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Summer of Success for Conference Services

By Mike Piacentino

Summer of Success for Conference Services

By Mike Piacentino
In its first summer as a standalone unit, the Office of Conference Services makes event planning easy for clients and UM service providers

As the summer comes to a close, the University’s newly formed Office of Conference Services (OCS) reflects on the successes of its first summer in operation and looks forward to the future.

This summer, OCS brought more than 40 groups to the Coral Gables campus, totaling nearly 3,000 conference guests, most of whom stayed multiple nights in one of UM’s residential colleges. Most of these groups were from outside of the university, such as returning camps iD TechVarsity Spirit and the Summer Institute for the Gifted. The office’s Summer Intern Housing Program also housed more than 150 interns, offering these non-local college students interning in the Miami area with convenient accommodations and engaging networking opportunities during their stay at UM.

“This first summer has been one of building upon Housing & Residential Life’s past successes with conference housing and growing into our office’s new role on campus,” said Richard Kenney, associate director of housing operations and facilitates. “In addition to expanding our services to provide our conference guests with more than just housing, we have strengthened our partnerships with many campus units in order to provide win-wins for both our clients and the University.”

As it continues to expand its scope of services, OCS is well on its way to providing a one-stop-shop experience for conference groups interested in hosting their event on campus.

“Sometimes up to nine different UM offices need to be involved in order to put on just one camp or conference at the University,” said Wendy Villeta, assistant director for conference services. “By becoming the go-to resource for external groups, we are actively making this process more efficient not only for our clients, but for UM’s service providers as well.”

In addition to easing the planning process for everyone in involved, OCS hopes to serve more groups from within the university, year-round. With the construction of the new Student Housing Village and its expansive, multi-use spaces, the office plans to further expand their services to internal university groups.

“The new housing village, and overall strategic plan for Housing & Residential Life, has a large impact on the success of conference services at UM,” added Kenney, who also heads OCS. “By adding unique event spaces, classrooms and training rooms into our new housing facilities, we’ve intentionally incorporated the needs of conferences and camps into these spaces, rather than making those needs an afterthought.”

Looking ahead, OCS will serve as the campus manager for the University’s new investment in Event Conference Management System (ECMS). This new suite of software platforms will make it easy for space managers, event planners and other UM service providers to collaborate and share event details all in one place.

“The University has identified a core set of systems that will help us all in our daily jobs whether we plan events or not,” Kenney said. “Through the diligent work of UMIT led by Maria Pugliese and Dominque Okonkwo, as well as Stephanie Cox, Brandon Gross, and Mariano Estrada, we plan to roll out ECMS in the very near future.”

As OCS plans for its new future as a standalone office, it is tasked with not only improving service excellence and creating linkages among UM’s many service providers, but it is also looking outwards and focusing its efforts on bringing national organizations to sunny South Florida.

“With its great weather and rich cultural hotspots, the Miami area is an attractive destination for conference planners and participants alike,” Kenney said. “The future of OCS is bright and we look forward to partnering with many units across the institution to making their conference and event ideas become a reality.”