A Different Kind of Swagger

Blog by Pasha Shipp, Communications Graduate Assistant, Office for Community Engagement

One hundred and twenty-seven. That number will serve as a salient reminder for GVSU student Sierra Dove for the rest of her career in hospitality. Dove had been spending her Saturday diligently working alongside fellow volunteers in preparation for LaughFest’s signature event at the DeVos Place. One hundred and twenty-seven tables filled the massive banquet hall. Upon each was a bag filled with supplies for making donations. As show time approached, Dove was tasked with ensuring that each bag was numbered. The numbers corresponded with the tables in order to determine how much each table donated. Concerned that the nametag station was understaffed, Dove hastily checked bags here and there. “I start checking. Table one, it’s numbered. Table two, it’s numbered. I go over to table forty-seven, still numbered. I check a couple more, and they’re all numbered.” After checking a handful of bags, Dove went to help elsewhere.

As the crowds cleared and the dust settled, volunteers began collecting the bags from the tables. Much to Dove’s chagrin, six bags were found that had not been numbered. “That was totally my fault because there was no reason that I should not have just checked every single bag. Instead I checked a couple, and I was kind of being lazy,” she says. “Being able to do that hands-on, and actually feeling like ‘Oh my god, I can’t believe I just did that.’ That’s something you don’t get from books. That’s why hands-on is so much better.”

Working with LaughFest was part of a community-based learning course Dove took within the Hospitality and Tourism Management department (HTM). The course explores the hospitality elements of event planning in the summer with Electric Forest, the winter with LaughFest, and the fall with ArtPrize. Gail Zemmol, the professor behind the projects, says the students benefit from the LaughFest program in a different way than the other two festivals. “They understand the connection and the fundraising piece to a non-profit organization, and they love Gilda’s.”

Community-based learning is essential for putting theory into practice, but it also enhances student resumes, giving them lived experiences to draw from in professional interviews. “I think they have a different swagger when they walk into an interview if they haven’t just learned from a book, but they actually can talk about this festival that they worked at,” Zemmol says. “I hope and I believe in my heart that they feel like they can apply for different jobs because of the swagger.”

Joanne Roehm, the director of the festival, agrees. She says the students have been helping out for the past five years, and that their work is instrumental in getting the festival up and running. From making deliveries to vendors, to working on artist gift bags, the students tackle it all. “You can’t learn some of this stuff in a textbook, so it’s great to provide that real world experience before you get out into the field.”

LaughFest and GVSU are approaching the work with a reciprocal lens. “I think we have a great relationship with Gail,” says Roehm. “We’ve had an ongoing partnership and we’ve been tweaking the relationship year after year to make sure the partnership is great for both of us.”



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