A Q&A with Ann Stals – Getting down to the details

Meet ECE's master of all details large and small

Ann Stals Enlarge

Students, alumni, and faculty alike have something to thank Ann Stals for. As ECE’s event planner, she has her hands in nearly everything the division does. Hired in August of 2014, her three years has been spent expanding ECE’s outreach to students of different cultures, planning alumni meetups around the country, developing camps for high school students, and, most recently, sending current students to local and Silicon Valley companies for an insider look at an engineering workday.

Read on to learn more about the busy life of an event planner.

Tell us about some of the new programs you’ve started here.

Electrify Tech Camp was a new project that we started, we’ve done it for two summers and are coming up on our third. We have three different week-long programs for high school students to learn from our faculty and grad
​students. They all focus on different ​aspects of ECE, and give them an up-close look at life as a college student on campus. They get to use the same labs and the same equipment that seniors and grad students are using. They eat in the same dining halls, take stadium tours, and come to understand what it would be like to be a student at Michigan – which ​hopefully make them want to ​be a student here​ even more.

I think the most gratifying part with camp is seeing them learn. These are smart kids that we have coming to these camps, so seeing them be challenged by our faculty and really learning college material at a younger age is amazing to watch. We’ve also partnered with a non-profit that brings students in from a couple Detroit high schools, so they’ve been learning a lot​​ of material and completing projects that they ​might not have access to.

​All of our Electrify students always say “these camps are so great because we
​only ​learn fundamentals in school ​and we don’t get to be hands-on and do this stuff ourselves.” Being able to​ dive into each project and figure it all out themselves is an opportunity that they don’t get in high school. It’s ​amazing to provide that opportunity for them.

Some of these students came to camp, weren’t really sure what to expect, and once it’s all finished they’re saying they have a much stronger interest in engineering and math and science, and they want to do something with that in college and in ​their​ career. Being able to play a small part in inspiring that interest in the STEM field is
​so gratifying.

We’ve also done a lot of national alumni outreach at different conferences and receptions, trying to engage our alum with the division and keep them​ involved and interested in what we’re doing. We also want to connect them with each other for their own networking purposes and create stronger communities of ECE alum at different key points in the country.

A lot of the alumni haven’t been back to campus in a long time or stayed in touch as
​much as they might have wanted to. Having Khalil and all of our faculty out there talking about the amazing things that we’re doing here re-connect​s them ​to campus, and makes them miss their time here as a Michigan student. Hearing that we’re coming out to t​heir city​ and that they’ll have the chance to re-connect with people they knew in college is always exciting for them. All of our alum are so proud to come from Michigan.

What sorts of events have you done for students?

We’ve had a bigger emphasis on the cultural diversity we have represented in our students. We’ve put on a couple Lunar New Year events, Diwali, Iftar, and we’re coming up on the department’s first event celebrating Nowruz for Persian students.

It’s interesting for me because I get to learn more about these cultures myself. A lot of students tell our staff afterwards “I’m really homesick and don’t get to be with my family for these.” Having something here makes them feel a little bit more connected to home and with other students here that share their same values.

How do you make these as unique as you do?

It’s always helpful if there are students involved. For Nowruz we’re working closely with one student who can explain the meaning behind the celebration and what the different traditions are that go along with it. Punam Vyas, ECE’s course schedule coordinator, was extremely helpful in planning the Diwali celebration and making it a fun experience for all of our students. I want to make the events as meaningful and traditional as I can for the students who celebrate these holidays.

There are also a bunch of students attending who don’t necessarily celebrate the holiday, and I want them to learn something and have fun as well.

We try to make the events look as authentic as possible, and make sure that the food is really a traditional item. We also like to give students activities, like the calligraphers at the Lunar New Year and a henna artist at Diwali, and incorporate our student groups. There are a lot of musicians and dancers, amazingly talented students far outside engineering, and we try to engage them and give them the chance to share their culture with other people.

You’re also helping faculty out with their conferences now.

I’m working with four different faculty to help plan conferences they’re organizing. I’ve been here for three years now but I’m still constantly learning about the things our faculty are doing, so it’s great getting the chance to work closely with them and learn a little about their projects and what their focus is. They’re all generating such amazing things for this university and the world in general. It’s also a great chance to connect the university with other groups in this country and around the world.

What made you want to be an event planner?

I really enjoy the small details and logistics. I know a lot of other people find those really irritating or stressful, but I like grabbing all the different pieces and seeing the end products. It can be frustrating at times getting everything together, but once it falls into place you get to see people enjoying themselves and getting something out of your hard work and that’s what really keeps me going. It’s always about keeping that end result in mind and making that the best experience possible for someone. I want the event, no matter how big or small it is, to be beneficial.

How did you come to be interested in the field?

I didn’t really realize how big a field it was. I majored in public relations, and I picked that because it was a mix of communications, advertising, marketing, and journalism, and there seemed to be a lot of different options for me. The first job I got was a mix of marketing and event planning at a government contract program for a small nonprofit called Michigan Adoption Resource Exchange. We were looking to recruit adoptive and foster parents for kids currently in the foster care system. They were the older kids, 7–18, so they were a little bit harder to adopt than the younger kids.

It was definitely very challenging and could be very emotional. These kids had been through a lot. But it was gratifying – everything I was doing was having a direct positive impact on a kid who just really needed someone to fight for them and support them. So I really enjoyed what I did there. It involved a lot of smaller events, and a lot of marketing and outreach.

I got to the point where I was really enjoying what I was doing, but I needed a challenge and something a little bit bigger. It was hard to leave – but I’m happy that I’m here. There’s always something new and different coming and no day is the same. It’s definitely pushed all of my boundaries and expanded my skillset.

And there’s still a lot of new stuff coming my way!

March 9, 2017