Upon learning that she could earn a bachelor's degree in hospitality management, Cedar Watson ditched her plans to major in psychology, opting to pursue studies that would lead to a career in event management instead. Now a graduate student at the University of Central Florida/Rosen College of Hospitality Management in Orlando, Fla., Watson says she found that many of the qualities she loves about psychology translate into event planning and management. “Designing events incorporates the emotional needs of an individual,” she explains.
Aspiring special event professionals also can meet their event education goals by attending Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis, located in Indianapolis, which offers degrees through its department of tourism, conventions and event management. Several other institutions of higher education, such as the University of Las Vegas, Nevada's Harrah Hotel College in Las Vegas, and Madison Area Technical College in Madison, Wis., offer degrees serving the event industry.
A PASSION FOR PLANNING
Some brides dread orchestrating the details of their weddings, but Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis student Ileah Baier was not one of them. Baier “enjoyed every minute” of planning her wedding and changed her major from finance to tourism, conventions and event management soon after she tied the knot. Many students cite their desires to express their creativity and work in a variety of environments as reasons for pursuing careers in the event industry. Cedar Watson's sister, Megan, is pursuing graduate studies in events at the Rosen College of Hospitality Management because she “couldn't imagine having a 9-to-5-type job,” she says. “Working in the event industry, each day is something different, and that's what I love.”
BEYOND THE BOOKS
Many colleges require that students complete a specific number of internship hours, and for good reason. “Real-world experience is a must for those seeking a degree in the event management field,” says Janet Sperstad, director of Madison Area Technical College's meeting and event management program. Megan Watson agrees: “Today, a degree in the industry needs to be backed up by experience working in the industry.” She started as an intern in the production department of Orlando, Fla.-based Universal Studios Orlando four years ago and is now the full-time entertainment production coordinator. “Practical experience is what sets you apart from the rest of the students looking to begin a career in the industry,” she adds.
HARD WORK PAYS OFF
After receiving an associate degree through Madison Area Technical College's meeting and event management program in 2007, Allison McCarty landed a conference specialist position at the World Council of Credit Unions in Madison, Wis. She credits her work outside the classroom for helping her prepare for her current position. “In my job, we have an annual international conference each year that draws nearly 2,000 attendees,” McCarty says. “Without the prior experience of working for a large conference while interning at an education-based organization, I don't believe that I would have been prepared for my position.”
Alison Huber, a 2006 graduate of the same program, says, “I wouldn't have my position as events planner for the Wisconsin Association of School Boards without participating in this program.” As a student, Huber also “took every advantage of volunteer opportunities — from helping onsite for small events, to joining a team for an 800-plus conference.”
UP TO THE CHALLENGE
Baier says that her biggest challenge in the event planning industry will also be one of the biggest rewards — starting her own business. Heidi Colon, another hospitality management student at Rosen College of Hospitality Management, says that choosing a career in event planning was a “simple decision,” but she anticipates up and downs. “The most challenging things about pursuing a career in this industry will be the ongoing competition and the economy,” she says, “while the most rewarding aspect will be witnessing the finished product — seeing the events come to life.”
McCarty says her personal industry challenge is “being someone who took formal training and entered a field with many people who just ‘fell into it’ — there are some that embrace you and those who don't.” She adds, “You just have to work hard to prove yourself and make strides in the industry.”
For a list of two- and four-year as well as wgraduate event management degree programs, visit our Web site at specialevents.com/training/college_courses.
Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis
Madison Area Technical College
University of Central Florida/Rosen College of Hospitality Management