Year-Long Special Events: University of Maryland, College Park - Grand Gold Medal

2007 Circle of Excellence Awards Program for Alumni Relations, Communications and Marketing, Advancement Services Programs, and Fundraising
Category 7B: Year-Long Special Events
University of Maryland, College Park – 150th Anniversary Celebration

Contact: Terry Flannery, assistant vice president, university marketing and communications, 2101 Turner Hall, College Park, MD 20742, Phone: (301) 405-1011, e-mail:

Description of Events: The University of Maryland, founded as a tiny agricultural college in 1856, has become the State of Maryland’s flagship university and a Top-20 public research university. How did an institution plan a celebration that projected a dramatic transformation of the university’s mission and contributions, recognized historical milestones, and looked forward to a bright future? A campus-wide planning committee of 50 members offered literally hundreds of events.

The anniversary celebration kicked off on September 2, 2005 with the revival of an historic in-state football rivalry, Navy vs. Maryland, and ran through October 19, 2006, when the Fear the Turtle sculptures were auctioned off for the benefit of scholarships. (As intended, this closing event was planned to occur the day before the kick-off of the university’s fundraising campaign on October 20th.) The full list of events can be accessed at, using the calendar function to scroll back through previous months. Highlights included:

  1. Maryland v. Navy Game, Tailgate Tent Party for Alumni, and advertising both inside and outside M&T Stadium, Baltimore (September 2005).
  2. Moving Pictures, Maryland at 150 Years,” a photographic exhibit featuring the modern photography of award-winning photographer John Consoli, contrasted with some important historical images. (September-November 2005).
  3. Special Academic Forums, such as: “Relevant or Relic: The Land-Grant University Mission” featuring Graham Spanier, president of Penn State University, (October 2005);“Protecting Maryland’s Competitive Edge,” a state-wide summit on response to the loss of our national competiveness in science and technology, hosted by the university and co-sponsored by 18 other organizations, universities, and agencies (April 2006).
  4. Reflections on 150 Years, a 128-page pictorial history book. (Debuted March 2006; sold out first run and already in second printing).
  5. Revival of Charter Day, a campus celebration of the actual anniversary date, with 4000 cupcakes and a visit from the “founder,” Charles Benjamin Calvert (March 2006).
  6. Production of Keeping the Promise, the Rise of the University of Maryland, a 82-minute documentary that debuted on Maryland Public Television and set records for dollars raised during a pledge-period primetime program, and was distributed as both a pledge premium and incentive for gifts to our own annual fund (March 2006).
  7. The “Fear the Turtle Sculpture Public Art Exhibit and Auction,” which engaged the community and the entire state and region in the creation, display, contest and auction of 50 Terrapin sculptures (August 2005-October 2006).
  8. The World’s Largest Strawberry Shortcake (red and white, of course), which served 50,100 pieces of anniversary cake to a record 80,000 visitors at our annual Maryland Day. (April 2006).
  9. An historical exhibit in the Miller Senate Office Building, in Annapolis, MD, representing the significance of the university to the State of Maryland in the past, present and future (January – October 2006).
  10. Key promotional tools to drive awareness of the anniversary and goals, including an innovative website with calendar and event database, posters, note cards, calendars, features in TERP magazine, electronic video messages from the president, and anniversary iPods loaded with anniversary content.

Planning and Objectives: A high-level coordinating committee of senior administrators, faculty, and student leaders, provided overall direction for the anniversary and recommended the celebration accomplish several goals:

  • Provide an opportunity to communicate--to citizens across the state and region and to alumni around the world--the impact the university has on the state, region, nation and world;
  • Celebrate both the university’s history and traditions, as well as its bright future;
  • Include a variety of events that represent academic, cultural and social components;
  • Last roughly one academic year; and
  • Build public support and momentum to a crescendo, leading right into the public kick-off of the new fundraising campaign.

Additional information on the guidance of the coordinating committee and the work of the campus-wide planning committee that implemented the celebration is available at

In addition, the university marketing and communications staff (a team of 27 people) provided staff support for the planning committee and execution of many of the logistical and marketing/public relations functions.

Start up and Follow Through: Once the coordinating committee finished its work, a planning committee, chaired by Professor of History and Dean of Arts and Humanities, James Harris, met monthly over the course of 18 months. Working group chairs were appointed to focus on specific aspects of the celebration (Academics, Arts, Alumni, Athletics, History and Archival Research, Marketing, Signature Events, and Student Involvement). A representative from each college, school or division was appointed to coordinate the anniversary activities of each unit and integrate them in the overall celebration. Each working group chair and college representative prepared a summary of their activities for a final report to the president and to university’s foundation board of trustees. The final report (to be held in University Archives) summarized objectives, identified challenges, documented results and effective use of resources. Finally, the president hosted a luncheon celebration for all members of the coordinating and planning committees to recognize the success of the celebration.

Audiences: With a state of five million citizens, approximately 165,000 alumni within a 100 mile radius of the university, and a total of more than 250,00 living alumni world-wide, the committee faced the ambitious goal of reaching citizens statewide and alumni near and far, to raise awareness of the 150th anniversary. Three choices helped us achieve the reach we were looking for: (1) We partnered with state-wide MPT for the premiere of Keeping the Promise, the Rise of the University of Maryland; (2) Located 20 of the 50 turtle sculptures in regions all across the state; and (3) Sent video messages (see from the president around the world on three occasions during the anniversary, including one that featured special coverage of a anniversary event in Taiwan with 200 participants affiliated with Maryland.

