What’s it like to organize a conference for 1,000 people? Ask Heather Quilici.
She’s the conference and events coordinator at Chico State University, and this week she is finishing preparations for the Botany 2006 conference on campus Friday through Thursday (July 28-Aug. 3).
More than 1,000 people from all over the world will be taking over local hotels, restaurants and dorm rooms for the three days, dropping an estimated $711,000 into the Chico economy, and it’s Quilici’s job to make sure their experience is a good one. That includes meeting their requests, no matter how unusual.
For example: “A Swedish woman e-mailed me asking for a Swedish-speaking person to babysit,” she said. “So I found a Swedish-speaking person to watch her 6-year-old daughter.”
When the Botany Association of America selected Chico State for the conference, back in 2004, it was a great honor for the university—doubly so because this conference also marks the centennial of the organization. It’s also a big job.
Quilici was ready to return to work when her twins had their fourth birthday, and in December 2005 she began her position at the Center for Regional and Continuing Education at Chico State.
Clare Roby, who directs the center’s Special Sessions and Extension program, was in the midst of planning Botany 2006 when Quilici arrived, but there was more than enough for two to do. Quilici started work on the conference with a to-do list from Roby and another from the Botany 2006 committee.
“She [Roby] did all the initial stuff, then I came in and did all of the implementation,” Quilici explained.
The speakers had been chosen, the many field trips (to Lassen, the coast, the Feather River Canyon—wherever interesting plants are to be found) were already planned, and the conference Web page, www.2006botanyconference.org, was becoming a reality, but they still needed to square away which classrooms to use for lectures, what was going to be on the several menus and transportation for the attendees, most of whom would arriving via Sacramento.
“There are people coming from all over,” Quilici said. “Thank God for e-mail.”
Quilici and Roby worked hand in hand on the event, but Quilici was the go-to person for most last-minute details, changes and special requests.
One such request was for the shuttle ride from the Sacramento airport to Chico to be a “ride and learn,” giving passengers guided tours of the cities en route. That wasn’t hard—at least compared to finding a Swedish-speaking babysitter, Quilici said.
She and Roby reserved blocks of rooms at the Hotel Diamond, made lists of places to rent bicycles, noted which restaurants were within walking distance of campus and created Excel spreadsheets of the available classrooms and speakers.
Those were the jobs that could be anticipated. Last-minute requests—"There are always last-minute requests,” Quilici said—could be more troublesome.
One big problem was adding buildings for workshops at the last minute and making sure the buildings would have air conditioning in the anticipated 100-degree weather.
“Our boiler and chiller plant has to submit their estimate for what they’re going to use 30 days in advance,” Quilici said. “When they add a building the week before, it’s hard to make sure that everyone’s needs will be met. It all worked out.”
Everything is going as planned, but the conference and events coordinator knows there will be last-minute crises and further special requests. That’s what she’s there for.
“That’s been our attitude in our office: We’re problem solvers. Just give it to us, and we’ll make it work,” Quilici said.