Roanoke College voted Campus of the Year
John Mayer. Kanye West. Blues Traveler. Kellie Pickler. These are just a few of the acts to have graced Roanoke College stages in recent years. Appreciative Maroons came together to put Roanoke ahead of Ohio State, Boston and Marshall Universities in voting for Campus Activities Magazine's 2009 Campus of the Year. The designation is based on the number and quality of diverse social and academic programs available on campus.
Roanoke was named Campus of the Year after finalists were selected, but for Mark Petersen, director of the Colket Center and student activities, the most important recognition was in the nomination itself. "My understanding is that the schools are nominated by artists and agents," Petersen said.
"Utilizing both the Colket Center Event Planning staff and our Campus Activities Board, we're committed to meeting the needs and wants of the student body. We use focus groups and frequent surveys to find out what our students want," Petersen added. "While we can't fulfill all of the requests we receive, we are glad that we can provide a wide variety of cultural, entertainment and recreational activities and events."
The success of the activities programs at Roanoke, Petersen says, lies in maintaining focus, delivering events in "creative packaging" and an effort in recent years to move away from "school nights."
The students charged with bringing entertainment to the entire campus seem to have a real feeling about who the movers and shakers are in their industry. Petersen, who has been at Roanoke for 28 years, has witnessed - and nurtured - the development of a structured activities program that works exceptionally well for the campus it serves.
"Trial and error and looking at the academic calendar has allowed us to kick it up a notch with programming," Petersen says. "We focus our entertainment on weekends, not school nights."
A staff of student event planners put on what has become a weekly campus tradition - a program known as RC After Dark. RCAD, as it's known, takes a different form each Friday night of the year.
Student organizations sometimes sponsor and lend their group's interests to the theme for the evening. Typical RCAD activities include some kind of novelty takeaway (such as glow-in-the-dark t-shirts or old time photos), plenty of free food, a DJ and a tournament held in the Colket Center's game room.
On Saturdays, the CAB's Mainstage committee takes over. They offer anything from concerts to carnival events on the back quad. The group even hosted a "foam party" earlier this year where students danced around in an "arena" filled with bubbles.
Each fall, an anchor concert event is hosted by Mainstage. Then, the group works throughout the year on events such as Winterfest - which is just what it sounds like, a weeklong festival of events held each winter - while still hosting concerts and working on other events. They try to diversify Saturday activities and help plan for anchor weekends, such as Family Weekend in the fall and Alumni Weekend in the spring. They are heavily involved in the plans for the Roanoke's signature Fridays on the Quad community events.
Despite Colket and CAB lending focus solely to weekend programming, there is certainly no shortage of "school night" activities. Greek organizations, academic departments, the Chaplain's Office and others are constantly providing cultural, spiritual, recreational and intellectual opportunities for students on Sunday through Thursday.
A quick glance at the campus calendar will find a variety of lectures, religious services and other activities, including intramural sports, weekly sessions of "Faith and Free Pizza" and meetings of groups such as Earthbound.
One of the most impressive intellectual programs came this year in the form of a visit by former Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor and her brother, Alan Day. Sponsored by the Fowler Lecture Series, O'Connor and Day spent two days on campus. Each visited classes, and Justice O'Connor offered a public lecture, which filled the Bast Center and sparked great interest throughout the community.
Courtney Mortland '11, a junior history and international relations major from Smithfield, Va., describes the first female Supreme Court Justice as someone she has always considered a role model. When O'Connor visited Dr. Todd Peppers' constitutional law class, Mortland was excited to be able to ask for advice on being a successful lawyer. "Justice O'Connor said we should read fast and write well," Mortland said. "She told us stories about keeping up with the mountains of paperwork she had to read."
A REAL LEARNING EXPERIENCE
The activities structure working so well for Roanoke is overseen by college staff, but driven by the creativity and energy of students. Students chair and staff each of CAB's five committees, and the Colket Center staff includes eight student event planners.
Michelle Halbach '11 from Centreville, Va., knew when she came to college that she wanted to be involved as an event planner. She applied for a job right away with the student activities office and was hired to do the work she loves. Halbach also quickly became involved in Campus Activities Board, so she now plays two roles in events.
Student event planners sponsor very popular Bingo nights as well as the RC After Dark series. They coordinate Colket Crafts, a Sunday program which offers students a study break where they can be creative by personalizing dry erase boards and decorating flower pots.
Colket Classes is another popular series. Attendees learn anything from how to pair wine with food to cake decorating to the proper technique for making sushi. Students, faculty and staff are all invited to participate.
Event planners also make a special effort to engage commuter students by sponsoring daytime programs. One popular event aimed at the commuter population is the monthly "dirtiest car contest." Judges are dispatched to the commuter parking lots, then award the winner with a gift certificate for a free car wash.
Transfer student Liz Bransky '12, a sophomore from Mantua, N.J., arrived at Roanoke just this year and already is very involved in campus activities. She works with the Colket Center on Friday night events and also is involved with CAB and Manic Maroonz, a group of students who devote time to building and showcasing school spirit. A member of the track and field team, Bransky has a vested interest in the business of school spirit but finds that all three groups help make her experience at Roanoke well-rounded.
"We always have lots going on around campus and give everyone an opportunity for some great fun on campus instead of leaving for the weekends," said Bransky. Coming from a college she describes as "a suitcase school," Bransky finds that being involved helps her meet new people and adds, "I have a say in different events," which she sees as a plus for someone living six hours away from home.
Both Halbach and Bransky hope to use skills they are learning as students to further their career goals. Halbach wants to do event planning and possibly become a wedding planner, while Bransky hopes to someday work in marketing and event planning for a professional sports team.
Big names and quality programming are nothing new at Roanoke. Looking through the history books finds Maroons enjoying the likes of The Platters, the Allman Brothers Band, Blood Sweat and Tears, Steven Stills and Elizabeth Taylor.
Petersen does recall one CAB committee, which turned down an opening act suggested by the representing agency for the Blues Traveler concert. The students decided to find their own opener because (at the time!) they had never heard of the Dave Matthews Band, which was being pushed at them as a real up-and-coming group.
CAB students do, however, seem to have a tradition themselves of being on the cutting edge - frequently bringing the next big thing to Roanoke's campus. Working as chair of CAB's Mainstage committee, Jim Goodwin '02 booked two of Roanoke's biggest concert success stories.
Goodwin booked John Mayer early on for a Winterfest show that took place in February 2002. The College paid $7500 to bring the artist to campus, and by the time Mayer arrived, his rate was several times that.
Goodwin booked two other very successful shows during his stint as concert chair. He fondly remembers a show by the band Guster, saying, "It was early enough in their career to still have their drummer playing everything with his hands. I believe he uses drumsticks now."
The hands-on experience Goodwin and others have is a great opportunity for learning outside of class. About Guster, Goodwin said, "Every single member of their organization was a pleasure to work with and it could not have been a better introduction for a new Mainstage Chair to the business of putting on a show...Their contract rider was hilarious. It asked for a live goldfish, which they gave out to a member of the crowd during the show."
The last show Goodwin booked as a student was Duncan Sheik, who had recently released "Phantom Moon," a record which he wrote with Steven Sater.
"I had contacted Duncan with little hope of him actually being interested in playing Roanoke," Goodwin recalls, "but to my surprise, Duncan created a mini-tour around our date."
That show featured Sheik in the only show Goodwin booked in Olin Theater. "It was one of our most unique shows - intimate and sparse, with Duncan on guitar and cello accompaniment. Try to see that for $10 anywhere else in the country!"