Rice University's Centennial Celebration, a multi-year joint effort by the administration, Student Association, Rice Program Council, the Graduate Student Association and university staff, saw a turnout and response that exceeded the expectations of many involved in planning the events.
Held from Oct. 10-14, the Centennial weekend featured events for faculty, staff, alumni, students, donors and Houston community members alike, including the Centennial Lecture Series, Esperanza, Faculty and Staff Reception, Alumni Finale, an international panel of visiting university presidents, the Spectacle and the Student Vision for the Second Century Town Hall, among other events.
Centennial Director Kathleen Boyd said she was surprised by the high turnout for several events, such as the Centennial Picnic, Faculty and Staff Reception and homecoming football game, which had nearly double the expected number of attendees.
According to Boyd, approximately 6,000 alumni registered to attend events during the Centennial weekend, with more attending who did not register. Boyd said this number was above expectations, since the typical alumni turnout for homecoming at universities is around 3,000 or 4,000.
Since the floor of Autry Court in Tudor Fieldhouse can seat approximately 1,000 people, Boyd estimated at least that many people attended each of the four lectures in the Centennial Lecture Series, since she said the floor was fairly full for each lecture. She estimated between 2,000 and 2,500 people attended the lecture by architect Rem Koolhaas, and said 28,000 attendees were at the homecoming football game on Oct. 13.
Hanszen College freshman Tom Kim said though he appreciated the break, he did not feel this midterm recess was much different than any other fall break.
"I feel like the majority of students didn't go to a lot of Centennial events - like they went to Esperanza, Spectacle, Architectronica, and the block parties and that's it," Kim said. "It just felt like any other break where all these events happened."
Martel College junior Michael Ip said he enjoyed Centennial weekend.
"Rice did a really good job in bringing a lot of people here, building a lot of things, especially the tent, which was amazing, and just using the resources to throw a great Centennial party," Ip said. "It was awesome."
The SA played a large role in ensuring student-centered events were incorporated into the Centennial celebrations, according to SA President Sanjula Jain.
"I've heard great things from students," Jain, a Brown College senior, said. "I haven't heard many negatives. I think if we [the SA] hadn't gotten involved and said, 'Hey, we need to make this more geared toward students,' it wouldn't have had such a positive reaction. I can confidently say that. I think everyone had a great time."
President David Leebron said he has been to other universities' celebrations and had never seen anything go as well as Rice's Centennial.
"To my great surprise, it vastly exceeded my expectations," Leebron said. "It didn't feel like it was just a big party. It really felt special."
Leebron said he felt the two most important events were Esperanza on Oct. 12 and the Alumni Finale on the night of Oct. 13.
"They really captured the reactions of the people and the spirit of what was going on," Leebron said. "I thought it was fabulous to see our whole community come together like that. People do want to celebrate the university, and that's what these events reflected. There was a sense of, 'This is special. This is for us.'"
Dean of Undergraduates John Hutchinson said the objective of the Centennial was to inspire enthusiasm for the university as it moves into its second century and to build a sense of community and pride.
"My measure of success is the community response, and the community response exceeded my expectations," Hutchinson said. "The campus really came together as a tight knit community. What I'm hoping has come out of this is a sense of emotional commitment to the university by everyone: faculty, staff, alumni and students."
Boyd said the Centennial office has been budget-conscious in planning Centennial activities.
"We piggybacked on existing budgets," Boyd said. "For example, the Centennial Lecture Series replaced the President's Lecture Series, so we used money for that. Celebrate Rice: The World Tour replaced annual presidential visits to cities where alumni and friends live."
For Celebrate Rice: The World Tour, which began in March 2012, Leebron has been visiting cities such as Istanbul, Dallas, New York City, Washington, D.C., and San Francisco to meet alumni. He will visit Taipei and Hong Kong in November, according to the Centennial website.
"That was a budget that would have been spent anyway," Boyd said. "We just put a Centennial spin on it."
Boyd declined to disclose the cost of the construction of the Centennial tent.
"It is probably less expensive than holding all of those events we held in there off campus, which would be terrible," Boyd said. "The whole point is to bring everyone together at Rice. Strategically it was very important to keep people on campus."
Hutchinson said the next focus of the university regarding the Centennial is to achieve the goal set for the Centennial Campaign, a fundraising effort set to finish by July 2013. The $1 billion goal was set five years ago, he said.
