USAO Employs Hi-Tech Answer To Solve Commencement Crowding
Anyone who’s been to a commencement ceremony at the University of Science and Arts knows the routine: come early because the 850-seat auditorium won’t hold the usual 1,500+ guests.
But this spring, students graduating on April 20 will experience the first-ever dual-venue commencement linked by live, interactive television. With 1,800 seats between the Te Ata Memorial Auditorium and the USAO Fieldhouse, families and friends should have no problem finding a seat.
“Why couldn’t technology be employed to solve a complex problem like this one?” asks USAO President John Feaver. “New technologies have solved so many problems in delivering all kinds of information in recent years. People want to share the excitement and ceremony of commencement, both those who’ve earned the honor of walking across the stage, and their families who helped support them emotionally and financially.”
The renovation of Te Ata Memorial Auditorium last summer improved its appearance and lighting but not its occupancy.
Attendance has grown at this and other events in recent years – so much that plans for a 3,000-seat arena have been developed as part of the campus 25-year masterplan. But that solution won’t address the immediate need, Feaver said, and construction may be years away.
“Students deserve a meaningful and memorable event,” Feaver said. “That is our goal. A noisy, crowded theater with many unseated guests is untenable. Students tell me they enjoyed the outdoor ceremony last year, but problems like weather, technical limitations and alternative site logistics make that a risky and problematic option to continue. Most institutions that offer outdoor ceremonies have secure stadiums for that purpose, but practical indoor venues must be planned simultaneously in case of bad weather, which compounds the cost and inconvenience to students and their families, as well as the college.”
School officials seriously considered closing the ceremony to the general public and offering five tickets to each graduate, allowing them to invite only select friends and family. But in a campus forum led by student government, and through blog sites and email, students asked for other options.
With input from students, faculty, staff and alumni, USAO officials deliberated for weeks before settling on this plan. Last year’s outdoor graduation was successful enough, everyone agreed, but it creates a significant inequity for December graduates who would be required to accept a ticket system for overflow crowds at winter ceremonies.
Instead, USAO came up with a plan to use technology to solve a problem faced by every university in the nation: what single campus venue can hold all students and faculty, all interested members of the campus community and lots of family members and guests? The answer is not one, but two, linked electronically.
“We have a team of video, computer network, registrar’s staff and public relations people working out the details,” Feaver said. “We want the Spring 2007 Commencement to be as memorable as ever.”
For nearly a decade, all USAO commencement ceremonies have been broadcast over local cable television and to an overflow theater with 225 seats. Still, hundreds of guests stood in the back of the Te Ata Memorial Auditorium (TMA) to see the action in person. This year, the audience in TMA will be limited to 850 with another 950 seats in the USAO Fieldhouse.
Half the graduates and guests will be seated in the fieldhouse, facing a stage on the west wall. The rest of the graduates and guests will be seated in TMA. Platform guests will speak or sing from either stage – alternately – while audience members will see everything on large projection screens in both venues.
Graduates will receive their assigned facility a couple of weeks before the ceremony, so printed invitations will simply list both sites. As it becomes available, additional information will be posted at www.usao.edu.
As before, USAO will broadcast the ceremony on USAO Channel-18. For anyone who misses the event in person, a webcast will be posted on April 25 at www.usao.edu.