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Sherry Ebrahimi: Keeping campus lively in summer

Sherry Ebrahimi is director of the Office of University Conferences. Emory Photo/Video.

As the rhythm of campus life slows for the summer, Sherry Ebrahimi is bracing for her busiest season, when thousands of youngsters will arrive at Emory to attend residential camps, classes and conventions.

Summer brings a happily-frantic pace for Ebrahimi, who has directed the Office of University Conferences at Emory for the past decade. It’s an intense schedule, she admits, that runs a bit contrary to the rest of the University.

Her job? Bring life — and revenue — to the Emory campus in the summer months through a full slate of residential events that offer everything from chess and sports skills to computer and language proficiency.

Ebrahimi believes it serves the University well. Keeping residence halls filled for the summer generates money. Bringing talented youngsters to campus nurtures prospective scholars. Employing Emory students to help run things affords great leadership opportunities.

Emory roots run deep for Ebrahimi, who met her husband, Steve, on their first day of classes at Emory during freshman year. Ebrahimi went on to graduate in 1997 with a political science degree.

But her very first visit to campus was as a high school junior, when she attended a national Latin convention during a summer program much like those she now coordinates.

You chose Emory first as a student. What drew you here?

I grew up on the Vanderbilt University campus (in Nashville, Tenn.), where my mom’s been an administrator for over 30 years. Being an only child, I knew that I needed to go more than two miles away for college. When I came to visit Emory during my junior year of high school, I knew that this was the place for me. Having a multicultural background myself — my mom is from a small town in Alabama, my father is from Afghanistan — I enjoyed the diversity. I was a very enthusiastic applicant for early decision and I’ve been enthusiastic about Emory ever since.

How many participants can we expect to see on campus this summer?

We start every summer with Special Olympics Georgia (held this year May 18-20) — that alone brings 3,000 guests to campus. It’s the hardest thing that we do and the most fulfilling. We work behind the scenes to make sure our facilities are up to speed; we also love to participate in a lot of the activities. Our student workers will attend the dance with the athletes. Over the summer, we’ll have at least 5,000-6,000 visitors representing about 60 different groups on campus.

Do you find groups to come for summer programs or do they find you?

A little bit of both. I’ve started doing some soliciting. We’re pretty selective. We want to make sure it’s a group that fits with Emory’s educational mission. The majority of our groups are young people, but we do host some nonprofits and other groups of adults.You attract a variety of organizations.

What stands out this year?

We love Chess Camp, a 10-day program for young students who are absolutely brilliant. A few years ago, we found a pair of boys, probably 8 or 10 years old, who came to our office playing a game of chess with each other completely in their heads. One would look at the other and say, “ My pawn to D-4….” (laughs). We also host our own campus programs, such as the Barkley Forum debaters. Those students are always very motivated. Many will end up applying to Emory. Then we have a great computer camp, Internal Drive tech camp. That’s been very popular. We’ll even have (the R&B star) Usher doing a leadership program on campus this summer.

What is a typical day like managing these summer programs?

With this job, no two days are ever the same. We deal with so many different kinds of clients that come to campus, people around the University. I feel as if we touch almost every office here on campus. And it’s a cyclical job that’s a lot of fun.

Campus life, working with students, student development — as someone who has a degree in student affairs, I really enjoy all of that.

However, what’s also become exciting to me is that I feel as if I’m a little bit of an entrepreneur who runs my own business. Part of that is making sure we provide great customer service to our clients and that everyone has an excellent experience here at Emory. And the business side is very appealing. We’re trying to be really smart about bringing in revenue so our department as a whole has money to renovate our residence halls without raising rent, for example. The money we bring in for the University — about $3 million in revenue — really makes an impact on the overall budget. And we do it all with Emory talent.

When do you catch your breath?

Since I work for University Housing, (in August) I help with student move in. By Labor Day, I’m out of here with the family to head for the beach!

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