Saluki Pride: Event planner Gena Albert keeps university celebrations on track

woman smiling next to a statue of a Saluki that is wearing a maroon mortar board on his head

While likely most known for the office’s efforts in coordinating commencement ceremonies, Gena Albert’s work covers coordinating a host of other activities to honor students and recognize employees and collaborating on campus-community events such as the 2024 Total Solar Eclipse.

Lisa Clanton, an academic adviser, notes while commencement “could easily be the most stressful event hosted on campus, Gena seems to coordinate this event effortlessly,” largely in part to her “cool, calm and collected demeanor toward colleagues and volunteers.”

Get to know GENA ALBERT

Name: Gena Albert

Department/title: University Events and Protocol / events administrator associate

Years at SIU Carbondale: 16

Give us the elevator pitch for your job.

My office coordinates university-wide events on behalf of the chancellor. The one most people recognize is commencement, but we also plan Honors Day and other student events, as well as employee recognition events like the Faculty and Staff Excellence Awards ceremony. When SIU hosts or participates in community events, we often coordinate those details as well. We are the hub of a BIG (and growing) team effort to plan campus events for the 2024 Total Solar Eclipse, and we spearheaded many of the events with the university’s 150th anniversary.

What is the favorite part of your job?

Commencement day is truly something special. I previously worked in New Student Programs, so I got to see incoming students at the very beginning of their time at SIU. This job is the other bookend to that experience. I tear up at least once during every commencement ceremony, as we recognize all the hard work our students did, the tremendous sacrifices and support from their family and friends, the campus team who supported them through their time here, and the amazing things they will go on to accomplish.

Why did you choose SIU?

I came here in 2005 to be the hall director at University Hall (where I lived and worked for my first four years at SIU). I never expected to still be here 16 years later, but I fell in love with our students and the work we do. I read once that salukis (the dogs) have larger hearts than other breeds, which gives them the strength and endurance to persevere in extreme conditions. I think that rings pretty true about the “Dawgs” too.

When do you start planning for commencement ceremonies?

Some things start a year or more in advance, like booking space and setting dates. Communications to potential graduates begin the first or second week of the semester, and we have to do a certain amount of planning and preparation before that information can go out. Usually we do some level of commencement planning all year, with more intense focus in the last 6-8 weeks of the spring and fall semesters.

How many university events, and the types of events, is the office responsible for?

We average about 50 events per year where we have some level of involvement, from running them entirely to assisting other departments. A typical spring commencement on Friday and Saturday includes seven or eight separate events, plus rehearsals and prep meetings.

What is the most difficult part in planning events?

Weather. I love outdoor events, but they are always a gamble. Severe weather can even affect indoor events if guests don’t want to come out or you have to take shelter. We do our best to keep an eye on the forecast and have a plan. When we have a plan, 90% of the time we don’t need it! (Knocking on every piece of wood in my office.)

At the top of my “bucket list’ is to …

I could create a whole list just of places I want to travel – pretty much everywhere – but let’s go with visiting all 63 U.S. national parks. I’ve been to nine, so I have some trips to plan!

What are three things you cannot live without?

My family and friends (including my dog, Bigfoot), books and time spent outdoors.

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