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Person of Interest: The Founding Father




By Selena Fragassi

 

Pat Perfetto retires as the director of conferences and visitor services at the University of Maryland, College Park leaving behind an impeccable legacy in the collegiate conferences industry. 

March 2018 was the last time Pat Perfetto stepped foot on the University of Maryland, College Park in a professional role, after leading the campus’ thriving conference and visitors service department for an incredible 33 years. With his well-deserved retirement, Perfetto is looking forward to renovating his family’s home and spending lots of quality time with his grandchildren, knowing that he has developed a team that can carry on his work and standard of quality.

Perfetto was one of the original founding members of the Association of Collegiate Conference and Events Directors – International (ACCED-I) and began a one-stop shop on the UMD campus before many others were doing it, but he credits the personnel he has worked with for helping him achieve these landmark developments. “It’s one thing to be an idea person but another to have people that work to make those ideas a reality,” Perfetto says. “I have a great team I leave behind there, and I’m so proud of the work they do.” In this chat, Perfetto looks back at the past 40 years of his career and shares his thoughts on the future for the industry.

UV: How did you first become interested in the conferences industry?
PP: “My grandparents had a hotel and restaurant business and my aunt and uncle did as well. I spent a lot of time in those places and the hospitality business was in my blood. Coming out of college, I was just looking to get my graduate degree and work somewhere where I could do that. I sent in applications to Syracuse University and other major institutions and several months later I had an interview. At the time I was very young and couldn’t remember what the job was that [Syracuse] had asked me to come in and interview for; I went through the entire interview not really knowing what they wanted me to do. It turned out it was running and basically starting a conference program. That’s how I got started in 1979.”

UV: When you started it was pretty much the dawning of the collegiate conference industry. How different was it back then?
PP: “First of all there was no association for this kind of work. Within the first two months at Syracuse I called people and found others who were coordinating conferences. We got together often and it spun off into becoming ACCED-I. It was very, very small, there were only 11 of us in the beginning. We grew it bit by bit and good people joined in and became part of it. What it is today is something are proud of.”

UV: The industry started so small and now every campus has some semblance of a conference program. Why do you think it got to be so big and popular?
PP: “I think standardization and coming up with some basic standard operating procedures was part of it. Back when we started everyone had different procedures and we were stumbling over each other and learning by error; we needed a more standardized approach. And it just started growing. A lot of institutions became interested in doing something in the summertime with these resources that sat idle.”

UV: In the years since, what are some of the most exciting developments that have remained to this day?
PP: “There have been so many. In my own experience, one of the things I really believe in is that resident life teams need to refresh and regroup and get ready for fall. A lot of institutions, especially in the beginning, said to housing teams, ‘We need you to work year-round and not have a summer break.’ But it was hard to keep up with good quality services because people were tired and burned out. So I’m a big advocate for combining housing programs with summer conference programs, but that means you have to be very responsible, too. That is one big development a lot of campuses have adopted. Another thing is, fate only gives us one opportunity to make an impression and you can’t put enough importance on that aspect of what we do. It’s a great responsibility to leave visitors with a feeling of wanting to come back again. But there used to be this broken experience when different departments were running different pieces of the conference program. The development of the one-stop shop—with one contact, one contract, one bill, one person that can hold your hand to make it happen—really has had a positive impact.”

UV: Is there anything new you see on the horizon?
PP: “The development of dedicated public-private hotels coming to campuses will likely continue as colleges and universities continue to draw more visits for multiple reasons. That’s definitely the future. The other thing is the value added part of what we do; everything we bring to the university reflects on it. It goes beyond making money, but making sure the groups that visit fit well with the mission. In reality we act as CVBs for the university and want to represent them well.”

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