The learning experience of a lifetime: Hosting a student Conclave

This rocket-netting workshop was one of the many educational opportunities students had at the Northeast Student Conclave last month. ©Gordon W. Dimmig Photography/TWS Juniata College Student Chapter

September 2015 – 8 months until Northeast Conclave

There is a certain feeling you get when something is too big or too far away – you feel as though it’ll never come. There is a sense of peace in that feeling. There is also a sense of flailing about wildly in a sort of panic. I think I can safely speak for all of us on the Northeast Conclave planning committee at Juniata College when I say that I felt both of those things at the same time during this entire eight-month planning period.

Walking into the little classroom for a Special Topic class titled “Wildlife Conclave,” I had no idea what would be happening over the next year. I was simply a lowly freshman who saw the word “Wildlife” in the name and signed up. I did not know anything when I signed up, but I soon learned a lot.

These past eight months have been the learning experience of a lifetime, not just for me, but for everyone involved as none of us had ever had anything to do with large event planning. As you can imagine, it was about to be a fun eight months.

January 2016 – 4 months until Northeast Conclave

Our month long winter break was fantastic, that is, until we all got back and realized it was Conclave crunch time.

With a change in meeting time, membership and attendance was shuffled around for our planning committee. Some sub-committees, mine included, were cut down to just one person. This new situation provided some obstacles, but we knew it would be ok.

Details were finalized and each sub-committees’ project plan was solidified. An incredible amount had gotten done, but there were miles to go before we made it to our weekend in April. All of the merchandise needed to be ordered, our website needed to be finalized and published, registrations needed to be collected, workshops needed to be organized… It was too much to handle at once. We had to stop, breathe, prioritize, and go.

March 1, 2016 – 1 month until Northeast Conclave

It was crunch time – time for us to turn our paper plans into a physical reality. As registrations came in, we began to realize how impossible it was to give everyone what they wanted, but we did the best we could. With registrations, there were constantly small changes here, little shifts there, and when they all came to together it turned out to be a lot, but we managed it.

March was also the time for ordering items. We had an interesting variety of items coming in, from 16 boxes of graham crackers—for s’mores of course—to 200 customized pens. Boxes were coming in daily throughout March, and Conclave was becoming more than just an idea.

Our workshops were set, not quite in stone, but perhaps in something softer like play-dough or rubber. I think we all looked forward to our Friday meetings, partly for the snacks our advisor provided but also because we were really getting used to spending a lot of time together. The close-knit group we were forming was really what helped make planning go as smoothly as it did.

March 25, 2016 – 1 week until Northeast Conclave

A week left. Just one more week and the stress would be over, but there was still a lot to do. We had to make a game plan for what would happen when we arrived at Camp Blue Diamond, our host location. We had to make Conclave booklets. We had to finalize workshop locations, placements, and helpers. Additionally, some unexpected challenges presented themselves that threw us all for a loop.

The laptops that we had been planning on using for the Distance Lab workshop would not download the needed software. Multiple groups were having difficulty paying. On Thursday, two days before Conclave, we got a call from Enterprise Rent-a-Car, saying that all of our rental cars had been recalled. The last week was a week of quick fixes and stressful times.

There were two extremely late nights which involved a lot of hard work—no talking, face-in-the-computer, the not-moving-out-of-your-seat-for-hours kind of work. However, during those nights there was also a much-needed late night snack run, a slight bit of You-Tube watching, and a lot messing around in rolling chairs. And despite such hard, late night work, there was a lot of laughing.

You see, our secret for Conclave planning was balancing the stress with goofing off and enjoying each other’s company, because the best work occurs when you’re just on the brink of insanity.

April 1, 2016 – The day is here!

The day we had been waiting for had finally arrived. Our fleet of six rental minivans was parked, waiting to be filled with our many boxes. After 20 or so minutes of loading up, we were on our way to Camp Blue Diamond to get started.

Of course, we had created a nice, organized plan for what would happen once we arrived, but despite our best efforts, we became a swarm of “Where should I go?” and “What needs to get done now?” Despite the muddled confusion, we set everything up, had registration ready, moved our boxes to their designated areas, labeled the buildings so people could find their way, and we were ready to go.

The first day was amazing. To see all of these people, college students, professionals, advisors, all arriving at this event that we created was an incredible experience. Registration, dinner, and our social mixer went off with few complications.

After our day’s activities ended, we hunkered down to finish our work on the Quiz Bowl event. Let me tell you, Quiz Bowl is not something you should save until the night before. About eight of us worked until two in the morning to finish those questions.

Since we got up at 6:00 AM for breakfast duty, none of us got much sleep. The day ahead was one full of meals, workshops, and finally, Quiz Bowl. Each of our volunteers assisted with a few workshops, so we got a taste of what other groups were experiencing. After dinner, we began Quiz Bowl. It was a bit crazy for the first few rounds, but once we figured it out everyone seemed to enjoy themselves. The day was beautiful, exhausting, and quick.

On Sunday, we finished up the weekend with breakfast, some offsite workshops, lunch, and our award ceremony. At the end, we had multiple teams congratulate us on a weekend well done. We had spent the whole weekend so busy running around thinking that it was this huge hectic event, but it was exactly all that running around that made everyone think things were going smoothly. After final cleanup, we were off. The weekend was over. Conclave was done.

The Aftermath

For me, as a student and a member of The Wildlife Society, hosting Conclave was an incredible experience. There were endless fine details that needed figuring out, along with large purchases, big decisions, and a lot of quality time spent with the entire planning committee.

There were a few lessons we learned that got us through the year that we want to pass on to the next Conclave planners.

  1. Use your stress to your advantage – It’s easy to let stress get the best of you, but try and use it to power your next step instead of questioning your previous one.
  2. Create a project schedule, but don’t worship it – Creating a schedule for when things can get done relieves a lot of pressure, but that doesn’t mean each item has to get done when you say it will. Leave yourself some room for error
  3. Don’t be afraid of making decisions – Making any decision, especially the first one, can be tricky, but don’t let it intimidate you.
  4. Niceness moves mountains – Be nice to everyone you talk to. If you’re nice to someone, chances are they’ll help you. People are good that way.
  5. Take a minute to stop and appreciate – Just stop, and appreciate. Appreciate your own dedication to a project. Appreciate how much has gotten done so far. Appreciate your advisor for guiding you through this process. Most importantly, appreciate all of the hardworking, dedicated people you’ve been working with for months, and take a minute to stop and say thank you. They deserve it.

Planning Northeast Conclave was a long journey. It is one that we are thankful for, and one we will never forget. So thank you, and to all you Northeast Wildlifers, we’ll see you next year!