Hosting LACS 2017

Regular readers might remember that I am the newest member of the Liberal Arts Computer Science (LACS) Consortium. (An earlier post responded to the 2016 annual meeting.) As the newest member, I was invited to host this year’s meeting. Some joked with me that this is hazing, but more accurately it’s paying my dues to an organization that truly depends on the contributions of all its members. It is also the host’s privilege to invite guests of her choosing from both her own institution and others. Finally, I’ve also been invited to host other professional meetings at Whitman in years to come. My experience hosting LACS—a small group who I know fairly well—makes me more confident I can do so.

The most recent past host is responsible for setting the agenda and chairing the meeting. The next host is responsible for taking minutes. That leaves the current host responsible for pretty much everything else.

Last spring, between SIGCSE 2016 and LACS 2016, I met with my president to request funding for the meeting. (Ordinarily I would have met with the dean, but we had a new dean coming in July 1.) Since many LACS members don’t have institutional funding for the annual meeting, there is no registration fee. Instead, the host institution covers all local expenses, including meals and overnight accommodation on campus, so that attendees only have to pay for their transportation. President Murray assured me the meeting expenses would be covered, either from her discretionary fund or from Dean Tipton’s.

Soon after LACS 2016, I met with Katie DePonty, our conference director, to learn what services she could offer and establish a range of dates when the one air-conditioned dorm on campus would be available. I weeded out the dates that would not work for me, and then polled the membership to choose a meeting date.

After this, there was not much for me to do until the end of the spring semester. On the other hand, this is one of the responsibilities that woke me up in a cold sweat the morning after I was done with grading.

My first step for planning-in-earnest was to create a Google form to collect attendees’ travel plans and to share it with members, along with advice for getting to Walla Walla. At this point I also invited my guests from other institutions, all of whom would need to travel.

I sketched out a rough schedule based on last year’s, although bearing in mind that most attendees were coming from Eastern or Central time so that early mornings would be better than late nights. I worked with Andrea Danyluk, who hosted LACS 2016 at Williams College, to fit the agenda items she had noted  at SIGCSE 2017 into the schedule. I invited Dean Tipton to lunch on Friday, wanting to do this early to make sure it fit her schedule.

Then I met with Katie again to review our needs on campus and get her advice about events off campus. I learned that summer breakfast in the dining hall doesn’t open until 7:30 am, which required some adjustments to the schedule. But it’s probably just as well as I was not up for early mornings myself!

And then my attention turned mostly to other things until I got back from the July 4 weekend, a week before the conference. I met with Katie to plan meals and coffee breaks. I collated the list of attendees who would need rooms. I called a restaurant and a wine tasting room to make reservations for the post-conference events. I invited the CS Steering Committee to come to meeting events. I called on my colleagues (and my husband) to help with ground transportation for those flying in.  I corresponded with attendees about last-minute changes to their travel plans.

Two days before the conference, I got final headcounts for meals to Katie. I received check-in folders from her, sorted them, and resorted them, eventually arranging them roughly by arrival time.

The day before the conference was fairly uneventful. I made sure my husband and colleagues had check-in folders for the people they were transporting to campus. I made a few trips to Prentiss Hall to check in attendees who arrived by car, and also relayed some needs to Katie. (Notably, access to the women’s bathroom.) I had planned an informal dinner at a convenient brewpub, and folks gradually trickled in. I was so relieved when John arrived with the penultimate attendees. I finally walked home about 9:30; the last attendee was to arrive well past my bedtime. I was grateful to get to sleep in my own bed.

From there, things mostly ran themselves. Or more correctly, Andrea ran them. I didn’t need to do much but show up.

The conference ran Friday to Saturday. Sunday I slept in, read a book, and had dinner with the last attendee to leave.

This week there were just a few loose ends to take care of: thank you notes, making sure the bills get paid, and this blog post. And of course, reviewing my notes from the meeting and getting my to-dos in order. Now it’s back to summer!

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