Willamette University, Students at the Mill Stream

College of Liberal Arts News

Willamette Events Board works to keep student body entertained

Through the Willamette Events Board, students assert control of entertainment brought to campus, including bands, magicians and talent shows.Through the Willamette Events Board, students assert control of entertainment brought to campus, including bands, magicians and talent shows.

Annie Gainza ’14, Willamette Events Board co-presidentAnnie Gainza ’14, Willamette Events Board co-president

When the Willamette Events Board brought an ice rink to campus last fall, student organizers carefully planned everything from where to set up to what beverages to serve.

The one thing they couldn’t control was the weather.

“We had planned to have all the activities outside, and then the torrential rain began,” says Annie Gainza ’14, Willamette Events Board co-president. “We wanted to create a huge winter wonder land, and instead, everything was flooded.”

Rather than becoming discouraged by the knee-deep water, the WEB leaders moved the activities and snacks into a nearby residence hall.

Gainza says WEB members kept their composure and sense of humor, and through their efforts, more than 300 students enjoyed the ice-skating study break.

“It constantly surprises me what these leaders can do,” she says. “Everything that we had planned just wasn’t happening, but we still had a great time.”

What is Willamette Events Board?

Bringing an ice rink to the Quad is one of more than 35 events WEB organizes each year.

Through WEB, students assert control of entertainment brought to campus — including popular bands, magicians, formal dances, lectures and talent shows.

“The mission of WEB is to provide students with opportunities to do things they might not otherwise get to do at Willamette, while also creating a fun atmosphere on campus,” says Nathan Combs ’13, WEB co-president. “Even if you don’t go to every event, it’s nice to know there are entertaining options if you want to take a study break.”

Each of WEB’s 13 student board members chairs a different aspect of campus programming: annual events; campus events; awareness, discussion and dialogue; random fun; performing arts; and publicity. The group also includes ambassadors from the American Studies Program.

Unlike the leaders of most student organizations, WEB members are hired through an application and interview process, and they receive a stipend for their work. During their year on the board, WEB members meet weekly and work individually to plan all aspects of campus events.

“We try to create events that students will enjoy,” Combs says. “You have to think about what other people would like to do, not just what you or your club want to do.”

Though Beth Dittman ’02 — Willamette’s associate director of student activities — serves as WEB’s advisor, she says the students are the driving force in planning events.

“The students are so well organized and cohesive that I don't really even need to be here — they know where to check themselves, how to make tweaks on the fly and the value of supporting one another,” she says.

Serving students

With WEB receiving 27% of student body fees — more than $45,000 per semester — deciding how to allocate these funds is an important responsibility.

“The reason we are a student board, student run, is so we can relate to the students and know what they want and when,” Gainza says. “We want to make sure we spend everyone’s money in the most effective way possible.”

As co-presidents, Combs and Gainza provide the WEB chairs with the structure to plan events — including the timeline and budget — as well as assistance with reserving spaces, working with performers, completing contracts and organizing publicity.

Combs says his job has taught him customer service and marketing skills that will continue to benefit him after graduation.

“I am able to show potential employers that I’ve managed a budget, not just for an internal organization, but that I have managed a budget designed to do outreach to unaffiliated people,” he says.

As the board’s advisor, Dittman says WEB alumni often contact her to say how much the experience taught them about professionalism and teamwork.

“Not only do students gain program planning and implementation skills — such as time management, responsible allocation of resources and community outreach — they also gain the people skills most sought out by employers,” she says.

A team of leaders

Though each chair is given the freedom and responsibility to organize individual events, Combs says WEB is a cohesive team.

“Students commit their time because they want to, which lends itself to a fun, collaborative atmosphere,” he says. “When we have our meetings, it feels like we are just hanging out with 10 people who want to create events for other people.”

Regardless of their class year or prior leadership experience, students say they thrive in WEB’s supportive and creative environment.

“WEB is a great place to start your involvement on campus because you get to meet so many people,” Gainza says. “You really get to know the school.”

After devoting weeks or months to meticulous planning, on the day of an event the team is ready for anything — even flooded ice rinks. As they watch their hard work and dedication come to fruition, Gainza says the board members’ enthusiasm is contagious.

