Published in W Magazine, Winter 2016
That moment always comes, when the event planner must pull his or her hair out. Deb Droppers, professional instructor in the School of Public Affairs and Administration, guarantees it. In her role as head of Kalamazoo’s Experiential Learning Center, or KELC, it is one of the many lessons she lets her interns learn the hard way—on their own, fistfuls of hair in hand, just before they get to work fixing the problem.
“Oh, I love to tear my hair out,” Droppers chuckles. “I’ve been doing it since 1995, when I started The Event Company, and it was based on providing interns opportunities to plan events. Back then, we called them party planners. Today, it’s much more about business management.”
When Droppers began her company, she operated out of her living room, forever apologizing to the students milling about in her house, helping her organize hundreds of events. The students didn’t mind. Her husband finally did. He offered to buy his wife a building to house her business.
Now located at 210 Farmers Alley, KELC offers internships to juniors or seniors majoring in event management, communications, marketing, public relations, graphic design, or similar field of student study.
Becca Shemberger graduated from WMU in 2015 with a degree in public relations, and she is grateful to Droppers and KELC for giving her the edge that helped her land her job as an engineering recruiter.
“Deb gives you direction, but then let’s you do the work,” Shemberger says.
One of her projects as an intern was to organize a summer sidewalk sale downtown Kalamazoo. Another was to plan and oversee the 10-year celebration of The Kalamazoo Promise.
“I contacted participating colleges, put together booths, brought in food trucks, live entertainment, cake donations, face painting, tent and chair rentals, and kept track of volunteers,” she says. “It gave me the people skills and the confidence I needed for the job I have today as a recruiter.”
Emily Kasa is a senior at WMU, majoring in organizational communications. Kasa put in about 350 hours as an intern at KELC. She planned a 3-day block party in three Kalamazoo neighborhoods.
“Our focus was to introduce the community to the Kalamazoo Department of Public Safety,” she says. “We wanted to create interactions and connections between cops and kids.”
Kasa oversaw volunteers for the event, involved local businesses, arranged for food trucks, organized games, talent shows and educational presentations, and brought in a fire truck for kids to explore.
“I learned so much!” Kasa exclaims. “Talking to community developers, talking to kids, I learned marketing strategies, but also how to create news releases, fact sheets and computer programs.”
Spirit Week at WMU was Malcolm McCants’ internship project. The public relations major found his challenge—and his lesson—planning for 10 artists to paint downtown store windows with spirited images.
“Only six showed up,” McCants says. “I’d never painted before, but that day I was one of the artists, painting windows.”
McCants also worked on the Holiday Parade. He signed in more than a hundred volunteers, matched volunteers to floats, passed out T-shirts. And he chauffeured Mr. and Mrs. Claus around town to meet children.
If the interns relish their hands-on experiences, their clients are equally enthused. Justin Hatfield is the director of business development and marketing for HECO, a family business dealing with electric motors and performance systems. He’s also a WMU alumnus.
“When I wanted to have a symposium at HECO, I interviewed two event planners,” Hatfield says. “Deb Droppers from KELC was one of them. As soon as I interviewed her, I knew I wanted KELC. She was more expensive, but when I looked at all that she offered, it was worth it.”
Using interns was part of Dropper’s bid. Droppers let Hatfield know that her plan was to hand the entire project over to interns.
“Two-day symposium, five sessions going at once, and the event went perfectly,” Hatfield says. “I was able to focus on my customers rather than worry about the event. We’re planning on making this an annual event, and I will use KELC again. I feel good giving real-life experience to students.”
Learn more about KELC at http://www.experientiallearningcenter.org/ .