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Monday, July 29, 2013

Unforgettable SIGGRAPH, Unforgettable Team

I have just returned home from an extraordinary SIGGRAPH 2013 conference in Anaheim. It was a success on so many levels, and was by far the best SIGGRAPH I have experienced in all the years I have been involved with this organization.

Nothing like what took place last week happens in a vacuum. This powerhouse of activity was the result of a year’s worth of hard work and careful planning by many people.  It would have been impossible to achieve without the support, trust and guidance of a solid team.  I was fortunate to have all of that serving on the Student Volunteer Subcommittee led by Gracie Arenas Strittmatter. She assembled the perfect team and we worked to support each other at all the critical moments.

The six of us charged with building the Student Volunteer program this year – Jeremy, Callie, Megan, Gracie, Carlin and I – each had our strengths in different areas that came on full force at just the right time. Any weaknesses were compensated for by the others and were effectively nulled out.

I’m sure I was the least useful member of the team in the early building phase of the program. Anything to do with coding complex databases and troubleshooting our SIGGRAPH Information System (SIS) was not my area of expertise and the others on the team tackled that with Left Brain elan.  My hat is off to Gracie in particular for managing the construction of this solid foundation.

It was really interesting to me to observe when the individual strengths of each member of our team really shone. This is highly subjective, of course, but as I saw it each one of us had their so-called “sweet spot”.

Callie Holderman was our high-caliber Marketing lead, and she was consistently busy lifting our profile on Facebook and Twitter, raising the SVSC’s profile with elegantly produced Intro Videos, handling the Student Status verifications and partnering with Megan on the SV Handbook. Her key strength was the antennae she kept out (yes, she is part alien) to catch whatever was in need of bolstering; a natural born multitasker.

Megan Mohler was our Communications lead, and she was adept at responding to the multitudes of emails from eager SVs wanting to know who-what-when-and-where (I don’t think she ever explained why). She created wonderfully fun pre-conference games online to help in SV training. Once we arrived at the conference, boy, did “Mama Hen” come out! That was her key strength, and she was there for every SV. She was also there for the five of us working behind the front desk with bags of throat lozenges.

Carlin Yuen, a joy to all of us with his unique life observations and his prodigious appetite, was the Systems Development lead and he was truly our tech guru. Tackling SIS to the ground, his ability to come up with useful database solutions quickly was astonishing at times. His solutions kept getting more creative as we went, such as the onsite Master To-Do Spreadsheet that dynamically changed color coding for entries made by specific people and for levels of completion. Incredibly helpful and fun stuff!

Jeremy Kenisky, our Program Manager, was our dapperly-dressed “silent partner” at the weekly meetings, shadowing Gracie’s steps as he prepares to take the helm in 2014. He took on all the Team Leader training, helping them with Jury selections and understanding their roles onsite. For me, his key strength came to the fore during the conference as he maintained a cool approach to all crises that arose. He used that cool to diffuse, mediate and calmly resolve any difficulty. I picked up on those cues and learned a lot from him.

I was the Industry Relations lead, and I had the enormous pleasure of reaching out to top companies and artists to request their participation in the Special Sessions for our SVs. I created the SV Pamphlet guide for those sessions, organized an SV Social (and learned what a delivery of 75 pizzas looks like!), coordinated post-conference tours, and worked with the Donations Committee to collect and catalogue the wonderful prizes we gave away to our hard working students at week's end. If I had to choose a key strength, it would be the ability to stay open and adapt to all contingencies with a trust that it will somehow all work out.

Finally, our fearless and ebullient leader and 2013 SV Chair, Gracie Arenas Strittmatter, was the grand orchestrator of all these things. She set the tone and pace of our weekly meetings which were always fun and productive. She partnered with each of us to help keep things on track, and I found out when I submitted my outreach letters for approval what a sharp editor she is. I feel her key strengths lay in her ability to keep this massive juggernaut in focus and under control, and in her ability to delegate and let us run with our initiatives. Good work, Gracie!

These people are the reason that the SV Program shone so brightly this year. We were just one of many programs that made up the full SIGGRAPH experience, and we felt the full support of Mk Haley, the 2013 Conference Chair, and everyone in Conference Management who helped us keep things running so smoothly. I’ll go into more detail about my personal achievements in the blog entries to follow, but I wanted to first acknowledge my good friends without whom this dream event would not have been possible.     
--- Sean

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