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August, 2013 Issue

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Auburn University University Program Council

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Located in the heart of the deep South, Auburn University may be 2-3 hours from the nearest major market but it is anything but a small rural campus. With a student population of 25,000, it may be known as one of the predominant football schools in the country, but also a hub of student programming, with a healthy budget, an active schedule and involved student body. Featuring an entirely student-run activities board in it's University Program Council, the school derives its seven figure budget exclusively from student activities fees in tuitions, and offers its students free access to all their events to encourage participation. With over 23,000 attendees at events last year (nearly all open to students only), it appears the campus population is taking advantage of the opportunity.

Mike Rapay is the UPC Advisor, Laura Knizley is the President of UPC and Kristine Adams is the UPC Graduate Assistant, all of whom sit down with Campus Activities Magazine to discuss the ins and outs of UPC and their yearly planning strategies. UPC is comprised of approximately 60 council members, which includes directors and assistant directors with between 5 and 15 committee members per council area, which number 11 in total. "There are almost 100 committee members each year which puts the entire body of UPC between 150 and 200 members, depending on the year," Laura says. "Our campus size is about 25,000, around 20,000 of which are undergraduates with the remainder made up in the graduate schools. We program around 60 events a year in total."

The schedule of programming is interesting at Auburn, while 60 events may not sound like a ton, in fact when you look at the way their schedule works, it is pretty active. "That has probably been the best part since I have been here," Mike laughs, enjoying his first tenure at a major university, coming previously from Winthrop University and Christopher Newport University prior to that. "There are no weekend programs here at Auburn. Everything runs Monday through Friday and the reason for that is that in the fall, no one goes up against football, it just wouldn't work. Then in the spring, things like spring break, exams and other things on the weekends tend to interfere as well. So, we focus all of our activities during the week with the exception of Wednesdays."

Auburn is situated about two hours from Atlanta, an hour from Montgomery and is two hours to Birmingham, placing it in somewhat of a void when it comes to attractions off campus. "Auburn is very southern," Laura says, "it's located in Eastern Alabama but the closest big cities around us are each two hours away, so there are not a whole lot of things going on off campus. The weekdays are generally when people are on and around campus, especially those who live here." "We have a Research and Evaluation Committee which takes regular surveys to test throughout the years what works best for our student body and staying away from the weekends seems to be the best option."

The student body of Auburn is a diverse one, as with most major universities there are multiple fields of study so the population is not uniform. "We are a large university," Kristine says, "so we do have a lot of different areas of study, but we are mainly known for agriculture, engineering and a great business school. The students are really spread out in demographics across campus, so for that reason there is a really wide range of events that we offer. We plan everything from cooking workshops that people in nutritional and human sciences will be attracted to, to major concerts that draw large portions of students across the board. We have a carnival event called Tiger Nights that appeals to just about everyone. There is a really large range of events, whatever your interest is, there is probably something for you."

Music is popular on campus, as well as some comedy. "On the whole, there is definitely a highlight on quality versus quantity of events," Mike explains, "We tend to do better with the larger name speakers, comedians and concerts, so we focus a lot on the bigger booms than smaller weekly series of events. In the past we have had T-Pain, but then we are also very much a country campus, with students enjoying the Mumford type of folksy bands (who we haven't had specifically), and alternative and indie style bands work well also. There is a wide range of music appreciation on campus which gives us a lot of flexibility on who we go after."

Speakers work well also, again primarily focusing on artists of a stature that will draw plenty of attention. "Bill Nye was a huge success for us last year," he says, "probably because it attracted so many of the science majors here, but he also engaged that sense of nostalgia in a lot of students outside those majors as well. Known artists tend to do much better for us than trying to program a lot of the smaller scale events where it is harder to generate buzz to get a crowd drawn in. We did well with Keenan Thompson. We typically look for artists that start in the $4,000-$5,000 range and cap off in the $20,000-$30,000 area. It is a very wide range that still allows us to really stretch our budget."

While UPC couldn't afford an act quite the level of Mumford & Sons, last year they were able to host a major concert headlined by Train featuring Hot Chelle Rae ("Tonight, Tonight" and Green River Ordinance. "That was our big spring concert last year; we do have the good fortune of being able to work with a rather larger budget, which is one of the great benefits to students who attend this university. I would say when it's all said and done our budget is a little bit over one million."

That healthy budget is 100% student fee funded and UPC makes a concerted effort to make sure the student body is getting their money's worth. "That is why it is a completely student run organization. Laura and her three vice presidents run the show, as advisors, we just help facilitate that. Because it is the students' money the idea of having them self-govern is one that appeals to them, and that tends to reap more active participation from the general student body as well. That is also why we only open our events to students; there are a few occasions where we are open to the general public, but 95% of our events are available to Auburn students only. Not even faculty and staff have access, only the students that are actually contributing to the budget itself are able to attend and they come free."

It's not uncommon at many schools to see major concerts opened to the public to help recoup some of the expense of putting on a large scale event, an idea UPC is playing with. "It is a venture we are looking into for the upcoming spring. It's a plan we are considering, but up until now it has been just Auburn students."

Auburn sources its talent from a variety of places, but generally seems to do more leg work than just attending a conference and letting showcases pick their upcoming lineups for them. "We do use a middle agent for our major concert buys," Laura says, "which obviously can really streamline the process and most of the time pays for itself. Because we have directors and assistant directors in 11 different areas, the way each committee finds their programs can vary a lot. We use some talent brokers for our major comedians or concerts, but we have chefs come in for our cooking workshops or sometimes a guest emcee, and we really let the individual committee heads find out about that on their own and everyone's methods are different. It really depends on the event itself."

"For music, we usually go through a middle agent," Mike says, "because there is a lot more that can go into those types of events than other genres of performers. For comedians we generally deal directly with the agencies and pretty much everything else is someone they find online and have researched. They have gone to NACA's and found some talent there, sometimes they pull out a name that they find in the magazine, but for the most part it's researching online and talking to students. "We lean heavily on those research and evaluation polls that we do throughout the year.We are constantly going back to look through those because we know it is specifically what our students are asking for. Those are a great resource and do a really good job of finding out what students want."

UPC relies heavily on relationships they build and maintain with reputable agencies in the market, however that doesn't mean they are gun-shy about trying out new folks either. "There are always the agencies out there that we trust and have strong relationships with but that doesn't stop us from reaching out and talking to new agencies either. For the most part, the type of speakers and comedians we are looking for aren't always exclusive to a single roster, so we really like to work with the ones we have familiarity and a level of comfort with."

UPC does programs in a variety of places, including their basketball arena, outdoor events on their sports fields and smaller scale events in ballrooms and meeting spaces.

With a healthy budget, an active student population and a very robust programming board, Auburn University sets the tone for their region in programming, and seems to completely fulfill their mission statement to "provide an engaging atmosphere that enhances the Auburn experience by programming events planned, organized, and executed by students for students."

For more information on UPC and the programs at Auburn, contact Mike Rapay at (334) 844- 5361 or mrapay@auburn.edu.