Faculty Connections Offer Event Planning Students Immersive Experience

Hilary Bentman, Assistant Director of Communications
A student holds up materials while sitting at a registration table at a conference
Zora DeSeignora '23 holds up materials while volunteering at the Eastern Communication Association conference.

In the world of event planning, few events are as challenging as a multi-day professional conference hosting hundreds of attendees.

But being involved in such a major occasion does offer vital hands-on experience.

A group of Widener communications students got just such an opportunity, thanks to the industry connections of two university professors.

Students in Associate Professor Angie Corbo’s event planning class were involved in planning aspects of the Eastern Communication Association (ECA) conference, held in Philadelphia from April 7 to 9.

Corbo, chair of Widener’s communications studies department, has been involved in ECA for some time, and served as the conference’s second vice president for local arrangements. The first vice president of ECA, and this year’s conference primary planner, is Widener Professor Pamela Lannutti, director of the university’s Center for Human Sexuality Studies.

Widener students and Professor Angie Corbo at the ECA Conference
Communication studies students and Professor Angie Corbo at the ECA conference

With both Lannutti and Corbo involved in the conference, it was a natural fit for the event planning class to take on ECA as a client.

Corbo’s students researched, wrote, and produced materials for attendees, including a guide to local restaurants and historic sites they may be interested in visiting while at the conference.

“They got to learn about what it means to be an on-call person, like helping a frantic professor who can’t find a room,” said Corbo. “They learned about customer service and interpersonal communication.”

Communications studies major Madison Devlin ’22, whose group produced sightseeing materials, said she and her classmates got to see how “everything came together and to see the ups and downs, and troubleshooting an event. We experienced it in real-time.”

Widener alumna Brenna Hagan stands next to her poster presentation
Alumna Brenna Hagan '21 presented research at the ECA conference.

Established in 1910, the Eastern Communication Association is the oldest professional communication association in the country. The organization focuses on research, criticism, communication theory, excellence in teaching and more, and includes 22 interest groups “specializing in different aspects of communication,” said Lannutti.

Junior Zora DeSeignora and her group produced a guide to local restaurants for conference attendees. The goal was walkable locales and variety of food choice, with the materials providing restaurant descriptions, photos, and price range.

“They trust us to do this and to be part of this as a college student. It was special,” said DeSeignora, a communications studies and Spanish major, who noted that lessons learned from the experience – and the event planning class in general – has helped her in her own planning of events in her capacity as a campus resident assistant.

The conference provided the students a real, immersive example of event planning, far beyond what they could have gleaned from a textbook case study.

That’s a cornerstone of the communications department – to take classroom experience and apply it to something broader than that. We do a lot of applied learning. — Madison Devlin '22

Devlin and her classmates also attended parts of the conference, volunteering at the registration table and assisting attendees. They got a chance to sit in on a session or two and network with participants.

The conference included presentations by faculty and students from across the country, including 2021 Widener graduate Brenna Hagan, who presented on making connections through narratives.

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