/ January 2003
group provides logistics for conferences, field programs
When about 1,200 scientists and public policy experts gathered
for a national workshop in Washington, D.C., in early December, UCARs
Joint Office for Science Support handled complex logistics that ranged
from reserving sufficient conference rooms to making sure the latest audiovisual
equipment was properly set up and running.
Brian Jackson, Gail Kasic, and Melanie Whitmire of JOSS's
Program Support and Operations group staff a conference registration table
in the Mesa Lab.
Given that conference attendance had been initially projected at about
500, JOSS meeting planners found themselves scrambling in the weeks leading
up the event to make sure everyone could be accommodated. When you
have that many people, just preparing for the coffee breaks can be atrocious,
says JOSSs Cathy Clark, who coordinated the event. Nevertheless,
she adds, It went very smoothly.
Decembers climate science workshop, which focused national attention
on the debate over climate change issues (see sidebar), marked a coming
of age of sorts for JOSS. Its Program Support and Operations group specializes
in coordinating workshops, conferences, and field programs, but the approximately
12-person office had never before handled such a large event.
JOSS Program Support and Operations staff: (standing, left to right)
Cathy Clark, Melanie Whitmire, Kyle Terran, Tara Jay, Loretta Quinn,
Diane Lask, Paula Robinson, Gene Martin; (sitting) Brian Jackson and
Jill Reisdorf. Not pictured: Chrystal Pene.
JOSS, which is part of the UCAR Office of Programs, consists of two
principal divisions. One, Field Operations and Data Management, wins high
marks from NCAR scientists for its critical work managing data for major
field projects. The other is the program support group, which has existed
in one form or another for 20 years, organizing meetings and logistics
for field experiments for NSF, NOAA, and other scientific organizationsbut
remaining little known to many people in UCAR and NCAR.
Now, the group is starting to spread the word within the institution
that it can help with meetings.
If you decide to hold a conference and you turn to people who
have expertise, you increase your chances of holding a successful meeting,
explains Gene Martin, manager of the group. Youre freed up
to focus on the content, while were handling the logistical work
of getting meeting rooms ready, setting up the technical equipment, and
handling all those other details that are important.
JOSSs services run the gamut from scouting out potential meeting
sites and designing name badges to typing up meeting notes and conducting
follow-up surveys. For international conferences and field trips, simple
tasks can turn into major challenges, such as figuring out how to communicate
with the home office from isolated Pacific Ocean islands on the far side
of the International Date Line, or persuading customs officials that suspicious-looking
gas canisters are going to be used for nothing more dangerous than studying
Gene and his fellow meeting planners also focus on holding down conference
costs by negotiating deals with hotels, caterers, and vendorsgaining
less-expensive lodging room rates, for example, in exchange for agreeing
to use a set number of meeting rooms.
ATD director Dave Carlson, who collaborated with JOSS when he was working
on TOGA COARE (the Tropical Ocean and Global Atmosphere Programs
Coupled Ocean-Atmosphere Response Experiment) in 199293, gives the
office high marks. We couldnt have done that project without
the services they provide, he says.
Getting the risotto done
One thing JOSS staffers have learned in the course of handling about
400 meetings a year is that things dont always go exactly as intended.
No matter how much you plan, theres always some glitch thats
outside your control, says meeting planner Loretta Quinn. You
cant be in this business unless you have the ability to step back
and respond to the unexpected.
Consider, for example, Paula Robinsons experience several years
ago at a 300-person meeting in Washington, D.C. She had worked carefully
to ensure that the keynote banquet would start right at noon, giving instructions
to the kitchen staff and mobilizing volunteers to hold up signs directing
attendees from the main meeting room to the banquet in a nearby building.
And then, as she was standing in the back of the meeting room at 11:15,
she heard the speaker suddenly declare that the meeting would break for
lunch 45 minutes earlier than scheduled. I ended up running and
alerting everyone I could find, she recalls with a smile. Much
to my relief, it all went off without a hitch and the risotto was just
a little bit underdone.
Then there was Genes rather dramatic experience during a field
project in the Solomon Islands, when close to a dozen members of the crew
of a Chinese research vessel were thrown in jail following a fracas. Gene
got them released by explaining to local authorities that the whole thing
was a misunderstanding that resulted partly from the language barrier.
On the other hand, some meetings are calmuncommonly so. Cathy
says her favorite meeting, held several years ago in Albuquerque, focused
on the impact of climate change on Native American populations. Many of
the attendees were Native Americans, and they had a distinctive approach
to the event.
Every morning before the meeting, a young man in a loincloth walked
through the lobby playing a traditional flute, she recalls. It
was very calming. To me it was a much more pleasant experience than having
people charging in and complaining about the traffic.
The meeting planners say the work can be intense sometimes, especially
right before and during a large conference when they may find themselves
working 12- to 14-hour days. You have to stay one step ahead of
whats actually going on in the meeting, like making sure the breakout
rooms are set up while everyones still in the main session,
Loretta says. You cant always depend on the hotel staff.
But the planners also say they thrive on the workthe excitement
of travel, meeting people from other countries, and above all the satisfaction
of seeing a conference through to completion.
Cathy, a one-time bank manager, puts it this way: I always wanted
to do something like this because it calls upon all your creativity and
imagination, and its always different.
Then she leans forward and, in a stage whisper, adds: Its
a lot of fun.
For more information
If you are planning a meeting and would like support from the JOSS Program
Support and Operations group, call Gene Martin (8682), Paula Robinson
(8665), or Cathy Clark (8667), or visit the JOSS Web site at www.ofps.ucar.edu/joss_psg.
Also in this issue...
Outstanding Accomplishment Awards
supercomputer joins list of worlds fastest
Africa and South America
explore fundamental building blocks of the atmosphere
influence: Way beyond its size
convocation mulls the state of U.S. research