Team effort a big reason University shines as debate venue

Kim Kania was driving a golf cart in the middle of a work day, but she was not on the links shooting a round of golf.

Instead, Kania, a photographer in the radiology department at the School of Medicine, was doing her part to make the vice presidential debate a success. And, by all accounts, the University’s team effort was a hole-in-one.

Kania’s job, driving members of the media from the credentialing center to the Athletic Complex, was one of many extra duties taken on by University staff and faculty during debate week.

Jennie Marchal (left), internship specialist, and Aimee Wittman, associate director, both at the Career Center, staff the volunteer check-in booth during debate day. The two began coordinating the volunteer effort in January.

“I was an undergraduate during the ’04 debate, and I thought it was interesting,” said Kania, who also was taking photos of the transformation of the debate hall for the Commission on Presidential Debates (CPD).

The behind-the-scenes efforts of staff and faculty are a big reason the University continues to shine as a debate venue.

Shari Patterson, executive secretary to the dean at the School of Medicine, was a receptionist for the CPD. Her debate duties included taking calls from the media, taking messages for the CPD members and finding answers to questions. On debate day, her shift was from 4 p.m. to midnight.

“I volunteered because I wanted to be in this atmosphere and be able to help in whatever capacity,” she said.

Jim Clancy, an administrative officer in the Department of Psychology, took on shifts as office manager for the CPD, where his job included sending a student to get Gus’ Pretzels for the CPD members. On debate day, he shuttled VIPs to and from the Athletic Center before and after the debate.

“I wanted to be involved not only as a break from the routine but also to meet new people and mostly to feel closer to the election process,” he said.

Organizing the student and staff volunteers was the job of Aimee Wittman, associate director of the Career Center, and Jennie Marchal, internship specialist, who have been coordinating the volunteer effort since January. They were responsible for marketing the volunteer opportunities around campus, reviewing applications and placing the volunteers in their jobs. Five hundred WUSTL faculty, students and staff applied.

“It’s been so exciting to be part of this amazing event,” Wittman said. “Every minute has been worth it.”

The athletic department handed over its home for the debate. Joe Worlund, assistant athletic director, said that the main office was taken over by the CPD the weekend before the debate. “It is a major undertaking for the University and requires much cooperation and compromise to make it happen,” Worlund said.

“Since we have been through the process three times before, it is easier to anticipate and plan for the inconvenience for the faculty, staff and students. It definitely requires some flexibility from our athletes and coaches,” he said. Team practices had to relocate, but unlike during past debate preparations, no contests had to be moved.

Security is a crucial part of debate preparation. Don Strom, chief of University Police, was in command of more than 600 fire and police personnel from around the region.

All 45 members of his department were on duty debate day, some working 14- to 16-hour shifts. Their duties included patrolling on bicycle and vehicle, staffing security posts inside the Athletic Complex and monitoring checkpoints around campus.

Strom said his department and other regional responders have been planning and coordinating with the U.S. Secret Service for 10 months.

“It’s a pretty big operation,” he said. “Every person at every post has a separate written document with their duties.”

Because he and his department have been through debate preparation before, they know what to expect.

“You do as much preplanning as you can and focus on anticipating what could happen,” Strom said. “That way you are better prepared to focus on the unexpected.”

Parking took on special complications last week. Nick Stoff, director of Parking and Transportation Services, said his department oversaw lot closures; secured off-site parking; arranged for transportation for the CPD, ticketed guests and alumni events; and posted workers throughout campus to help with pedestrian and vehicular traffic.

Rob Wild, chair of the Vice Presidential Debate Steering Committee, said the special people at the University helped make the event a success.

“We have people at Washington University who know how to work together, communicate, deal with conflict and resolve difficult challenges,” he said. “I could not be more proud of this team effort.”

For a complete list of the Vice Presidential Debate Steering Committee members, go to