reputation of the University based on the service that we provide to them, but ultimately, our job is to make it easier for the president, the deans, and the development officers to interact with the guests. They can do that when they have confidence that the events staff is focused on the details.”