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Homecoming Advice from the Experts

By Tara Laskowski




Advice from the VeteranTodd McCubbin

Todd McCubbin
executive director of the Mizzou Alumni Association

The University of Missouri is celebrating its 103rd homecoming this year.

Don't force a homecoming if it's not right for your institution. "If your spring reunion program is a huge success but your homecoming struggles, that's OK. In that case, your reunion serves the purpose of your homecoming program."

Change is good … sometimes. "While we are very traditional, we tweak things every year to improve," McCubbin says. One year, a large-scale concert on Friday evening with an up-and-coming band generated a good turnout. The next year, the band didn't appeal to students, and the crowd was smaller.

Adapt. Not everything is going to be perfect. "The kickoff time of our football games is a recent challenge. Times—controlled by television networks—aren't determined until about 10 days out," McCubbin says. Games can kick off as early as 11 a.m. "We had to begin our parade so early one year that it was still dark!"

Advice from the NewbieLynne Wester

Lynne Wester
director of alumni programs and engagement for the University of North Carolina at Charlotte

UNC Charlotte adopted a traditional homecoming event in 2013 with the addition of an NCAA football team, the 49ers.

Don't plan in silos. Wester found that partnering with the student organizations on campus created a synergy that made everyone's life easier. Her office and the student homecoming committee use the same logo, T-shirt design, and sponsors, and coordinate on events and other resources. As a result, the event builds a bigger buzz across campus.

Start eight months in advance—or more. "Last year, we didn't start meeting until August" for an October event, Wester says. Though her staff pulled off a successful nine events over three days with that timeline, Wester admits she wouldn't want to do it again: "This year we started meeting in January."

Be strategic with resources. Because Wester had a daylong tent rental for the tailgate, her team added more events. In addition to a pregame tailgate, this year's homecoming will feature a postgame Oktoberfest with free beer and wine for alumni. Bonus: The idea for the fest was suggested by UNC Charlotte's alumni—so there's already buy-in.

Advice from a Commuter SchoolJack Jeffery

Jack Jeffery
communications and marketing coordinator at Ohio University-Chillicothe

Being largely a commuter school, OU-C does not have a traditional homecoming event. In 2008, the institution started hosting Heritage Day to recognize student and alumni accomplishments and build an affinity with OU-C.

Don't get too ambitious. The first year OU-C held Heritage Day, it was an all-day affair of entertainment options—much more than the audience wanted. Ultimately, the gathering for the crowning achievement, a show by a local high school band, was viewed by about a dozen spectators—or approximately one audience member for each trumpet player.

Ask alumni what they want. OU-C's alumni and students wanted a short program that accommodated their busy schedules. Heritage Day was streamlined into a 90-minute event after work on a weekday, offering simple musical entertainment (a jazz band or an a cappella group), a display of historical photos, wine and refreshments, and some remarks from the dean. The day is now the second-largest attended campus event after graduation.

(Back to Homecoming opening page)

About the Author Tara Laskowski

Tara Laskowski is a former senior editor for Currents.

 

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