Purdue Profiles: Danica Kirkpatrick

April 5, 2011

Danica Kirkpatrick, educational events coordinator for the College of Agriculture. (Photo by Tom Campbell)

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Each year Spring Fest attracts visitors from campus and the community to learn about topics ranging from bugs to astronomy. Planning for the event, which draws in more than 40,000 visitors, is a challenge that Danica Kirkpatrick is up to taking.

Kirkpatrick, educational events coordinator for the College of Agriculture, coordinates Spring Fest each year by working with departments, student organizations and numerous other contacts to make the dynamic two-day event a success.
Tell me a little bit about yourself.

I went to Purdue and graduated in May of 2000. My degree is in public relations out of the College of Liberal Arts. I was a student-athlete as well, playing softball during my four years at Purdue.

How did you get interested in event planning?

The job that I had before I came to Purdue allowed me to try my hand in a couple of events in the community, and I really enjoyed the satisfaction of being able to see all the hard work culminate into a successful event.

What are your responsibilities as an event planner?

In the College of Agriculture, most people know me as the organizer of Spring Fest. Spring Fest is an annual event that showcases the lighter side of higher education. We have every department or college on campus involved now. People best remember Spring Fest because of events like Bug Bowl, the vet school open house or the horticulture show. But all of those come together under the umbrella of Spring Fest. I'm responsible for the logistics and making sure that the event is the best it can be.

Is Spring Fest the main event you coordinate?

I do a lot of work for Spring Fest, but I also do lots of smaller events throughout the year for the College of Agriculture. I coordinate our presence at different farm shows around the country. I also help with Purdue's presence at the Indiana State Fair. Not just Purdue Day -- we actually have exhibits on display for the entire run of the fair. I help coordinate about 200 volunteers during the fair and make sure that our exhibits stay working and well taken care of.

How many years have you been involved with Spring Fest?

This will be my eighth Spring Fest. I've had this job since February of 2004 and dove right in.  My first event, Spring Fest, was about six weeks after I started.

How far ahead to you start planning for Spring Fest?

We’ve had our planning meetings in November or December in the past, but this year we decided to wait until January. The majority of the planning happens from January to April, but we are always looking for ways to improve and find different ways to market the event.  The committee is great at finding new and exciting things for our visitors. We always have new people interested in participating so it takes time to orient them with the process.

Are there any new events at Spring Fest this year?

Yes. We're excited to welcome the College of Pharmacy to Spring Fest, as well as the student organization World Help Solutions. Pharmacy will have several interactive game show-like activities for families, and will be located around their building just north of the Engineering Mall. World Help Solutions will be talking about their overseas projects and showing visitors to Spring Fest what they can do to help.

Also new this year is a theatrical performance of "Insecta Class Yearbook" as part of Bug Bowl, where you will learn how insects are classified and more about their roles in nature.  We'll also be featuring "Sidewinder," the woven willow installation near Pao Hall.

What's your favorite part of your job?

The nature of some jobs doesn't give you the satisfaction of seeing the product of your work. But when you do event planning you get to see that very often. When people have told me that they come to this event year after year because they have fun, or they are grateful they had a chance to participate in something and they thought it was well-organized, that's one of my favorite parts of my job.

With Spring Fest there's so much going on at one time. How do you coordinate all the different aspects?

You're right, it is really spread out and really the majority of the work that I have to do for Spring Fest is all done before the event starts. When it comes down to the day of the event, each of the colleges and departments are responsible for what is happening inside their tents. So they are the ones that the people are there to see, they're the ones who are there to shine and show the lighter side of education. If they need anything, I'm there to support them. I'm the contact if the police need to talk to somebody or if there were to be a medical emergency. I also have an intern that helps keep things rolling.

What are some examples of things you do to prepare for Spring Fest?

I meet with a lot of the service providers, including tent companies, electricians and grounds crew. Those folks really help lay the infrastructure for our event to be a success. I appreciate working with them ahead of time.

We create publications and distribute those to schools in Tippecanoe and the surrounding counties. I also work with people to get fire extinguishers should we ever need those. I spend a lot of time meeting with student groups and talking through ideas about what they might like to do and what their audience might like to see them do at Spring Fest.

Is Spring Fest an opportunity for fundraisers for student organizations?

Yes. That's what makes Spring Fest really unique -- it is only about Purdue University. We don’t have outside vendors or exhibitors. Sometimes it's the only opportunity that student groups have to do a fundraiser. Some of the student groups really do a good job of fundraising and are able to support their club for the rest of the year because of what they are able to do at Spring Fest.

How many different schools, colleges and people are involved in Spring Fest?

The Spring Fest committee has about 40 people or so from every college and school on campus, plus several units and student organizations. My emails go to about 40 people who are the representatives for their area; they may have three or four helping them, or they may have 200 people helping them. So the number of people that help with Spring Fest has got to be in the area of 2,000 people, I would guess. Then when we have good weather, we have about 40,000 visitors over the two days of Spring Fest.

When is Spring Fest this year?

This year it is April 9 and 10 from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. daily. Information about the event is online at www.purdue.edu/springfest.