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THE Association of College Conference and Events Directors-International celebrates its 25th anniversary this year with a record 1,449 members and an ongoing mission to improve, promote and recognize excellence in the collegiate conference and event profession. Barbara Romano, director of conference services and event planning at Cornell University, Ithaca, N.Y., serves as president-elect, and will assume the presidency in March. Here, she discusses her work and plans:

SPECIAL EVENTS MAGAZINE: What does your job heading up events at Cornell entail?

BARBARA ROMANO: I provide leadership that supports the operations of three community centers, conferences and events for the Department of Campus Life and ensures excellent service to students, staff, faculty, university departments, on- and off-campus clients, parents, alumni and visitors. The conference staff and I are ambassadors for the university, providing expertise to assist others with planning and coordinating all conference and event logistics on the Cornell campus and surrounding communities. Additional responsibilities include oversight of a $3.3 million budget, hosting 125 conferences and events and over 3,500 meetings annually, strategic and long-range planning, and ensuring {that} business supports the mission and incorporates our department's core values. Our clients include faculty, staff, alumni, students, local community members, campus visitors and associations whose mission parallels higher education.

Q: How is planning an event on a university campus unique in the special event industry?

A: What may differentiate us is that we have numerous venues to work with not only on our campuses but also within our community. The venues vary in size, architecture and type — gym, ice rink, hotel, private home, art museum — and can be indoors or easily set up outdoors. Also, events are nonstop in our environment, and you can plan everything from a groundbreaking to a reunion to a dedication to an employee event. The purpose of the events and the attendees vary, which keeps the planning interesting.

Q: How do you keep annual events exciting?

A: Keeping an annual event exciting can be challenging but also fun! The process is in understanding the purpose of the event, target audience and budget, and knowing the abilities of the service providers who support the event and contribute to its success. Annual events provide an opportunity to improve on glitches, refine the details, introduce trends and allow you to take a risk — that is, have fun! — to sell a new vision and raise the bar.

Q: Do you have a formal means of measuring the effectiveness of events at Cornell?

A: Yes. We've worked with our university's communications and marketing services department; they've managed focus groups for us. They were able to obtain honest feedback and provide us with a valid assessment of our services. I will admit the information can be difficult to hear, but it is critical to receive it. The client's feedback is what empowers us to make changes and work toward reaching our ultimate goal of providing excellent service, which meets students' and clients' needs. We also utilize the standard comment card, known to all as the “report card.” This is a quick, six-question survey. Facilitators provide us with feedback they've received from their attendees' evaluations. Also, Cornell's Department of Alumni Affairs and Development Department provide us with a wealth of feedback every year gathered from over 3,000 alumni who choose to stay on campus during reunion weekend.

Q: What has been your most memorable event and why?

A: Several come to mind, including the 1990 $1.5 billion capital campaign initiated by {then} president Frank H.T. Rhodes. I was general manager for Cornell Dining, and during the campaign my role was to manage the catered events that took place over the three days of celebration — dinner parties ranging from a 900-person buffet to a 1,500-person sit-down dinner to 16 private dinner parties. I had the opportunity to work with some real masterminds throughout the university.

Q: What made you step up to the plate as next in line to lead ACCED-I?

A: I have always been the type to get involved. The past leadership has been strong, and the association has the momentum to truly carry out its mission. The association has increased its visibility over the past few years, has a solid strategic plan in place, and has members who are willing to assist colleagues and share information. I look forward to providing the leadership to keep ACCED-I on track and launch its 26th year.

Barbara Romano can be reached at [email protected]. The Web site of Fort Collins, Colo.-based ACCED-I is

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