JWU’s SEEM Leadership Conference Celebrates 10th Anniversary 

Each year, JWU’s Sports, Entertainment, Event — Management (SEEM) program hosts the highly anticipated SEEM Leadership Conference. This year marked the 10th anniversary of the conference, which features a keynote, professional panels and networking opportunities. SEEM alumni return to campus as panelists to share their success in the entertainment industry and reflect on their time as students. 

But most importantly, this event is planned and executed by SEEM students as part of a Directed Experimental Education (DEE) course. This year, the course was overseen by Associate Professor Elizabeth Panciera. 

“The students do a tremendous amount of research and relationship management to find panelists who can speak to what attendees want to hear about,” shared Professor Panciera. “Through this whole experience, they learn every little intricate detail about planning, producing, creative style and where the industry trends are right now.”

A man holding up a smartphone taking a picture of the stage at the SEEM Conference.

The Dream SEEM Team 

Thirteen SEEM students participated in planning the event and were split into three committees: Education, Marketing & Sponsorship and Operations. Each committee had a set of specific tasks to help prepare, plan and execute the conference.  

Leading the committees were program managers Katie Sloan ’24 and Meaghan Decouta ’24, who oversaw the planning and execution of the conference. “As program managers, we led internal meetings with our team and met with external stakeholders involved with the conference,” shared Meaghan. She and Katie supported the committees throughout the entire semester to meet deadlines and help with the planning.  

“One of the standout highlights of this experience was the ability to foster cross-department collaboration at JWU,” said Katie. “During the execution of this event, we worked with Graphic Design students, the College of Food Innovation & Technology, Alumni Relations, the College of Hospitality Management, the Center for Media Production, Catering, Student Engagement and more.” 

“This was the first time that I have ever stepped into a role like this,” said Kyle Marcinko ’25, who served on the Marketing & Sponsorship committee. Kyle worked to secure sponsors for the event and provide them with any information they needed. “One obstacle that I learned from was interacting with real life industry members who have their own deadlines and things to do,” Kyle continued. “This made it difficult to get responses within certain deadlines that we needed to meet. But overall, I learned how to be comfortable talking to sponsors and industry professionals and how to be flexible, which has gained me very valuable skills and knowledge that I will definitely use in industry.”  
 SEEM Conference keynote speaker Kati Fernandez talking to student Mackenzie Weber on stage at the conference.

“Bet on Yourself” Says EPSN’s Senior Director of Development 

The conference kicked off with a keynote interview moderated by SEEM student Mackenzie Weber ’24. She had the privilege of chatting with Kati Fernandez, the senior director of content development for ESPN. During their conversation, Fernandez spoke about personal branding, professional identity and the ability to navigate career changes while being a part of the SEEM industry.  

The theme of the conversation was about the importance of betting on yourself, and Fernandez offered plenty of examples of how she advanced in her career by doing just that. 

“It’s not a linear path,” said Fernandez. “Betting on myself has been an innovative approach. I bet on myself by taking a seven-month contract with the NFL, even though I didn’t know what was going to happen. I didn’t even have an apartment, I just showed up in L.A.” 

SEEM Conference keynote speaker Kati Fernandez speaking to the crowd with a microphone.

She acknowledged that this leap of faith was risky, but anyone can take that risk if they’re confident in themselves and their abilities.  

“You have everything you need to accomplish what you want, but it isn’t always going to look glamorous,” Fernandez added. “You have to understand what you’re capable of and that what you have inside is enough to sustain you, but you also have to be smart enough to know your limitations.” 
In addition to her willingness to bet on herself, Fernandez also credited her success to staying focused, having strong mentors and striving to be a life-long learner. 

SEEM Alumni Return for Professional of the Year Panel 

The first panel featured three SEEM program alumni, each representing different areas of the industry.  

  • Jonathan Walker, STS, ’14, ’18 MBA 
    Director of Sports Sales 
    Rhode Island Sports Commission 
  • Jordan Lacey, CMP, ’16 MBA 
    Senior Specialist of Events & Experiences, North America 
    Schneider Electric 
  • Gabriella Pulley ’15, ’16 MBA  
    Operations Management 
    Heavy Lifting Inc. 

The panel of SEEM alumni sitting on stage at the conference.

They offered insight and advice about leadership and navigating professional opportunities to achieve success. They were also excited to see how much has changed at JWU since they graduated. 

“The energy is just unmatched,” said Lacey. “It’s exciting to see students returning to the events industry, and it's awesome to see how the campus has developed with the SEEM Lab and how much the conference has grown.”  

As a JWU senior in 2016, Lacey participated in planning the conference, working as part of the marketing team. She helped pave the way for future SEEM conferences by leaving a great example of how past conferences were run. 

Throughout the conference, the professionals emphasized the importance of taking advantage of every moment in and out of the world of SEEM. “Take every opportunity that comes your way, but also know where you are and the best way of doing this,” said who? 

“Get as much industry experience as you can,” said Lacey. “Volunteer in every event, raise your hand for every opportunity. Try to find people that are in the roles that you want to be in and see if you can shadow them or have coffee with them. Use being a student to your advantage and network, network, network.” 

“Embrace the assets that you have here at JWU,” added Walker. “Not only your fellow students, but the faculty — their level of industry experience and knowledge are unmatched. I think sometimes students are afraid to take advantage of that, ask questions or stick around after class, but I would say use the network you have here and all the assets that you have on campus and take full advantage of your education.” 

Industry Experts Share Insight on the Professional Panel 

The SEEM Professional panel talking on stage.

The final panel hosted three industry professionals, including one JWU alum. 

  • Tara Sullivan 
    Special Events Manager 
    Kraft Sports + Entertainment 
  • Rhonda Whyte '92, '94 M.S. 
    Vice President, Convention Management 
    Events DC  
  • Parker Woods 
    Production Manager 
    MGM Music Hall at Fenway 

These professionals have spent many years in the industry building impressive résumés. They offered students a lot of advice on how to grow in your career and learn from your team members as you go.  

Students were able to network with all the panelists during the Connections & Concessions hour, which featured themed and branded refreshments and snacks. 

For an inside look at the SEEM Leadership Conference and other events during SEEM Week, watch Jennifer Lee ’25 as she vlogs her entire experience. 

Why should students take part in the SEEM Leadership Conference? 

Every student can benefit from attending the SEEM Leadership Conference, but the greatest part of the event is the learning experience that comes with planning and executing it.  

“Being a part of the SEEM Leadership Conference planning team was a rewarding experience that empowered me to further develop my event management knowledge and skillset beyond the classroom,” says Meghan Decouta ’24. “This experience has taught me how to navigate professional relationships, improve my professional communication and collaborate with vendors, clients and sponsors to produce a professional-level event. It’s an irreplaceable opportunity that will set you apart as you dive into roles in the sports, entertainment or event management industry.” 

“If you have aspirations to become an event planner, joining the DEE is crucial for building and obtaining early skills in event planning,” added Nick Fuentes ’24, who served on the Education Committee. “The opportunity is truly something special that should be fully taken advantage of, if given the chance. It’s the perfect hands-on experience that any student should go for to prepare themselves for the future.”  

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