Students help plan SAC events

When junior Molly Nelson participated on the Project Exploration trip as a freshman in 2004, she didn’t know that two years later she would be almost single-handedly coordinating the trip.

The same goes for senior Sara Neumann who planned and coordinated Experience D.C., the new co-curricular program that debuted this year one week before fall move-in.

The programs, both sponsored by the Student Activities Center are traditionally planned by SAC staff members, but this year coordination of the programs was passed down to two undergraduate student staff members.

“The strength of these programs was that they were planned by students,” said Steve Roche, a presidential administrative fellow in SAC’s office. “Having students involved from the ground up makes for a great program.” Roche added that the staff reduction the office has experienced this year was not the reasoning behind giving students greater responsibility.

Project Exploration is a trip for incoming freshmen focused on outdoor activities in either West Virginia or Pennsylvania, according to the SAC Web site. The West Virginia trip has been around the longest and accommodates 100 freshman participants and 20 upperclassman guides. The Pennsylvania trip, formerly known as PE Wild, is one day longer and accommodates only 35 freshman and nine upperclassman guides.

For Nelson, her rise to student coordinator began when she was chosen as a PE guide last spring. In May, she was approached by Marisa Tjerandsen, then assistant director of SAC, to take on a “larger role” in planning the PE trips.

“I had been on the trip before, so it was pretty clear what had to be done,” Nelson said. “Marisa was there to oversee me and remind me when things needed to be done. I guess I did 90 to 95 percent of the work.”

But all that changed when Tjerandsen alerted Nelson she would be departing from her position as assistant director in July.

For Nelson, losing Tjerandson weakened her support network in planning the trip.

“I was a little sad and surprised to see Marisa go,” Nelson said.

Despite her status as coordinator of the trip, Nelson said campground staff and contacts at possible trip sites treated her differently because she was still an undergraduate.

“A lot of people didn’t pay attention to me because I’m a student,” she said.

“I made all the preparations for both the West Virginia and Pennsylvania trips,” she said. “I took a site visit to West Virginia and did everything else that needed to be done.”

Experience D.C. started as the brainchild of SAC Director Tim Miller. The Colonial Inauguration Web site describes the program as a two-and-a-half-day program that will expose participants to all that D.C. has to offer.

Neumann said planning the trip did not begin until June, when she returned from a trip to Africa and Colonial Inauguration was well under way. Neumann said Miller hired her along with 18 undergraduate guides.

“I felt like an event planner at times,” Neumann said. “There are so many little details I never would have thought about. For example, did you know that Metro Center doesn’t take credit cards? We had to buy 150 fare cards with cash.”

Because Experience D.C. was a new program, Neumann and Miller tried to choose a large variety of places for freshmen to go.

“I didn’t want anyone to feel they had to go to a museum if art wasn’t their thing or Union Station if all they wanted to see was the culture of D.C.,” Neumann said.

Both Nelson and Neumann say they would coordinate co-curricular programs for freshmen all over again if given the opportunity.

“It’s a lot of work,” Neumann said, “but it’s so neat seeing everything come together.”

Miller said both University staff and students helped in the planning and running of both programs.

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