By Mary Tucker, Sr. Communications & Content Manager
Stephenie Hawkins, CEM has made a significant impact on fellow IAEE Southwest Chapter members. Of note, she spearheaded a program to engage the UNLV School of Hospitality’s Capstone Class titled Opening Doors: Advancing to Your Next Opportunity. This event featured four event professionals in a panel discussion moderated by students, followed by Q&A and a mixer.
Opening Doors provided an opportunity for both students and industry professionals in the Las Vegas community to learn how they can transition to a new career in event planning, sports marketing, wedding planning and live entertainment. Stephenie ensured students were mentored throughout the process as well as took charge of the event’s inception, logistics planning, marketing and onsite execution. She attended class in person each week to collaborate with students and walk them through steps in planning an event. She made sure students were achieving the benchmarks they had established and held them accountable every step of the way.
In addition, Stephenie rallied the chapter’s board of director members to participate each week in the class collaboration sessions and would provide weekly debriefs for board members who could not attend. The event was a huge success and was applauded by everyone who participated in the panel and attended. Chapter leaders credit Stephenie with making this event a huge success, and for going above and beyond the call of duty.
Stephenie’s initiative and dedication earned her the IAEE Chapter Merit Award last year, for which she was recognized this past December during Expo! Expo! IAEE’s Annual Meeting & Exhibition in Louisville, KY (watch Stephenie’s acceptance speech here).
Here, Stephenie shares with IAEE what she enjoys most about maintaining a constant state of learning and developing her skills, connecting with colleagues and sharing in their passion for the industry, and finding ways to attract new talent to the industry as well as help them find their own voice within the industry.
What drew you to exhibitions and events, and what do you find most fulfilling about your career in this industry?
My love for trade shows started at a very young age when I got to accompany my grandparents to conferences. I never realized it was a career opportunity until a former colleague recommended an opening at UBM Canon (now Informa). It has been a great fit for me! There are always new challenges to conquer, and no two days are ever the same. Plus, I get to travel!
Your nomination included immense praise from fellow chapter members for your work – and success – with the Opening Doors program. How did the idea come about and what was the most impactful part of seeing your vision through to fruition?
SWIAEE wanted to get more involved with the hospitality program at UNLV. We connected with the senior capstone class and enjoyed helping the seniors plan an event at the end of the semester. It was truly a team project! Initially the students wanted to plan a 5K and pancake breakfast. Unfortunately, the students ran into a lot of red tape trying to get permits for the 5k route. They shifted (anyone else have PTSD post-COVID when you hear that word?!) and planned a panel discussion with events industry professionals as well as a networking event with food and drinks prepared by the F&B program students. It was a great way to see the whole UNLV hospitality program come together with support from the events industry!
In your acceptance speech, you note that you enjoy helping and encouraging the next generation of exhibitions and events professionals. Why is mentorship important to you and what advice do you have for others interested in helping those new to the industry?
In this industry, we can learn so much from each other. I love chatting with other event professionals and hearing why they are passionate about the industry – from driving sustainability to developing conference content to mixing up a floor plan to keeping attendees safe. It makes me realize that we are all grappling with the same issues and it is a relief when someone has advice that I can use as a starting point. I highly encourage anyone interested in growing in the industry to ask lots of questions. You don’t need to talk to the highest-level execs, talk to someone who is starting out, too. Newbies have a fresh perspective, and they will most likely respond to emails quicker. I have never regretted meeting anyone in the industry – it reminds me why I love my job!
What inspired you to take on a leadership position within your local chapter and what would you tell someone considering getting more involved with their local chapter?
When I lived in Los Angeles, I battled traffic and went to several IAEE meet-up events. When I moved to Vegas, it was so much easier to attend events and several board members encouraged me to get more involved. I have learned so much from our board members and truly enjoy it. I recommend testing the water by joining a committee and seeing where it takes you.
What can we expect from the SWIAEE Chapter in the near future and what would you like to see more of?
Our SWIAEE members love visiting venues, so I am excited to offer more tours, especially with so many venues opening in the Southwest.