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Families weekend arrives

By Farrah Madanay     10/12/11 7:00pm

Rice University is gearing up to host an expected 1,500 friends and family members of Rice students beginning Thursday, October 20. Jennifer Harding, Director of Reunion Programs and Special Events, in conjunction with the Student Steering Committee, led by Student Association External Vice President, Sanjula Jain, has worked diligently to plan this year's Rice Families Weekend 2011.

"The committee requested a "Rice" theme which was introduced with owl graphics. The owls on the brochure and website are from Campaniles ranging back to the 1930s, possibly 1920s," Harding said.

As for the activities, Rice Families Weekend 2011 kicks off on Thursday with Shepherd school music recitals, "Wiess One Acts" and a tour through Rice Gallery's recently acquired Ana Serrano Salon of Beauty exhibition. Friday through Sunday activities include roundtable coffee meet-and-greets with college masters and residential associates, iced tea-laden receptions,campus tours and a special Families Weekend Lecture Series.

"The weekend is similar in structure to past years with a focus on the academic during the day on Friday and a focus on social, cultural and athletic events on Friday evening and Saturday," said Harding.

Though the structure may remain the same, Rice Families Weekend 2011 departs from previous years with the new addition of "The Amazing Rice" to the schedule. The Amazing Rice begins with a reception Friday afternoon, and features Gulf Coast fiesta fare, music by the Rice Jazz Band, guided tours and an interactive scavenger hunt.

"The Amazing Rice is modeled after ‘The Amazing Race.' It's basically a really simple scavenger hunt that syncs with smart phones and guides parents and families around to the key spots on Rice campus," said Jain.

The Student Steering Committee chose prominent locations on campus and Nick Irza, a civil engineer and member of the committee, designed the scavenger hunt game with the SCVNGR smart phone app software. Those without smart phones may participate using a paper map alternative. Once at the specified locations, users earn points for correctly answering trivia questions or completing tasks associated with the location.

"The beauty of the app is that users can go to the various locations on the trek at their leisure and in order which they prefer. We hope this degree of personalization will encourage more families to explore the campus and learn more about it as they guide themselves," said Irza.

Though those who complete the scavenger hunt are eligible to place their name in a raffle drawing for prizes, the chief goal of the scavenger hunt is for families to familiarize themselves with Rice campus and learn about Rice history.

"While guided tours are always an option during Families Weekend, the SCVNGR app allows the user to enjoy a much more genuine experience of Rice as well as develop a lasting impression of the campus through completing the challenges and finding the various buildings," Irza said.

In addition to the scavenger hunt, afternoon and evening activities on Friday and Saturday are varied and plentiful, in order to accommodate the expected number of students and guests. These activities range from the Rice Italian Club's bocce ball tournament to an a cappella performance by the Rice Philharmonics. Friday night culminates with comedic improv by Spontaneous Combustion, followed by Baker College's annual Baker Blues public party.

Don blue and white colors and cheer for the Rice Football men Saturday evening as the team vies for their sixth-straight home win against Tulsa. Preceding the game is a Goode Company-catered barbecue for all registered students and guests.

Beyond the free food, performances, tours, and yes, an owl pinata, Jain wishes to highlight that Families Weekend 2011 is about showcasing Rice. Families should sense that Rice excels not only because of the rich social culture, but also because of the first-rate academics.

"I want to emphasize the career panels. The students picked the professors for the lecture series because we wanted to make the lectures exciting for the students too. Though the weekend is for families, I would love to see Rice students come out and have fun," Jain said.

A comprehensive, hour-by-hour schedule is provided on the Rice Families Weekend 2011 website at

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