Harper Center’s Building Events Team Makes the Magic Happen

by Carrie Tarkocin, Class of 2020

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This is the first of our Facilities series, bringing life to the people behind the scenes at Booth.

Have you ever grabbed a boxed lunch in the winter garden in between an interview prep breakout session in Harper 104 only to return to the same room transformed into theater-style seating so Dean Rajan can address the entire class? Have you ever emerged from the basement (i.e., classroom level) after your Friday afternoon class to the food and frosty beverage wonderland that is LPF? This is not Hogwarts where rooms can magically reconfigure themselves to meet our requirements. This is Booth where the hardworking men of the Building Events team transform Harper Center to meet our every need. I sat down with Jason Coleman, Dennis Hannum, and Danny Simmons to try and figure out how the magic happens.

Under Coleman’s coordination and logistics leadership, Hannum, Simmons, and their colleague Mario Perez set up rooms for events, move professors from office to office, and respond to other service-oriented requests like changing light bulbs. During the school year, the majority of their activities are centered on working with Career Services, Student Life, the Admissions Office, and Booth’s research and learning centers to set up for the many events offered to students, prospective students, and others in the Booth community.

Danny Simmons (left), Dennis Hannum (middle), and Mario Perez help transform the Harper Center into the perfect venue for anything from Nobel prize announcements to happy hours on a daily basis.

Danny Simmons (left), Dennis Hannum (middle), and Mario Perez help transform the Harper Center into the perfect venue for anything from Nobel prize announcements to happy hours on a daily basis.

Their jobs get a little crazy when major events are scheduled back to back. For example, the three-man team has been tasked with switching Harper Center Room 104 from 25 round tables to 600 chairs theater style in around 20 minutes. Coleman, who recently started at Booth after working at another department on campus, was blown away by the efficiency and speed of Hannum, Simmons, and Perez: “I was shocked when I came in and saw how fast they were able to do stuff …”

According to Hannum and Simmons, the secret to their success is good communication. Hannum also stressed the importance of planning. Specifically, he said the key is to “look ahead at your event set up sheet so you can know what’s coming down the road and you prepare the best you can and take it from there.” Simmons highlighted the flexibility required: “You have to fly by the seat of your pants most of the time.” Coleman noted that “if you don’t like change, you’re in the wrong role.”

With around 45 years of experience working at Booth between them, Coleman, Hannum, Simmons, and Perez are definitely in the right roles and are able to handle the job. While most students only have a few years at Booth, the Building Events team has been around long enough to see things change and yet stay the same. According to Coleman, “… every two years we get completely new students here. So a lot of the same requests and things come through. We can probably answer really quickly if you have a request.” He recommends that students go through their Graduate Business Council representatives who regularly work with the facilities staff to improve the student experience. Recent improvements include updated furniture in the May Lounge and efforts to streamline the recycling and trash in the building.

While they are open to requests and questions from students, the men had one request of students to make their jobs easier: awareness of our surroundings. When students are distracted by cell phones or congregate in halls without noticing what else is going on, it is harder for Hannum, Simmons, and Perez to quickly set up for events like LPFs in the Winter Garden.

In closing, Hannum noted that “students have been really cooperative so far this school year. We’ve had some, a couple, say thank you for doing what we do, which is always good to hear—especially from students because that is what everything revolves around.” So, next time you see the men setting up for or returning furniture after an event, take note and thank them for making Booth seem like Hogwarts.