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Behind the Scenes at the Union: Nancy Kujak-Ford

From freshman orientation to commencement, from local festivals to national conferences, the Wisconsin Union’s Campus Event Services Office (CESO) makes countless events happen not only at the Union’s Union South and Memorial Union but also at locations across campus. With major events happening nearly every day, it is imperative to their functionality to have a leader on which they can rely. Here at the Union, that leader is Nancy Kujak-Ford.

What is your position with the Union, and what does it entail?

I am the Campus Event Service Office’s event services director. My position oversees all events managed and produced by CESO, which includes more than 44,000 events that take place at Memorial Union, Union South, in campus classroom, and many green spaces on campus. I see my role as having to think about how customers see the Wisconsin Union from the first event marketing piece to the very last invoice. I oversee planners that work with customers; the production team, which oversees production and setup; and the conference management team, which does large academic conferences. My role is trying to produce the best possible experience for Wisconsin Union members and guests during events.

How long have you worked for the Union?

I’ve worked at the Union since spring of 1993. At the urging of my father to get a job on campus, I walked across Library Mall and entered Memorial Union for the first time for my job interview. I started as a freshman scooping ice cream at the Daily Scoop. I became a student supervisor at the deli, worked in catering, served food out of the old Lakefront Café, became a student building manager, and worked in the Wiscard Office. As middle child of seven siblings, planning has always been part of my life, so I was drawn to the student event planner position in the Central Reservations Office (now called CESO). I held a few positions between being a student event planner and where I am now, including central reservations manager and conference services manager. I always introduce myself as the next Union director as the union has been a place to call home.

What does a typical day in the office look like for you?

That’s what I love about my current position – no two days are the same. We could be having freshman orientation, a national conference, a building closure for a presidential speech, or a run/walk. Each day is different, and, even though we might have cyclical events like commencement, each time the Union tries to make each one unique. This job is not for someone who likes a nine-to-five job. You need to be okay with the gray, and you need to be okay with things changing at a moment’s notice. Change is a part of life and who we are as an organization. Within higher education, change is constant as interests transform and important social issues arise. We must be ready to support our customers and be flexible to best support their needs.

What are some of your favorite events to be part of?

I love events with many moving parts. For example, this is the ninth year of the Madison Mini-Marathon. The organizers came to us before the first marathon and said they wanted to create a run/walk event that started and ended at the Memorial Union. Union Director Mark Guthier said to them, ‘Here’s Nancy. She can make it happen.’ That’s what my team and I do; we find solutions to event challenges. With each event, I see the possibilities of developing people’s hopes and dreams, and event planning is seeing beyond their vision and helping them nurture that.

What is the most rewarding part of your job?

I think the most rewarding part of my job is working with the staff. I get the amazing opportunity to work alongside students (whether they are planning the event or setting it up); seeing the event come alive through their eyes; watch them grow in their out of classroom learning experience; and finally move onto full-time planning roles outside the Union. I love hearing from them on how their Union experiences have shaped who they are as individuals. I am also blessed to work with many talented full-time staff. Like students, they are at the Union to develop their knowledge, skills and talents at the Wisconsin Union. Each staff person has a unique perspective on how we can we can improve our events or services. I also help them learn and grown in their careers. Events come and go, it is the Union family that makes each day an experience of a lifetime.

Nancy Kujak-Ford graduated from UW-Madison with a degree in English. She loves to camp with her family, is a self-diagnosed cheese-o-holic and hopes to help pave new roles for women in leadership at the Union and on campus.

Visit union.wisc.edu/host-your-event to learn more about the Campus Event Services Office or to book your next event at Memorial Union or Union South.

Author: Marissa Sugrue

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