No matter how long you've been in the special event industry, you should work toward earning certification as a special event professional. If you have already done so, don't stop going to conferences and classes.

That's the advice of Joe Jeff Goldblatt, Ph.D., CSEP, founding director of the George Washington University Event Management Certi-ficate Program.

THE GRADUATES GWU has the largest graduate program in event management, Gold-blatt says, with 4,000 students registered annually. This number includes enrollment through other universities that offer GWU's event certification program. "We've licensed our curriculum to seven other universities" in Brazil, Puerto Rico, the Philippines, Spain, Hungary, Oregon and Califor-nia, he notes.

The certificate requirements include successfully completing seven courses and 50 hours of practicum, submitting a portfolio and passing a comprehensive exam.

Besides GWU, Goldblatt says that 104 schools offer a course curriculum certificate or degree in studies related to event management.

One of these is the University of Nevada at Las Vegas, where students earning a bachelor's of science in hotel administration can choose to concentrate either on entertainment and event management or on conventions, meetings and trade shows. "By fall, we will also offer a certificate program," explains Patti Shock, associate professor and chair of the Tourism and Convention Department.

COOL CONFERENCES If you don't want to go back to school, conferences are a great way to boost your knowledge. The Special Event-the industry's premier annual conference and trade show, sponsored by Special Events Magazine-offers seminars, workshops and roundtable discussions on everything from liability issues to folding the perfect napkin. The Special Event 2001 will take place Jan. 10-13 in New Orleans.

If you don't want to wait until next year, GWU is offering three event management courses at the National Caterers Association Annual Educational Conference, slated for Feb. 19-23 in Washington.

THE DESIGNATED PROFESSIONAL Perhaps the most widely recognized designation is the Certified Special Events Professional, given by the International Special Events Society.

To earn the CSEP, students must "enroll, accumulate points through experience and service, begin a self study program or start a study group, complete the exam application form, and take the exam," according to ISES. It offers a special track to prepare for the exam atThe Special Event.

Additionally, ISES offers its annual Conference for Professional Develop-ment, held Aug. 5-8 this year in Tucson, Ariz. ISES members also can participate in online Web courses.

Mona Meretsky, president of Comcor Event and Meeting Productions, Fort Lauderdale, Fla., received her CSEP five years ago. "There are only about 82 CSEPs right now, but it will be more prevalent," she says. She likens the professional designation to that of accountants: "People want a CPA, not just someone who knows accounting. We all hope that's how it will be with the CSEP."

Besides taking classes and earning certification, Goldblatt recommends "benchmarking" as a means of continuing education. "Pick a company and spend time there. Learn from others; model their behavior," he says. "That's how education began. Socrates taught Aristotle by saying, 'Follow me around.'"

* George Washington University Event Management Program, 202/994-6002, www.gwu.edu/emp

* International Special Events Society, 800/688-4737, 317/571-5601, www.ises.com

* Leeds Metropolitan University, School of Tourism and Hospitality, Leeds, United Kingdom, +44 113 283 5937, www.lmu.ac.uk/ces.thm

* National Association of Catering Executives, 410/997-9055, www.nace.net

* National Caterers Association, 800/622-0029, 202/973-3964, www.ncacater.com

* New York University, School of Continuing and Professional Studies, the Center for Hospitality, Tourism and Travel Administration, 212/998-9100, www.scps.nyu.edu/dyncon/hosp

* Northeastern State University, Meetings and Destination Management Department, Tahlequah, Okla. 918/456-5511, ext. 3086, http://arapaho.nsuok.edu/~mdm

* San Francisco State University College of Extended Learning, 415/405-7700, www.cel.sfsu.edu

* Southern Oregon University (GWU program), Ashland, Ore., 541/552-8204, www.sou.edu/business/hrrm

* The Special Event, 800/288-8606, 720/489-3159, www.specialevents.com

* University of California, Extension, 310/206-6201, www.unex.ucla.edu

* University of Nevada at Las Vegas, Tourism and Convention Department, 702/895-3930, www.unlv.edu/Tourism

* University of San Diego (GWU program), 619/260-4231, www.acusd.edu/emp