ISHTM Scholarship Gala takes you to the Gilded Age

by Lauren O'Connor

After being elected President O'Connorof the Hotel Society on the Florham Campus for the 2015-2016 school year, I was ecstatic to begin working on the 2016 Scholarship Gala. The Scholarship Gala is an annual event where all students in the International School of Hospitality and Tourism Management program plan, coordinate, and execute the largest fundraiser of the year. This year was the first time the gala was located on the Madison campus. We decided to honor the original residents of the mansion estate, the Vanderbilt family, and hold a theme entitled a “Salute to the Gilded Age.”

Lauren O'Connor speaking at the scholarship gala

Planning for this project took nearly the entire year starting early in the fall semester where both Florham and Teaneck campus Hotel Society Executive Boards met to construct an application used to coordinate which position each student would have for the dinner. From there, we decided which students would hold director, manager, and line-level positions. Once the applications were reviewed and positions selected, we compiled all 183 students’ names onto an organizational chart to show the breakdown in staffing and management for the project.

ISHTM costume


Florham Campus Provost Peter Woolley speaks with   Denny Summerville and Dorothy Jo Blomquist who are portraying Hamilton and Florence Twombly.

The organizational chart was separated into a total of 9 divisions, some of which included: Food and Beverage, Marketing, Décor, Auction, Sustainability, and Culinary. Each team’s respective director was responsible for leading team meetings, holding training sessions to prepare students for what they would need to accomplish in their roles, and complete tasks specific for each team’s responsibilities. Personally it was my responsibility to manage the students and help the teams in any way I could. Whether that be having retreat or debriefing meetings, listening to problems and concerns to find a solution or just being there for support; I was always happy to be there for my amazing teams! Another task I enjoyed doing for the gala was finding vendors and managing contracts. As an aspiring corporate event planner, this was amazing practice.

In addition to the new venue, we decided to add new aspects to the dinner. First, we wanted to incorporate modern technology into our gala. We sent out an electronic save the date in early January via Constant Contact that was also a sustainable practice. Additionally, to ensure constant communication with the teams, which included students from both campuses, residents, and commuters, we utilized Smartphone Apps like Zello and Group Me. Another change we were excited to incorporate this year was a Wine Pull, where guests purchased a cork and received a bottle of wine. With every pull, the guest had a chance at winning a bottle valued over $100. This new aspect of our event was a big success and we sold over 35 bottles!

From the beginning to the end, having had the chance to be an instrumental part of the Scholarship Gala was an amazing experience!  The opportunity to gain valuable management and event planning experience, learning how to problem solve, manage my time, and oversee logistics, all while helping to raise money for hospitality student scholarships, was an incredible experience. I am graduating in just a few weeks, and am very eager to apply what I have learned as my journey continues!