Usually the greatest ideas are a result of collaboration. This has certainly been the case for the University of Maryland Baltimore County Recreation and Physical Education Department. “Recreation and Athletics here at UMBC is part of the Division of Student Affairs so we have some natural, built in partners that make it really easy to collaborate with,” said Gary Wohlstetter, the senior associate athletic director at UMBC.
Earlier this fall, the recreation department partnered with the Student Events Board to put on an innovative event, that was a huge hit with students: The Escape Room. “I had been wanting to do a bus trip for the students to go attend an escape room, but a lot of them only permit 15 people at a time, so it would not be feasible to do a bus trip where only 30 people could do,” said Charra Wudtee, the vice president of programming for the UMBC Student Events Board. “Then our supervisor forwarded me an email about a company that was offering an Escape Room that they would bring to college campuses.”
The event was held at the Retriever Activity Center (RAC) since that is the largest facility on campus that students have access to. The company came to the facility the night of the event and constructed two Escape Rooms within the gym. 200 students were able to participate and all registration was handled online prior to the event.
“We wanted to create a unique event for the students and do it on a Saturday evening as an alternative programming option,” said Wohlstetter. “Most of it was done online so students could sign up ahead of time to be involved. We took a maximum of 200 students because that was the number we were able to get through the rooms. Students had a deadline of Friday evening to register and the event sold out ahead of time which was great. Once student’s registered, then they were sent an email telling them what time to come to the RAC.”
Of course hosting an event like this takes an immense amount of coordination. In order to prepare for the Escape Room event, Wohlstetter and Wudtee had to iron out several details such as staffing, scheduling, marketing and of course liability. “You have to go through the legality of everything and make sure we have waivers signed and we communicated with our legal department to make sure the contracts are signed properly and that the university is not being exposed,” explained Wohlstetter. “That is probably one of the biggest challenges that we face is the legal aspect, but our legal department is very easy to work with.”
Collaboration is also key when it comes to marketing. Wudtee explained the Student Events Board relayed on others to help with getting the word out about the event. “We reached out to the Residential Student Association and Campus Recreation and I think that is what made it so successful in terms of marketing,” she added. “They took a bunch of our flyers and put them all over their spaces and an email was sent out to all the residential students to encourage them to come out as well.”
When running a smaller department, resources can always be a challenge, so collaboration can be a great solution. “Don’t always look within your department, but look to collaborate across the campus whether it be on the academic side or the student affairs side,” said Wohlstetter. “I think there are great opportunities when you have good communication. I think that when you have conversations, they allow you to come up with ideas for events like this. Nothing is a no here. We are always looking for something different, unique and positive for the student.”
“One thing I did not consider was holding places open for people who want to come last minute or want to bring some friends,” suggested Wudtee. “I set the max capacity at 200, but I didn’t realize they could only do groups of eight so it was actually about 192. What that taught me is if I have an event like this in the future and the max capacity is 200 then I will let 160 sign up and this has to be at least a week before and leave about 20 spots open for people to walk in.”