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University Day Behind the Scenes: How UNH Puts on an Event for 10,000 Attendees

University Day is one of the University of New Hampshire’s biggest events on campus, hosting nearly the entire student population. How does it plan for such a gathering?

Every September, the University of New Hampshire (UNH) celebrates the beginning of fall semester with University Day (U-Day), an event that brings together the entire UNH community and showcases the many clubs and opportunities the campus has to offer. 

It is hosted by the Memorial Union and Student Activities and caters to thousands of students, faculty and other community members. This year, U-Day falls on Thursday, Sept. 7. But planning started exactly a year ago.

“We were taking notes as the event (last year) was going on: ‘What could we change? What could we do differently next year?’” said Kally Riddinger, assistant director of programming and leadership for the Memorial Union Building. Last year’s U-Day was also held on September 7.

Running an event for over 10,000 people requires the help of many hands; Memorial Union collaborates with UNH Dining, UNH Police and UNH Facilities to ensure the event, which goes from 2:30-6:30 p.m., runs smoothly. This year, 385 tables will line the Thompson Hall and Scott Hall lawns, hosting various clubs, organizations and other groups students can get involved in. 

Though that amount of tables sounds like a lot, Riddinger explained that “it’s an organized chaos.” She and her team have mapped out to the inch how many tables can fit along the pathways, and the trails and tables are divided by letters and colors and are coordinated based on different categories. For example, Red Trail Letter A houses political and activist groups like Planned Parenthood Generation Action and Students for Life.

Students gathered on Thompson Hall lawn for University Day 2022 (Jackie Weik)

Unlike in years past, this year’s tables will only line one side of the walkways to make the event less crowded and overwhelming for attendees. 

One of the other big draws for students on U-Day is the free food. Chef Todd Sweet, assistant director of culinary at UNH Hospitality Services, outsources food from local vendors for the event.

Maine Family Farms supplies the 9,000 beef patties needed for the day; hot dogs come from Old Neighborhood Foods in Chelsea, Massachusetts; a truckload of ice cream is coming from New England Ice Cream; the first McIntosh apples of the season roll in from Duane Family Farms in Barnstead, New Hampshire.

“Anybody who’s just moving to New England for the first time and having an actual fresh apple is going to have their mind blown,” said Sweet. “It’s fabulous.”

Sweet also works with vendors to limit food waste and any other non-compostable, non-recyclable waste.

“Our goal is to make sure we are as close to zero-waste as we can be,” he said. 

U-Day is many students’ first introduction to the many opportunities UNH has to offer. It’s important to Riddinger that students feel encouraged to get involved. 

“We’re just really excited to be a part of students’ engagement journey on campus,” said Riddinger. “The more students become engaged with campus and the things we offer, the more likely they are to participate in other ways in the community beyond the ivy walls of UNH.”

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