The campaign would go toward funding construction projects, such as the two most recently built residential colleges and the construction of the Barbara and David Gibbs Recreation and Wellness Center, as well as a large endowment for student scholarship funding, faculty positions and the creation of the Kinder Institute for Urban Research, among other things, Hutchinson said.
Volunteers and donors have raised $906 million toward the campaign's $1 billion goal as of Oct. 10, 2012, according to the Centennial Campaign website.
Vice President of Resource Development Darrow Zeidenstein said he believes there were two goals for the Centennial.
"First, we wanted to do something that would be truly unforgettable," Zeidenstein said. "Second, we wanted to keep our alumni, students, faculty, staff, and friends excited about our mission and our future success. I think we have succeeded."
Vice President for Public Affairs Linda Thrane said the university also strove to incorporate the greater Houston community into the Centennial celebrations.
"Whether it was the Spectacle, the lectures, the academic procession - we tried to make it as much an experience for them as it was for the Rice people," Thrane said. "We wanted to let folks know that Rice is here to serve Houston, because Houston has done so much for Rice. In effect, Houston and Rice have grown together. Centennial really helped get that message across."
Leebron credited much of the success of the Centennial to the diligence of staff in ensuring everything ran smoothly.
Assistant Vice President of Facilities Russell Price said staff members were in the Facilities Center Wednesday through Sunday until midnight.
"All hands [were] on deck," Price said. "Picking up trash cans was in everyone's job description. Everybody was pitching in to help. There weren't any lines drawn, like 'No, that's not my job.' It was a team effort."
Jain said the SA was heavily involved in integrating several student-centered events into the Centennial weekend schedule: the North and South college block parties, the SV2C Town Hall, Real World Roundup, Mr. Rice, Architectronica, Tailgate Owley, the Centennial Cup and the college open houses.
When Jain took office, the SA had not budgeted for or been given any funds for any Centennial-related expenses, she said.
"From when I took office, we hadn't budgeted for anything Centennial," Jain said. "In that aspect, the entire thing was unexpected."
When the SA created the Centennial Student Involvement Committee in 2011 to determine the role students would play in the Centennial, funds had not been set aside for any Centennial costs, CSIC chairman Clinton Willbanks said. In July 2012, Jain, Willbanks and SA External Vice President Yoonjin Min submitted a formal proposal soliciting funding from Hutchinson's office, Willbanks, Jones College senator and junior, said.
The SA was subsequently given $13,500 from the offices of Hutchinson, Leebron and Alumni Affairs, according to Jain. The funds went toward food for Tailgate Owley, the production of the Centennial Cup, the $1,000 prize for the Cup competition, the disc jockey for the Centennial picnic, color-changing cups at the picnic, and the costs of marketing posters and flyers put up in every college, Jain said. According to Willbanks, the CSIC, which was responsible for planning these events, spent $12,082.48 in total.
Each college also received $1,000 from the Centennial office to create college exhibits to showcase to alumni and students; however, the SA had requested this funding so that the exhibits could occur, Jain said. The SA had financial support in co-sponsoring other Centennial events with established organizations across campus, according to Willbanks.
The SA spent approximately $3,500 from its own budget on printing cards and catering food for the SV2C Town Hall, monetary prizes for the Rice Memorial Center design contest and the Real World Round-up event, co-sponsored with the Office of Alumni Affairs, Jain said.
The Real World Roundup event, held on Oct. 11, brought young alumni working in various fields to speak with students. Min, a Jones College junior, said the event was well-attended, with 130 students who RSVP'd.
SA Treasurer Hersh Agrawal said the SA had originally allocated approximately $4,500 of their budget toward these expenses. He is still in the process of finalizing receipts, according to Jain.
"The reason we have money leftover is because Dean [Hutchinson] was so nice with matching what the proposal said," Agrawal said.
Jain said that she had asked RPC to move Mr. Rice, which occurred on Oct. 11, to Centennial weekend. Architectronica was a last-minute addition to the Centennial schedule, according to Jain.
"I felt we had a hole in our program on Saturday night and I wanted people to go to the Spectacle," Jain said. "That's why we did the [Student Finale] dinner in the colleges and talked to archis to do it because it's like a rave and light party. At one point we were told we wouldn't be able to do the archi party because [Rice University Police Department] and [Emergency Medical Services] were spread so thin, but we worked with [Hutchinson] to make it happen."
