Hectic, busy, long hours and IUPUI tourism student can’t wait to do it again

By Rich Schneider, IU Communications Specialist:

Protestors marched outside. It was organized chaos inside. Security was heavy, with police dogs and heavily armed Secret Service agents. There were long lines. And IUPUI student Tami Cornelius loved every minute of it.

In fact, Cornelius hopes to repeat her experiences at the American Israel Public Affairs Committee policy conference in Washington, D.C., where she served as a volunteer in March. The conference, held annually to help shape U.S. policy and strengthen the U.S.-Israel relationship, drew 16,000 people, throngs of protestors and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who spoke at the conference the day before his controversial speech to Congress on March 3.

Cornelius, a student in the IU School of Physical Education and Tourism Management at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis, had sought out the experience of working at the large conference held in the seventh-largest convention center in the U.S.

The full-time student and mom of a middle-schooler, Cornelius had been in the events industry about five years before coming to IUPUI to complete a degree. “I knew I was doing exactly what I wanted to do with the rest of my life. I was in the right room.”

Seeking opportunities to gain experience, Cornelius kept close tabs on the school’s listserv that passes along volunteer and internship opportunities. When a notice about the American Israel Public Affairs Committee conference came along, she quickly applied for one of 250 slots for college students who were given a $325 stipend.

Cornelius and four other IUPUI tourism, conventions and event management students were accepted for volunteer posts. As best as they could tell, IUPUI was the only university from which all of the applicants who applied were accepted, a fact they attributed to the school’s leadership development class, which shows students how to create a professional presence.

Tami Cornelius at AIPAC Conference

Tami Cornelius at AIPAC Conference

“That made us feel honored,” Cornelius said.

The group of students traveled to Washington the Friday before the conference and spent the next day in training. Cornelius was assigned as an usher in the main auditorium, a post that placed her close to the hall’s center stage, allowing her to watch the address by Netanyahu.

Cornelius and the other volunteers arrived at the convention center about 4:30 a.m. on the day the Israeli prime minister spoke. They headed back to their hotel rooms 18 hours later.

“There was a lot of security that was very intimidating,” she said. “While there were long lines; there was a lot of energy because everyone knew the prime minister was going to be there. Everyone was excited. When Netanyahu came onto the stage, all 16,000 seats were filled for the first time.”

Even with the long hours, the experience was worth it, Cornelius said. “They brought us in as volunteers, but they gave us real experience. They didn’t have us picking up trash or making copies. We worked right beside senior conference volunteers.”

She came away with a number of lessons learned. “You definitely need a team and need help. You need multiple people around you, especially to bounce ideas off of for troubleshooting. I also learned that if you come with plan A, you also need a plan B, C and D.”

By experiencing a large event firsthand, Cornelius said it enhances what she’s learning in the classroom. “You get to watch it all come together. It may sound confusing in a book, but when you are able to see what works, it goes right along with the textbook.”

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