With nearly 200 events over a period of 14 months, the logistics associated with planning, organizing, and promoting activities that would sustain audience interest over a long period required creative thinking and innovative technology solutions. Our decision to build three peaks of excitement during the celebration (Kick-off in September 2005, Charter Day and Maryland Day in March/April 2006, and closing with the Turtle Auction the day before our campaign kick-off in October 2006) helped sustain momentum for the celebration. Investment in the creation of a cold fusion database for electronic submission and maintenance of a calendar of activities helped us to sort and present information on the celebration in digestible formats.

Resources: Our human resources are documented in the planning section of this abstract. The anniversary was funded through three sources: university (state) funds, sponsorships, and retail sales. The anniversary budget will close out in the black in FY07.

  1. University Funds
    The planning committee was allocated resources from state funds over three fiscal years, FY05 ($125,000), FY06 ($175,000) and FY07 ($75,000), for a total of $375,000 to plan and execute the anniversary celebration. Major expenditures included the Fear the Turtle Sculpture Exhibit and Auction ($250,000), the documentary ($140,000), the pictorial history book ($73,000) and Charter Day ($50,000).
  2. Sponsorships
    1. $259,500 for 50 Turtle sculptures, of which $200,000 covered the entire cost of manufacturing the forms and commissioning the artists, and $59,000 of which was designated as gifts for scholarships at the university.
    2. $50,000 from NelNet and $40,000 from various departments and organizations for the documentary.
    3. $25,000 from Lockheed Martin for Charter Day.
    4. In-kind sponsorships for iPods, equipment loans, server support, and iTunes cards (Apple), t-shirts (API), photography output (Ritz Camera), incentive coupons for students (Chipotle), and cake materials (Pillsbury).
  3. Retail Sales
    Finally, retail sales of several items continue to generate proceeds. The pictorial history book sold-out the entire first run of 3000. Sales covered the entire first run, with a slight profit that went toward a second printing. Documentary (on DVD), note card sets, and 2007 Fear the Turtle Sculpture Calendars continue to be sold as anniversary keepsakes and contributed to the bottom line.

Results: We successfully achieved the objectives set at the beginning of the process. Our state, regional and international reach was met in several ways:

  • Our partnership with MPT, which broadcasts state-wide, resulted in a record-breaking evening for pledges during a primetime program. During two hours, MPT typically raises $4,000-5,000, and the recent record was $6,000. In two hours, 25 volunteers from the university accepted pledges for $22,500 during its primetime air date and another $6000 the following Saturday morning. Twenty phone lines were busy during the entire show. Our ability to promote the air dates in advance helped to make the state-wide broadcast one of their most watched shows of the year.
  • Fear the Turtle sculptures were installed in locations including Ocean City, at I-95 rest stops, in downtown Silver Spring, in Baltimore and Annapolis, at Arundel Mills Mall, and in Union Station in Washington, as well as in and around campus. A contest; co-sponsored by the Washington CBS affiliate, inspired hundred of entrants to submit photos of themselves with the turtles and resulted in more than 7000 photographs on the Web site. A total of 106 took their picture with all 50 sculptures. The sculptures were also the source of multiple media hits, including the Gazette, the Baltimore Sun, the Washington Post and even an item in Newsweek. The auction generated more goodwill and publicity, raising a total of $300,000 for scholarships.
  • We publicized anniversary activities in our alumni magazine, TERP (circulation 195,000, once per year, and 130,000 for two issues per year) and in our president’s video messages to alumni, which were distributed to approximately 200,000 via e-mail and by posting on our home page. Hits to the Web site, on which the video message resides, included page views from 31 countries and 6 of seven continents.

Other objectives were met by planning hundreds of activities over the year, using key opportunities and hitting three peaks of activity. The final peak was centered on the turtle sculpture auction and concluded the day before our fundraising campaign commenced. The president and his cabinet specifically commended the committee for strategically planning activities that maintained momentum and visibility over the entire period. Other results:

  • A sellout crowd of more than 70,000 attended the Maryland v. Navy game, a highly visible opportunity with state-wide interest, to start off the celebration.
  • Our mix of events included a balance of academic, cultural, and social events, and exhibits and celebrations focused both on past and future.
  • The revival of Charter Day as a tradition attracted more than 4,000 guests—including the primary targets of students and faculty--over a four-hour period.
  • The pictorial history sold out less than four months after publication and is into its second printing. The documentary helped MPT set a record for pledges and resulted in an outpouring of messages of pride from alumni, friends, faculty, and staff.
  • The World’s Largest Strawberry Shortcake was an engineering and culinary feat, and it helped us attract a record 80,000 visitors to our annual Maryland Day open house.
  • The Fear the Turtle Sculpture Exhibit and Auction has resulted in tremendous community support and good will, paid for itself, and generated $300,000 in scholarship support.
  • The university enjoyed more than a dozen media hits as a result of anniversary activities, including a front-page feature in The Baltimore Sun on the rise of the university among top research universities on Charter Day, March 6, 2006.