“That dynamic when everybody gets in the room, it comes out of nowhere,” Gainza says. “Everybody being together is what makes that happen.”

To submit suggestions or comments to WEB, visit their office in the Office of Student Activities, on the second floor of the Putnam University Center.

• Story by Katie Huber ’13, politics major

WU students learn about science technology through Bearcat Robotics

Nilo Thomas '13 started Bearcat Robotics at Willamette University to bolster interest in science technology.Nilo Thomas '13 started Bearcat Robotics at Willamette University to bolster interest in science technology.

Standing before the machine swaddled in electrical wire, Nilo Thomas grabs the control box and flips a switch.

The motor starts to hum. The lights glow, and the claw jerks to life.

 “We built this in 14 hours one night,” Thomas ’13 says about his underwater robot, “Nemo”. “Everything worked. Then we blew a fuse and had to wait until the next day to fix it. From that I learned to always carry spare parts.”

Spurred by curiosity and an unbridled enthusiasm for technology, Thomas started Bearcat Robotics at Willamette University more than a year ago. When he began, he had five members. Now he has 25.

Thomas says his purpose is to expose science technology to students of all ages — hoping some will join the next generation of innovators.   

“In this country, we need leaders in science technology,” Thomas says. “I wanted to implement that here, at a liberal arts school, where the club would be talked about and appreciated.”

Through Bearcat Robotics, Willamette students are immersed in competition-based programs. They promote math, science and technology at area elementary and middle schools, and they learn about marketing, fundraising and technology.

Last year, the club built a robot that works under water and entered it in a national competition in Arizona. Although they didn’t win, they’re not giving up. This summer, they hope to enter two racing robots in the same competition.

“None of us really knew how to build a robot, but we did it anyway,” Thomas says about his first project. “Now, we’ve proven that we can build something, and people want to become involved.”

Promising start

A native of Phoenix, Thomas grew up in a poor, divisive community. But through an innovative robotics program at his inner-city high school, students of varying backgrounds pooled their talent to become national champions.

Buoyed by his earlier successes, Thomas aspired to start a similar club as a college student. By being named a Bill and Melinda Gates Scholar, he received the financial freedom to attend the school of his choice.

He chose Willamette.

“Willamette felt right,” says Thomas, a sociology major and a 3-2 student at the Atkinson Graduate School of Management. “I knew I would have a voice here and that I’d be heard.”

Attracting interest

Actively involved in numerous multi-cultural organizations — such as the Native American Enlightenment Association, the Hawaii Club, CAUSA and Alianza — Thomas added to his responsibilities by forming the Bearcat Robotics club last year.

Admittedly, Thomas says he isn’t a robotics expert. But his excitement to try new things has helped attract others to the organization — including Jullian Haley ’16 and Kyle McSwain ’16.

Both Haley and McSwain say they enjoy the club because of the opportunity to build robots and connect with like-minded students. They’re also energized by Thomas’ personality, which they describe as positive and outgoing.

“Nilo keeps things fun and interesting. He always has something to say,” says McSwain, adding that he’s inspired by results. “When the final product actually works, it’s a great feeling.”

Haley agrees, adding that the club is much more fun than he had imagined.

“Every time I come here, I learn something new,” he says. “I’m interested in seeing how all circuit boards work and how everything fits together. It makes you look at technology in a whole new way.”

Opening young minds

Besides influencing his peers at Willamette, Thomas is embracing a mentorship role at local elementary schools.

At Bush Elementary, for example, he’s worked with youths to build and program Lego robots. Soon, he hopes to increase his involvement and recruit the help of other Willamette students.

“The project helps promote innovation and learning, how to do things faster and better,” Thomas says. “Working with the kids is a lot of fun.”

As for his other goals, Thomas wants to bolster club membership, foster self-confidence and leadership among his teammates and expose Willamette students to marketing and fundraising opportunities.

People don’t need to know how to use a soldering gun or wire a circuit board to join the club, Thomas says, but they must have the desire to learn.

“Building our first robot made my team realize we are not experts, but we can do something. We can make it work,” Thomas says. “We’ve really developed a sense of community.”

For more information on Bearcat Robotics, contact Nilo Thomas at nthomas@willamette.edu.