Jain said she thought events such as the Student Finale dinner and the Real World Round-up were integral.
"I know that the Centennial didn't have a lot of plans for alumni and student interactions, and that was something Yoonjin and I really thought was important," Jain said.
According to Jain, there was some resistance regarding the scheduling of the Student Finale dinner at the colleges on the night of the Alumni Finale: Party of the Century, held in the Centennial tent.
"In our original planning, we got a lot of pushback from the Homecoming and Centennial offices and just got one hour to do it because it would overlap with the [Finale]," Jain said.
Jain said that many alumni decided to stay at the colleges and not go to the Finale.
"That really goes to show how important student involvement was in retrospect, and it was just funny because they didn't want us to originally," Jain said. "They were adamant that the time frame could only be 5:30 to 7:30, which was tough because the football game went past 5:30, and the Finale started at 7. There was a time where they were like, 'Why are you guys even bothering with this event?'"
Wilbanks said he did not think the Centennial Commission, which was charged with planning the Centennial celebration and managing the Centennial Campaign, initially realized the importance of engaging students during the weekend celebrations. The Centennial Commission is composed of alumni, faculty, board members, community leaders, the administration, the SA and GSA presidents, Centennial class representatives and Willbanks himself.
"There was a lot of making sure there was funding in place for events and reserving of spaces," Willbanks said. "It was an uphill battle to kind of really help them recognize just how important it is to make sure students had a great time, but I think we accomplished it."
Willbanks said he thought the Commission's efforts were initially focused on engaging the alumni.
"They realized I think as they got further along on the process that [ ... ] you have to have your internal house in order and make sure the people here on a day-to-day basis are just as welcomed as an [alumnus]," Willbanks said.
Jain said the SA had to put in a lot of effort into advocating for greater student engagement during the Centennial.
"It was frustrating from an [administration] perspective," Jain said. "It was hard to work with them. They worked with us after we pushed for it and advocated it."
Hutchinson said the SA helped to expand student programming during the Centennial.
"The events were planned for all sectors of the Rice community from the outset," Hutchinson said. "However, under Sanjula's leadership, additional programs were created of specific interest for students."
Hutchinson said he was not aware of any difficulty students had working with administrators and staff to promote greater student engagement during Centennial.
"We did negotiate with the SA about their proposals to find ways to use additional funding optimally, and I think we all agreed on the final allocations of the additional funds," Hutchinson said. "I think the SA did a wonderful job of working with the Centennial Commission to encourage student participation."
Willbanks said there should have been greater recognition on the students' side as well of how important student involvement in the Centennial would be.
"I don't really want to blame [the administration] for that," Willbanks said. "Part of this goes back to the fact that we didn't recognize and think about how we were going to implement the events for students until like five months before the Centennial and they've been planning this event for four years."
Willbanks said he hoped the SA's work with the Centennial could serve as a model.
"It was a lot of passive aggressive emails, a lot of pushing certain buttons on people and trying to pull the strings," Willbanks said. "I hope the administration can recognize where the importance of the faculty and students in the actual planning process and how important it is to meet their needs with everything they're doing. It's not just about how the external world views us."
Jain said she was initially nervous about taking on the initiative of making the Centennial relevant for students.
"Everyone was talking about [Austin City Limits] and booking tickets to leave and I felt that students needed to be here," Jain said. "I know some people still went to ACL but [...] it became a cultural norm to stay and I think that was an ultimate metric way to see what we did. A few months ago that was not the case."
One of the largest events held during Centennial was the Centennial Picnic, which occurred during lunch on Oct. 12. The expected number of attendees was 5,000, but approximately 8,500 people attended, according to Manager of Communications for Facilities, Engineering & Planning Susann Glenn.
Willbanks said CSIC contributed the idea for the Picnic, which featured 9 different food vendors, including Chick-fil-A, Papa John's, Sushic and food trucks, such as Phamily Bites, Oh My Gogi! BBQ and Monster PB&J.
"There had been given time for a carnival-style event with a photobooth, the same old same old picnic that [the university has] had in previous years," Willbanks said. "We wanted to make it bigger. We said, 'Well, that's cool, we think we can do something better.' We came up with the idea of having a great picnic and providing awesome food. One of our committee members thought of having food trucks."
Director of the Faculty Club Ann Swain said the cost of putting on the picnic was comparable to having all-you-can-eat options in the serveries and that she operated with practically no limitations on budget.
