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An inside look at Family Weekend: What does it take to plan 97 events for 3,000 visitors?

A capella shows, basketball, Lemur Center tours and morning yoga on the lawn—take your pick.

These are just a few of the 97 distinct events that took place during the University’s annual Family Weekend, which aims to give visitors a feel for the Duke student experience. Between Oct. 25 and Oct. 27, around 3,000 visitors converged on campus for a weekend of diverse programming, according to Student Development Coordinator Grace Sullivan, who handles logistics for Family Weekend.

“We think of our format as almost a conference-style event, where families get to choose what [program] is most interesting to them at any given time,” she wrote in an email to The Chronicle.

Associate Dean of Students Clay Adams, who is director for parent and family programs, explained that it is hard to estimate how much the weekend costs due to the complex logistics and large number of people involved.

“There is a registration fee that each family pays, but it’s hard to capture all of the costs that are associated with the weekend,” Adams said. “We have hundreds of staff, faculty and students who volunteer their time and effort answering questions, working in office[s] that [are] hosting event[s].”

Sullivan told The Chronicle that the University’s goal was to accommodate as many events as possible while ensuring that no two programs of the same type—shows, campus tours, etc—overlapped. This involved working with various offices, creating a schedule of their preferences for when to hold certain events and granting the requests.

“We are grateful and excited that so much of campus is enthusiastic about hosting events for visiting families,” Sullivan wrote. “We’re providing the space and time for families to spend time with their students.”

When planning a function of such a large scale, any uncertainty regarding time, space and money must be settled far in advance. Duke’s Office of Parent and Family Programs began working with Duke Parking and Transportation Services officials in the summer to coordinate parking, Adams said.

Adams added that his office had to coordinate with Duke Dining to ensure that the Brodhead Center vendors could accommodate the greater number of people on campus. 

“It’s a real process of logistics and project management,” he said.

Sometimes, there are logistical difficulties that arise in spite of advanced planning. Last year’s Family Weekend, for example, coincided with Countdown to Craziness, Duke’s signature kick-off to the basketball season. The augmented influx of visitors precipitated a traffic jam down Cameron Boulevard with no more spaces up for grabs, Adams said. 

Family Weekend may be marketed to the relatives of Duke students, but first-year Jackson Muraika enjoyed it as well. Muraika, who is an associate photography editor for The Chronicle, said that the structured schedule of programs made the occasion especially memorable for him and his visiting parents.

Before Family Weekend, his parents “didn’t know much about Duke,” he noted, but they had a better feel for daily life at the University after visiting him and going to programs.

“[During Family Weekend], it seemed like they were always attending some event provided by the school,” Muraika said. “I think the combination of those programs and more organic ways of interacting with the school gave them a well-rounded idea of how it is day in and day out.”


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