Smith Steals Event Planning Spotlight

As students plan their courses for the next school term they may not want to overlook the nighttime event planning class that is offered. Communication majors, business majors or students looking to learn more about event planning may be pleasantly surprised to see the class curriculum designed by Professor Tom Smith.

Smith has 35 years of experience in the events industry. At a young age he started working for Disneyland acting as Tigger and the wicked witch from Snow White. Four years later, he moved to Knott’s Berry Farm and worked  as a decorator for events.

Smith worked on the opening and closing ceremonies for the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics. In 1989 he joined the company Health Net as the director of meetings and events where he stayed for 19 years. While at Health Net he met current colleague Cindy Keitel.

Keitel was the director of health and wellness at Health Net. She and Smith worked closely on many events such as the March of Dimes. Keitel, a California Lutheran University alumna, earned her MBA in 1997. In 2008 she became the community relations coordinator for Cal Lutheran where she currently resides.

When ideas of having an event planning class were buzzing around, Keitel knew Smith would be the perfect teacher to share his knowledge.

“He was at a place in life that he said ‘I want to give back to my field and to my students, and help them understand, and learn not only what I do, but what they need to do to get out and do what I do in the world,’” Keitel said.

Smith is currently employed by the medical company Baxter putting on global events, but that doesn’t mean he won’t take time from his busy schedule to spend an evening sharing and teaching his knowledge with students here on campus.

“My goal is to expose my students to real-world working professionals,” Smith said. “I bring to the class guest speakers who are subject matter experts in their own specific areas of the event field.”

Students can expect a guest speaker each week from companies such as Amgen, Westin Hotels, The Four Seasons, the Oaks Mall, Los Angeles Convention Center, Valley Economic Alliance and more. The speakers share their knowledge and expertise on the subjects of marketing, social media, non-profit fundraising, food and wine pairing, hotel management, audiovisual, etc. Students ask questions and interact with each guest. Time is made available each week to walk each visitor to his or her car for an extra networking opportunity.

“I think he is a master at networking,” Keitel said. “That’s an unusual skill to have in a faculty member on any campus.”

Smith asked his students to set up a LinkedIn account, a business-oriented social networking service, so they can stay connected to Smith and the guest speakers of each week.

Melena Van Booven, senior on campus and communication major, took Smith’s class her junior year.

“It was really interesting because the guest speakers were something I hadn’t really experienced before,” Van Booven said. “They were really great for networking and I’m connected with a bunch of them on LinkedIn now. I don’t think any other professor that I’ve had has ever done that before.”

Van Booven even worked an event planning internship after completing the course.

“I was able to put a lot of the course principles and assignments on my resume,” Van Booven said. “I was able to say in my interview I’ve had a really in-depth class on event planning…even though I haven’t had a lot of experience in it…which I thought was probably the main reason why I got the internship.”

In the last four years of his teaching career on campus, Smith has had around 250 students take his class. He prides himself on preparing his students for the professional world.

“The events industry is one that will always be here,” Smith said. “It touches finance, it touches marketing, it touches every sector of the work place where a graduate will land.”

Smith has had a number of students receive internships and paid jobs from guest speakers because of the networking opportunities he provides.

“Tom can open up his contact list and share it with other people so they can get their first step, that’s the part I think is so valuable,” Keitel said.

Aside from the collection of speakers Smith has, students will be expected to provide a group presentation that puts on an event from start to finish. Students are exposed to hands-on experience and the amount of detail required in putting on events such as a trade show, concert or holiday party.

“The challenge for me is just squeezing it all into a 16 week opportunity,” Smith said. “I strive to have a curriculum that is exciting and something that they haven’t experienced before.”


Daniela Abravaya
Staff Writer
Published February 4th, 2015