"We kept adding vendors, kept asking them to ship more food," Swain said. "We tried to have as much variety as we could and we knew what was really popular. We had relationships with a lot of the vendors, like Chick-fil-A and Papa John's."
Jain said that the SA decided to pay for a DJ for the Picnic to enhance the atmosphere.
"We didn't know we had to pay for a DJ for the picnic," Jain said. "It wasn't something that was told to us like, 'Hey, find a DJ.' It was something we felt was lacking that would make it fun for students."
Swain said there were no major glitches in the event and she would be interested in holding an event of a similar scale in the future.
Hanszen College sophomore Tatiana Narvaez, who attended the event, said that though she thought the picnic was a great idea, she felt it was too hot to wait in the lines for food.
"The picnic was a fun way to enjoy a variety of different foods," Narvaez said. "From what I heard, the food was good, but I had no desire to wait in those lines."
Willbanks said the Picnic demonstrated Rice has the capacity to host events of this scope at an on-campus location.
"It shows that even though we have a lot of space on campus for activities like that, we can still have a great time in those spaces," Willbanks said.
SV2C Town Hall
The SV2C Town Hall was attended by approximately 200 people, according to SV2C chair Kathleen Barker.
The SV2C consists of 10 points: cultivate academic excellence; strengthen Rice identity; preserve financial accessibility; empower students to be dynamic scholars; advance the residential college system; expand student life resources; promote wellness and balance; foster collaborative relationships; engage communities beyond the hedges; and build innovative leaders.
To gather the 10 points, the committee conducted exit interviews with seniors last year, surveys of incoming freshmen this year on why they chose Rice and engaged in focus groups with club leaders and other continuing students on campus, Barker, a Brown College senior, said.
Hutchinson said he thought the SV2C was well done and the committee did careful research.
"They did their homework," Hutchinson said. "[One question I had at the Town Hall was that] not everything that's there can be simultaneously achieved, so a good question is what are the priorities."
Barker said that the committee plans to publish a full report at the end of the academic year.
"We need to make sure we really articulate the specifics in our full report so we can advocate for the things we want and outline what resources are required," Barker said. "A lot has to do with a change in mentality and how people operate in the status quo and that doesn't require money."
Barker said she sees the SV2C as a supplement to Leebron's Vision for the Second Century.
"There are striking similarities, which makes sense because we do all have common goals for the university," Barker said.
RPC distributed 2,100 tickets to undergraduates and 200 tickets to graduate students, selling out for Esperanza this year, according to RPC social Sachin Allahabadi.
The official formals budget allotted out of this year's RPC budget was $9,000, RPC social Libby Ulman said. The cost of hosting Esperanza was paid by ticket sale revenues in addition to the RPC budget, Allahabadi, a Sid Richardson College senior, said.
"The RPC Esperanza/Socials budget plus money made from ticket sales helped pay for the food, DJ Samantha Ronson, the mixologists, the ice sculpture, photography and intelligent lighting," he said.
Ulman, a Sid Richardson senior, said she and Allahabadi were told two years ago that Esperanza would be held in the Centennial tent.
"We saved a lot of money that would normally be spent booking a venue since the university paid for the tent and tent staff," Allahabadi said. "Oftentimes, having an event at a different venue locks you into that venue's catering, so having our own venue in the on-campus tent really gave us the freedom to explore popular food options we normally wouldn't necessarily have."
Because the tent was on campus, the socials were able to bring in food options that would not have been available at other events, Allahabadi said.
"One of the ways we took advantage of having the tent on campus is by having the various options with the food trucks, dumplings inside, catering and bars, and pizza delivery," he said.
The RPC budget for the event was slightly lower this year than in previous years because of the addition of a committee in RPC, which slightly decreased all committee budgets, Ulman said.
Approximately 100 of the 2,300 total tickets sold were free, non-refundable, non-transferable tickets given to students on the night of Skyzone. The undergraduate tickets cost $20 each and graduate tickets cost $25 each. Graduate students' tickets were more expensive because they do not pay blanket tax fees to RPC, he said.
Ip said he liked Esperanza this year much more than in previous years.
"I went to Esperanza my freshman year and it was in Minute Maid Park. It just felt like I was at a club," Ip said. "This year it felt more connected to the school."
Brooke Bullock contributed to this article.
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