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Saturday, December 02, 2023 — Houston, TX

Owls after dark builds community

Photo courtesy Owls After Dark

By Adam Leff     1/31/23 10:50pm

Tahj Blackman, assistant director of campus events, keeps an array of Lego sculptures in his office, remnants from a competition he helped host on Jan. 19. Owls After Dark, a late-night events program, recently hosted this Lego competition in collaboration with the Doerr Institute.

Andrea Herrera, the assistant director for marketing and programs at the Rice Student Center, came up with the event along with Blackman in early December. Inspired by a similar gingerbread building competition from last semester, Herrera added her passion for Legos and began planning an event to merge the two.

The event struck a chord with many Rice students, such as Noah Berz, a Baker College freshman, who share Herrera’s passion for Legos. 

“The biggest draw for me was the Lego part of it,” Berz, who was a member of the winning team, said. “As a kid I always enjoyed free building more than the Lego sets because you got to be more creative and imaginative.”

The competition was hosted as part of the Owls After Dark series of events, a late-night event program that puts on three to five events per semester, Herrera said. Rice Student Center hosts these events with the intention of providing students with social activities to help them mingle and meet one another. 

“The whole point of Owls After Dark was to create events at night for students,” Herrera said. “This was a way for them to come out, meet new people [and] do something fun.”

Although the Owls After Dark series has been around since 2018, this is the first Lego competition. As such, Blackman initially had concerns about attendance. 

However, Blackman said his concerns proved to be unfounded: the event’s attendance exceeded his expectations, with over 200 people showing up either to participate or spectate. In total, 42 teams competed.

“We really appreciated this event being the first of its kind and reaching capacity,” Blackman said. “When introducing new events or concepts there’s always people who are a little more trepidatious.”

Students seemed to agree. Soren Lorentzen, another member of the winning team, said he appreciated the social environment fostered by the competition. 

“It was good to be working with everyone at those long tables and kind of feeding off the energy that was going around the room,” Lorentzen, a Wiess College junior, said.

Nelson Mills, a Hanszen College freshman, said he most enjoyed the format of the competition, which left more space for participants to be creative.

“[The competition] didn’t have a theme, which we kind of assumed there would be,” Mills said. “But I think that was more fun because people did a ton of different things.”

The event was hosted in partnership with the Doerr Institute for New Leaders and was the second such partnership for an Owls After Dark event. The Doerr Institute helped by providing some staff as well as two of the four judges and used the competition to help publicize their programming.

Herrera said partnering with the Doerr Institute made sense, given the nature of the event. 

“We’ve actually partnered with them in the past… and there was a leadership component [in the competition] so you have communication and problem-solving strategies,” Herrera said.

Stephanie Taylor, the assistant director of leader development at the Doerr Institute and a judge at the competition, echoed a similar sentiment.

“Naturally, when you are working with a group towards a product or a goal, that’s leadership,” Taylor said.

Blackman and Herrera said they plan to host more Owls After Dark events this semester, such as a Stuff-a-Plush event and a movie night in February. In addition, they hope to host another Lego building competition next year. 

Blackman said he was impressed by the creativity and ingenuity shown by all participants, and keeps some of his favorite Lego entries in his office.

“The standout [quality] for me was definitely innovation,” he said. “I was just continually surprised.”

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