New office a powerhouse of event and conference expertise

York University has a new addition to its family. After four years in development, the new Office of University Events & Community Relations (UECR) will make its debut with an open house on Friday, Sept. 28, from 2 to 5pm, in the UECR offices, Ross Building, S324.

The new office integrates the services and distinct operations of the Office of Ceremonials, Special Events & Community Relations; Hospitality York; and the Conference Management Service offered by the Division of Continuing Education in the Atkinson Faculty of Liberal & Professional Studies.

Its mandate is to effectively support visitor services, special events, ceremonial events (such as convocation) and conferences sponsored by the University, its faculties and departments. UECR will also work with external organizations. UECR staff know and understand the ins and outs of protocol, event planning and development, and York’s policies and procedures.

Left: Management of conferences such as the 2006 Congress of the Humanities & Social Sciences will fall under the mandate of York’s new Office of University Events & Community Relations. Congress visitors, left, enjoyed a publishers’ book fair as part of the event.

Created with an emphasis on service, UECR is headed by Sylvia Zingrone, the unit’s executive director, and Cindy Bettcher, UECR’s director of strategic initiatives. UECR staff include some well-known faces:

  • Linda Hurrell – executive officer
  • Deborah Hahn – associate director, conference & meeting services
  • Frank Villivà – manager, conference & meeting services
  • Amy April – manager, University events & visitor relations
  • Sue Levesque – manager, community relations
  • Sheelagh Atkinson – manager, convocation & special projects.

"The office is a continuation and consolidation of expertise from the various units that should be together to offer an integrated support for campus-wide initiatives," says Zingrone.

Agrees Bettcher: "All of the units brought into UECR share in many University initiatives and signature events. In the past, staff from the different units have worked as an interdisciplinary team to ensure the success of key events at the University."

Their efforts played a pivotal role in the success of Congress – hailed as an enormous academic and logistical achievement – which brought more than 8,100 academics to York in May 2006. Members from the units have also been instrumental in the seamless implementation of York’s convocations, and they’ve provided the expertise behind York’s successful annual United Way Campaign and the York Youth Connection summer day camp.

Right: All of the units brought into UECR share in many University initatives such as York’s convocation

UECR is organizing the Oct. 17 installation ceremony of Mamdouh Shoukri, York’s seventh president and vice-chancellor. The office will also be a key participant in planning and implementing the upcoming celebrations of York’s 50th birthday in 2009, and will serve as a nerve centre the birthday celebration.

"We have our committee structure in place and the planning has started [for the 50th]," explains Bettcher. "Over the fall we will be working through the campus committee chaired by Professor John McCamus to develop a schedule of events including Faculty-based events and activities. We have also identified more pan-University celebrations and activities and we will be putting the meat on the bones of what the 50th will look like. This office will be providing the logistical support for the pan-University events and activities that are part of the anniversary celebrations," she says.

"We will also provide consultation and advice to the different Faculties for events that are deemed U50 to help them implement a successful event and ensure it will be what they hope it will be," says Bettcher. "The office will also be working very closely with the York University Foundation in the York to the Power of 50 campaign.

"There are many opportunities surrounding the 50th, including the celebration of York’s achievements and looking to the future, and for fund development in relation to the 50th celebration. Our office will be working to help bring all of these to fruition for the University."

In addition to this head-spinning list of activities, UECR will provide the assistance and logistical support that is so essential to the smooth delivery of the many academic conferences which take place every year at York, and the array of external conferences that use the University as the site for their gatherings.

"We will offer a consolidated and, in some cases, expanded level of service," says Bettcher, who explains that in addition to its many roles at the University, UECR will also be responsible for bringing together some activities in order to enhance their effectiveness and bring improvements in service.

One example such efficiencies is the work being done by Sue Levesque, UECR’s manager of community relations. Levesque is investigating ways to bring York University’s highly popular summer day camps together under one cohesive administrative umbrella. Crucial to the University’s community outreach efforts, the camps include separate offerings for art, sports, science and other traditional camp activities.

The consolidation of the camps will bring many advantages, explains Bettcher, including the coordination of similar goals and objectives, greater opportunities for resource sharing, staff training and use of venues by campers. Consolidation also brings improved donor support and provides a better use of University resources in risk management and insurance.

Left: UECR will bring efficiencies to York’s popular day camp program

"A lot of this work and the bringing together of units into this office is going to improve our standards of how we do things and I think the example of the camps is a good one," says Zingrone. "By consolidating the camps, we can maximize the effectiveness of what they are doing. There is an acknowledged need from the group. This is all part and parcel of York’s public profile.

"This mirrors what the University is trying to do academically. Even this early on in our new mandate, the effectiveness of pulling all those units into one organizational unit is very positive and already seeing results," says Zingrone. "Where each of these little entities was doing a very good job before, they couldn’t do it alone. The integration of it is important for sharing expertise. For example, we’ve just had part of the convocation unit working on the Tennis Canada project; we are going to do more of that because it offers a great opportunity for cross-pollination of ideas and expertise."

UECR, says Bettcher, "offers an opportunity for the University to be more proactive around some of these activities – much of the work that was happening by the different units was in reaction to different requests. This is an opportunity to say this is what the University’s strategic plan is, and this is how UECR can leverage its expertise and resources to assist the University and its different departments and Faculties to meet their objectives and priorities."

In its academic plan, York University has highlighted the importance of enhancing its capacity in research and its presence as a national hub for research activities. The focus now is on the importance of the many conferences, symposia and research events offered by York. As well, many academic and research initiatives include a community relations component, where the UECR can play a key role in facilitating relationships with the external community. Bettcher says the University’s academic community will be interested in the resources and services offered by UECR.

"Last fall, we started offering event planning information sessions on the intricacies of event and conference planning, highlighting the resources available on campus and services offered by the office. The sessions were fully booked within days," says Bettcher. "We are looking at offering more sessions that will examine conference and event planning in greater detail.

"Another activity that we will be undertaking in the fall is a pan-University assessment of both the interest and the need in the community for conference planning. We will then use the information to develop a proactive plan to develop the service and to proactively go after prestigious conferences that relate to the University’s academic priorities," says Bettcher.

"Not every part of the University has the resources to build capacity in this area," says Zingrone. "Many staff are placed into these roles and it is very stressful, complicated and detailed. We are the go-to people to get advice. The ramifications of a poorly organized event are huge. We are here to offer assistance, advice and support. A York event, whether you have a small budget or a huge amount to work with, should be the very best that can be offered."

UECR is located in the Ross Building, S324, and reachable at ext. 55020. Members of the York community are invited to contact the office to learn more about the many services and advantages UECR can offer in event planning, logistics and management.

And in UECR fashion, Bettcher is quick to remind the community that those planning to attend the UECR Open House should RSVP by Sept. 24 by sending an e-mail to or telephone the office at 55020.