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The Rewards of Involuntary Volunteering

March 23, 2016

About Me

Ellis Hecht (to the right in the photo above) is a 5th year Civil Engineering Student from Cary, NC. In May, he will graduate with a combined BS/MS degree concentrated in Structural Engineering and will begin working for LA Fuess Partners in downtown Boston, MA where he hopes to unify his passions for structures and architecture. Outside of his schooling, Ellis remains busy by traveling, cooking, and staying current with Boston’s ever changing food scene.

The Rewards of Involuntary Volunteering

March 12, 2016: The Saturday night I had been waiting for since 2014. The day I finally had my Sunday coffee and Sports Center-mornings back, no longer interrupted by Skype calls from the Chi Epsilon National Council. The day the 44th Biennial Chi Epsilon National Conclave came to a close.

Two years ago, I walked into a meeting between the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering and the officers of our Chi Epsilon Chapter. This meeting was open to any pledges interested in learning about Northeastern’s unique opportunity to host the National Conclave. I was the lone pledge who showed up. What did that mean? When Dr. Hajjar asked who would still be enrolled in 2016 and would head the organization of the Conclave, he turned to me and he said, “Looks like you’re our guy.”

The Chi Epsilon Conclave is a bi-annual conference where 200-250 students from some 130 universities come together to discuss the governance and administration of Chi Epsilon, and I was one of two students responsible for making it successful in the eyes of the National Council, in the eyes of the students, and in the eyes of Northeastern. This meant it wasn’t simply a weekend to discuss governance, but rather a weekend that would also be fun for students looking to explore a city that most had not yet traveled. These are the top Civil Engineering students in the country, many of whom will be looking towards graduate school. Why not showcase Northeastern as an option as well??

I’d be lying if I said I enjoyed every moment I spent working on the Conclave. Two years is a long time for one event to loom over your head. I’d changed apartments, changed classes, changed co-ops. The one consistency in my life was my responsibility to host 130 universities in March 2016. Its lingering presence in my mind led friends to put a price on use of the word “conclave” during our trips together—luckily, I survived relatively debt-free.

I’d also be lying if I said it wasn’t worthwhile and that I gained nothing from it. The truth is, organizing the Conclave put what I’ve learned at Northeastern to test. I specifically noticed the skills learned from my co-op as an Assistant Project Manager at MGAC put to use—things like how to manage the long list of tasks that would occupy the next two years of my life (negotiating contracts, coordinating tours and transportation, finding musicians and guest speakers); how to schedule these tasks in order for them to seamlessly materialize in time for the Conclave; and most importantly, how to communicate. I learned how to effectively coordinate with the National Council, caterers, hotel representatives, sponsors, attendees, and Northeastern’s own faculty and staff. Each of these parties defined the success of the Conclave differently, and learning to cater to each party’s interests and best communicate between them became pertinent.

It wasn’t until I walked into the Welcome Reception at the Fenway Center on the first evening of the Conclave that I was able the see the event come to life. Observing our violinist playing in the corner, our faculty discussing their research with the country’s top students, our caterers carrying tray after tray of hors d’oeuvres, the Conclave was finally here and everyone seemed to be enjoying themselves.

Throughout the weekend, countless students told me the great time they were having and how much they enjoyed being in Boston, touring Fenway Park, meeting our faculty, and listening to our guest speakers. Even The National Council relayed how impressed they were with the fluidity of the weekend; some said it was the most memorable Conclave they had been to.

These interactions are what made this experience worthwhile. These interactions are what have me looking back on the last two years, not remembering the moments pulling my hair out, but instead remembering the moments that helped me grow both professionally and personally. Organizing the 2016 Chi Epsilon National Conclave truly was a remarkable experience, one I couldn’t have accomplished without the support of faculty and staff, and without the skills I’ve learned in my last five years at Northeastern.