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USITT's student volunteers have a vital part in making the organization's Annual Conference a success. Schedules allow student volunteers to be room monitors and at the same time participate in events, such as the Keynote by D. Lynn Myers.

Photo/R. Finkelstein

Cincinnati 2009 Conference & Stage Expo - A Student Volunteer Perspective

Sara Burnham
University of Oklahoma

Sara Burnham writes about her experiences at the recent USITT Annual Conference & Stage Expo in Cincinnati as a student volunteer. The program is open to USITT Student members and applications for the 2010 program will be available in September.

I attended my first USITT Annual Conference last year in Houston. It just so happened that I grew up in Houston, and so room and board were generously provided by my parents, who were happy to see me the few hours I was home between conference goings-on. By the end of that Conference, I was already planning on how to make it to the 2009 event in Cincinnati. A professor suggested the student volunteer program as a way to help waive conference fees, and so I eagerly applied.

I was accepted into the student volunteer program, and my week’s assignments were posted for me to peruse online. Working 15 hours over the course of the Conference didn’t seem like a lot to ask, and in the end I feel I gained as much from the time I spent working as the time I spent in sessions.

The student volunteers were assigned different tasks from trouble-shooting, to being a room monitor, to working in the USITT office. I lucked out; my first task was to be a room monitor for the Keynote Address. D. Lynn Myers set the conference off to a great start, speaking to the economic troubles that lay ahead and the ability of theatres to continue to do quality work in spite of it all.

I was inspired and ready to make a difference. And I did just that, as I was called to the Stage Expo floor to help move bi-folds from one end to the other.

I continued to make a difference as I worked in the USITT Conference office. This, for me, was the best part of the student volunteer program. Not only did I get to meet students from across the country, I also was submerged deep into USITT inner workings. I met the people who helped make the Conference happen, and was in turn inspired to go to my Commission’s meeting and look for ways to get more involved in the future. The office was, of course, all work and no play, but somewhere in there I managed to meet almost everyone who came through the door.

Whether it was someone trying to find a lost cell phone or a presenter who had finally made it to the conference center, I was networking whether I realized it or not. I had the opportunity to pick the brains of those around me who were working in their respective fields and gain insight and knowledge about what to expect upon graduation. We talked about everything from resumes, to portfolios, to why the fire alarm was going off and still managed to get all the copies made and assembled in time for the board meeting.

The people I met while working in my student volunteer assignments kept appearing -- at sessions, at Stage Expo, even on my way to and from the Hilton. (They at least didn’t give me quite the strange look that the local Cincinnatians did as I pushed an A/V cart filled with water, paper and candy across downtown Cincinnati). They smiled, and would often stop to chat or introduce me to someone they were with. I had a whole new set of acquaintances and contacts merely from helping the Conference to run smoothly. Somehow, I think I received the better end of the deal here.

The student volunteer program not only provided me with a financially feasible way to attend the Conference, it enhanced my experience while at the Conference, putting me in contact with people I would not have otherwise met. My only regret? I graduate in May and won’t be eligible to be a student volunteer in Kansas City!

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