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Planning the next CS reunion

I’ve made it through the 2016 CS Affinity Reunion, which we’ll call CS Reunion Zero [1]. We had a lot of reasons to hold this reunion. It’s a little more than 25 years since our first graduating class of CS majors. It’s a little more than ten years since we became our own department. And it’s a little after Henry Walker moved to Senior Faculty Status. It’s rare that we will have such a confluence of special events in the future [2,3]. Fortunately, Development and Alumni Relations (DAR) does not require such a confluence for affinity reunions. I’m hopeful that they will allow us to do another one in about five years [4,5]. I’m writing this (bonus) essay to help myself think through what went well and what we should do differently next time.

Working with Nate Dobbels in DAR was great. You should sympathize with Nate. He had to deal with me. Among other things: I was always behind in responding to his email, I was disorganized, I forget things that I was supposed to do. Fortunately, Nate handled the things that I’m incompetent at. For example, whenever a speaker needed arrangements, I passed them off to Nate. If I’d been in charge, I think we would have been scrambling for sleeping bags on Friday night, and we’d have ended up with a campout in the CS commons [8].

Lots of things went well. But I’m pretty sure that almost anything we did would have gone well. Our alums like talking to each other, to our students, and to our faculty. Being able to connect to people who made a huge difference to them, like Stone and Walker [9] made them happy. I think every presentation was great [10]. From my perspective, the career and internship fair was a huge success, and put lots of people in touch with each other. I even think the Sunday morning Unconference went moderately well; I certainly enjoyed the discussions.

But that doesn’t mean that we can’t do better next time. So it’s time to start thinking about what could make it better.

A few things were obvious: We needed alternative activities for alums who weren’t participating in the career fair. I’m not sure what those should be, but we need them. We needed more scheduled breaks; those provide time for folks to chat informally. We probably should have had more options for the folks who showed up on Friday morning.

I’m lucky that our alums and students know that they have to adapt to me. So the lack of organization of panels and such worked okay. But I really should find a way to partner with other people to coordinate some of the events and other activities. (I did partner with Nate; but I could also have partners on the academic side of the program.)

I’d love to see about twice as many alums participate, and many more current students. Helping students find time in the midst of the semester is hard, but I think it’s important. I know that students who wanted to be there had work, sports, volunteering at Project Ignite, and more. I’m not sure if more advance notice would help, but it’s something to think about. I’ll also have to work harder to advertise it to students. (Yeah, that’s a place in which a partner would be helpful. Having the legendary [swoaprac] drum up enthusiasm would also have made a big difference.) It sounds like I didn’t reach alums as well as I could or should have. Next time, I should consider sending individualized messages. (Yes, that probably means that I’ll need to set aside a few full days of my life; but it will be worth it.) Even if the messages don’t bring people back to campus, it will remind them that they are special to us.

We should start planning the date and agenda much further in advance. (Yeah, that’s my fault.) There were a lot of alums who need more time to prepare, and that holds particularly true for the folks who speak. I’m sure that Kumail is booked out a year or more [11,12]. There are a few folks I’d really love to have come back next time: Hilary Mason ’00, who has given awesome talks each time she’s been here; Lindsey Kuper ’04, who I was told does an awesome job running !!Con and who also speaks well; and Devin (Lindsey) Porro ’05, who is doing some cool things with accessibility.

I should probably work more with students and alums on choosing topics for the panels. It sounds like we’d do great with panels on startups, accessibility, CS in the arts, and speaking at conferences [14]. Of course, given my experience this year, perhaps almost anything would work.

In place of the studenta activities panel (and, perhaps, the faculty research talks), we should probably do a student research + projects poster fair. That would encourage much more interaction, and involve a larger group of students.

Not everyone wanted to do the pub quiz, so we should think about other evening activities. DeckWars sounds fun [15], but I’ve been saying that for five years. I think an explicit place for people to play board games would be good. And maybe even a place for folks to just get together and chat informally.

I’m not sure whether I should change much about the unconference; in that case, I think the somewhat ad hoc nature of the event is appropriate. But I do think it’s better to start it at 10am, rather than 9am, for both students and alums.

I had suggested a hack-a-thon for Sunday, but that never garnered much interest. Perhaps some sort of make what you want and show it off event could still be fun, as long as we phrase it like that.

It might have been nice to hold a Pledge of the Computing Professional event as part of the reunion. We should think about that for next time. I should also check the rules to make sure that it’s okay. Of course, it would be nice to have those graduates have something much more obviously symbolic than the pin, perhaps closer to the Iron Ring that Canadian engineers wear.

It’s starting to sound like an evening and a day isn’t enough. I wonder if alums would return for a longer reunion?

What else? Administrative stuff. I should make sure to get lists of names from my DAR partner, particularly so that I can harass students who sign up for the dinner and then don’t show up. (It was awesome, by the way.) We probably shouldn’t hold it the week before Thanksgiving. I had assumed that both Communications and the S&B would be there to take pictures and maybe even interview people. They weren’t. While I had assumed that it’s their job to know about events like this, it sounds like I need to explicitly say Please come document our event; it’s something I think people will be interested in. Or maybe I’m wrong. Maybe the CS folks are the only ones who care. In any case, it might also be awesomely fun to have Brandy Agerbeck ’96 document the conference [16].

Oh, I also have to figure out how to clone myself. I so wanted to spend an hour or more talking to each alum. But in many cases, I only got a few minutes, if that. I’m not sure how to address that issue, but I should think about it more [17].

I’m pretty sure that we’ll be sending out a survey to those who attended, and maybe we’ll even send out a survey before planning the next one. I’m looking forward to something even more awesome next time.

[1] We are computer scientists. We start counting at zero.

[2] It’s also the start of my twentieth year at Grinnell. But that’s less auspicious than the rest.

[3] I’m also still not sure why multiples of five are all that special, other than that it has to do with the common person’s number of digits on a hand or foot.

[4] If they see that this reunion created a large uptick in gifts, I’m sure that the odds will be much greater that we can have another CS affinity reunion.

[5] Unfortunately, I’ll almost certainly be chair in five years. I think that means I’ll have to coordinate again [6].

[6] Okay, I’ll probably end up coordinating in any case. Being Chair will probably make it worse, since I’ll also be focusing on all of the joyful [7] paperwork that accompanies that position.

[7] joyous?

[8] Okay, that might have been fun.

[9] And even me.

[10] Admittedly, I should have organized the student panel and the CSC 321/22 panel better.

[11] We haven’t revoked his CS major yet, even though he has admitted that he never really understood recursion.

[12] Did Vivek every give Kumail the t-shirt? I haven’t seen it on social media.

[14] Terian says that you should just submit talk proposals, but I don’t think most people fell that they can do it.

[15] Do a presentation involving a PowerPoint deck you’ve never seen before.

[16] I’d particularly love to see a graphic representation of one of Kumail’s shows.

[17] It appears that some of these essays have the important effect of reminding the alums that I care, but it doesn’t give me the privilege of getting to hear about how they are doing. And I really do love hearing about their families, their careers, and their broader interests.

Version 1.0 of 2016-11-20.