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A Student-Run Symposium: The Challenges and Rewards

Throughout the academic year, University of Oregon School of Law hosts numerous symposia and conferences. Many of these events are organized, planned, and run entirely by law students, who are also tackling school, research, internships, and work. We’re told that being a law student committed to organizing a symposium is like juggling apples, oranges, and then throwing in some bowling pins.

This year, students Andrea Bibee and Alek Wipperman helped to organize two of the law school’s largest events. Bibee organized the Journal of Environmental Law and Litigation Symposium (JELL) that was held this past fall, and Wipperman currently is working on the Public Interest Environmental Law Conference (PIELC), taking place this March.

Both students described the process of putting together these events as incredibly complex and time consuming. Bibee was elected as the 2011 JELL Symposium Editor last spring, and began work almost immediately. As the editor, Bibee’s responsibilities included selecting a theme, promoting the event, booking space, catering, finances, and connecting with speakers. Luckily Bibee was able to delegate tasks to the JELL staff. She worked closely with other departments on campus as well as JELL Editor in Chief Molly Fales to brainstorm themes, topics, and speakers.

As if the task wasn’t already difficult, Bibee completed the majority of her symposium planning while overseas studying and interning abroad in Ireland. She explained that the much of the early work did not require in-person interactions. “Once school started, I was basically just waiting for the event to happen,” she added.

When the time came for the symposium, she knew all of the planning and hard work paid off as “[she] was able to just sit and enjoy” the symposium. A few days after the event, a classmate approached Bibee and expressed how “the keynote changed her life and finally gave her a structure for what she wanted to do with her law degree.” It was a major accomplishment to know that fellow students learned from the event and that overall, the event gave value to their educational experience.

Like Bibee, Wipperman has a host of responsibilities and tasks to complete to successfully put together this year’s PIELC, a three-day event that hosts thousands of individuals from across the globe. He works with four conference directors to reserve space, invite speakers, arrange panels, prepare credit for Continuing Legal Education, record the events, and troubleshoot problems. Along with the conference directors, Wipperman says he gets a lot of help from the alumni organization Friends of Law Air Water.

In addition to PIELC, Wipperman’s demanding schedule includes classwork, research, journal duties, and job searches. He explained, “the demands upon my time often work at cross-purposes” and he needs to make sure that all of these demands are met. Wipperman’s key to dealing with stress and other matters when running a conference like this is communication. With good communication, problems can be heard and solved, and confusion about issues can be reduced, he noted.

“Knowing that you’re participating in something bigger than yourself – and being successful at it – gives a tremendous intrinsic reward,” said Wipperman.

Not only does putting together these events, which are both educational and inspirational, create a personal reward, it also helps guide these student leaders towards their futures. Before working on this event, Bibee was intimidated by cold-calling and e-mailing prospective speakers. Now, she is more confident with networking and she also has a stronger understanding of the “symposium world.”

Wipperman knows that “having this organizational ability and commitment put my skills in a professional context” which is important for the work he will do in the future.

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