News and features
By Flora Davis
What University office spends its time meeting the needs of visiting academics, models and photographers, investment managers, teenage soccer players and high school students from Japan?
Those are just a few of the recent clients of the Center for Visitor and Conference Services. Founded in 1976 as the Events Office, the center supports faculty and administrators in organizing conferences and special events. In addition, it coordinates use of campus facilities by outside organizations, especially during breaks and in the summertime.
Assistant director Eric Hamblin handles most requests to shoot movies, television shows or commercials on campus. Some clients want outside shots featuring Collegiate Gothic architecture; others ask to set up in a classroom.
“We have something here at Princeton that’s not available elsewhere, and if we can accommodate a request without interfering with the comings and goings of the institution, we try to do it,” said Hamblin.
When he supervises a “technical scout” by a project crew, “We’re easy to spot on campus,” Hamblin said. “I’m usually wearing a shirt and tie. They’re in jeans, and often they’re all in black–and of course they’re on cell phones. They’re also busy looking through viewfinders and taking pictures.”
All projects are subject to advance review and require written contracts. Films and commercials are not allowed to identify the University, and certain highly recognizable locations such as Nassau Hall are out of bounds. Thus, it’s easy to miss the fact that a film or commercial has a Princeton backdrop.
Among the more recent movies and television programs that included scenes shot on campus are IQ, Scent of a Woman, One True Thing, Infinity, the soap opera “All My Children,” MTV’s “House of Style” and a music video starring Suzanne Vega.
Sharp eyes may also have identified Princeton in TV commercials for MCI, UPS, Mercedes Benz and, most recently, Folger Coffee. The Folger ad, which purported to show a race between two rowing crews, lasted 15 seconds and took two days to shoot.
This past summer the schedule for Visitor and Conference Services listed more than 100 events. Some lasted half a day; some went on for a month. “One of the nice things about this job is that there is such diversity,” said Horr.
Each year the Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship Foundation brings high school teachers to campus to spend a month developing curricula. High school students from Japan and the United States come together for a crosscultural experience sponsored by the High School Diplomats program, and investment managers who hold senior positions in financial institutions attend a weeklong seminar organized by the Association for Investment Management and Research.
Summer is also a time when the University hosts residential academic conferences; faculty from other schools come to study under programs sponsored by the National Endowment for Humanities; and some of autumn’s incoming freshmen arrive to take summer courses for credit. For these events and programs, Visitor and Conference Services is often asked to coordinate everything from dining services to building maintenance and security.
In addition, summer athletics camps draw children from 10 to 18, offering sports from soccer to lacrosse, from ice hockey to water polo. In recent years, the US national rowing team has trained at Princeton, and Princeton Ballet has rehearsed on campus. At the annual Governor’s Invitational Tennis Tournament, tennis players have fought it out in matches that raise money for the arts.
And every summer the National Basketball Players Association (NBPA) invites the top 100 high school basketball players to spend five days on campus, honing their skills. The coaches also counsel the students on the importance of a getting an education, Horr pointed out, and remind them that there is life after basketball.
The NBPA gives the student players free shoes, shorts and shirts. “They’re six foot five and up, and a few of them wear a size 22 shoe,” said Horr. One year the office housed a small mountain of shoe boxes from April to June. “It was like living in a cave,” she recalled.
During the summer crunch, “The student workers are a real plus,” noted Hamblin. “They keep you on your toes and help make this a fun place to work.”
Students are hired as account representatives or account supervisors and become the liaison between the center and its clients. After graduation, some make a career of conference planning or other types of event planning.
Horr herself came to Princeton’s Events Office the year it was first created. Fresh out of Butler University in Indianapolis, she was hired as support staff. It never occurred to her that 23 years later she would be still be with the office and would be its director. The job is a constant challenge, and that’s what she likes about it.
“I can’t imagine doing the same thing, day after day,” she said.