Senior Stories: The Event Planner, Joe Altenau

When almost 2,000 undergraduate seniors participate in Commencement on the National Mall Sunday they will leave behind their years at GW, but many will not be forgotten. The Hatchet spoke with faculty, staff and students to find 10 seniors who have made a lasting impression during their undergraduate years.

For theater major Joe Altenau, it’s all about the lights.

“When I go anywhere, whether it is a concert, a club or a show, a big dork in me comes out and I just start looking at the lighting,” the Eastchester, N.Y., native said.

Growing up near New York City allowed Altenau to see many Broadway shows, which piqued his interest in stage design. In high school, Altenau designed all of the lights for school shows and when he was accepted to GW he was awarded the Presidential Arts Scholarship – an annual tuition stipend of $15,000.

Since coming to Foggy Bottom, Altenau has taken the lead in set and lighting design for GW productions and recently won the prestigious Tim Evans Award for design.

But during the past four years, the graduating senior also found time to keep his eyes on other things, like sports. Altenau has been a member of the cross-country team since freshman year, taking home the MVP award last year.

“They are like two opposites,” Altenau said about his activities in college.

Altenau says he usually devotes 20 hours a week to cross-country and more than that for theater. “I wasn’t sure how much of a time commitment everything would be and it certainly has been a challenge,” he said.

Though his friends often joke that he’s getting a major in learning how to turn on lights, Altenau is confident that his skills will be useful in his pursuit of a career in event management.

This summer, Altenau will work in Bejing for NBC, hosting their VIP guests who are invited to attend the Olympics.

In the future, Altenau said he wants to pursue an event management career that allows him to utilize his knowledge of set design. He is confident his abilities to identify good lighting and sound will put him ahead of the game.

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