Director of Events Works Behind the Scenes

Deana Hutson, director of events, plans Reunion & Commencement Weekend year-round.
Posted 03/02/07
When it comes to hosting a successful Wesleyan event, it’s all in the details. And no one knows better about the minutiae than Deana Hutson.

From printing invitations and brochures to suggesting the appropriate venue to creating the ideal menu, Hutson is a master in perfection-planning.

Take Wesleyan’s Reunion and Commencement Weekend for example.

“We may have 150 different events happening over the weekend, and it can be a real challenge to make sure each event has a space, is staffed, has proper audio or visual equipment, has food or beverages if needed, tables have tablecloths, among other needs.” Hutson says.

One-time events often occur in-between the major events like reunion and homecoming. Hutson has event-planned ribbon-cuttings, retirement parties, ground breakings, volunteer weekends for alumni and parents, meetings and staff retreats.

In January, Hutson helped coordinate a special gala benefit in New York City with actor/comedian Bill Cosby P’87, HON ’87. More than 400 Wesleyan alumni, staff and guests attended, raising $2.5 million for Wesleyan scholarships.

“When we get to tackle new events like the Cosby gala benefit, it can be stressful because we have little idea of what to expect,” Hutson says. But they generally come out even better than we thought which brings me a huge sense of accomplishment and reward.”

Hutson has more than eight years experience planning Wesleyan events, beginning in 1998 as the assistant to the director of events and administration. Prior to this, she worked in event planning, marketing and operations for a trade show company where she planned events at the New York City marathon as well as electronics trade-related meetings and conferences.

Huston credits her event-planning success to her mentor, former director of events, Gemma Ebstein, assistant vice president for Alumni and Parent Relations.

“Deana is an incredible event manager and a terrific colleague,” Ebstein says. “She’s a dedicated team player, a creative problem-solver and an efficient project manager. We all sleep well before a big event because we know Deana has it under control.”

Small events come and go, but the events team has always looked forward to overseeing Reunion & Commencement Weekend, and Homecoming/Family Weekend. It is always the most time-consuming for Hutson and her events staff, which also consists of Makaela Kingsley ’98, associate director of events; Sarah Myksin ’06, assistant director of events; and Suzanne Kampen, administrative assistant of events.

The team has learned that one of the secrets to an event’s success is planning what could go wrong.

“Things do and will go wrong, and we need to prepare in advance so we can have the time to fix it,” she says. “Fortunately, I work with a wonderful team that helps make everything run smoothly.”

Hutson recalls a past Homecoming/Family Weekend where the nametag printer broke, leaving thousands of tags unfinished. Rather than ask these campus guests to sport hand-written tags throughout the weekend, Hutson and her team found a way to print tags and mailed them overnight, just in time for the event.

On another occasion, Public Safety called Hutson in the middle of the night, stating that an alumnus’s plane came in late and she needed a place to sleep that night. Although Wesleyan dormitories were booked ahead of time, Hutson found an empty room for the alumnus, and made sure she had a comfortable place to stay.

Other memorable challenges: the time a commencement brochure had a major spelling error and needed to be corrected at the last minute; a transportation van driver lost the keys to the vehicle and the keys could not be recovered until after the event was over; coffee makers have broken right before big events; days of torrential rain and during an unexpected storms. Hutson remembers the last one well. She and her staff went out to bought all the umbrellas they could find at a local retailer.

“Despite the inherent stress of event planning, Deana manages to remain cheerful even when faced with an onslaught of last minute requests,” Ebstein says.

“I love to solve problems and make people happy, and that is what makes this job so rewarding,” Hutson says. “When I’ve fixed a problem and see smiles on people’s faces, I feel successful and that is very gratifying.”

It’s difficult to pick a favorite, but Hutson looks forward to planning Homecoming/Family Weekend every year. Although it’s a 12-month job to prepare, Hutson says the event tends to get easier year after year.

“It’s a large event but with the adrenalin pumping, I can almost do it on auto-pilot,” she says, smiling.

By Olivia Drake, The Wesleyan Connection editor