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Bringing Out the Owlumni

It's Homecoming Week at FAU, aka "Owl Prowl," which encourages the university's 121,000+ alumni to reconnect with their alma mater. Of those 121k there are 94,145 in Florida with 34,884 in Palm Beach county alone - so you would think we wouldn't have a problem getting people out to these events if FAU is still in everyone's backyard.

As you can see on the Homecoming website, we begin with... community service opportunities, which are incredibly important to the communities they serve, yes, and can be great fun building a house with your friends, yes, but it doesn't start off an exciting week with a bang. Community Service can fill up the early part of Opening Day for Owl Prowl, but when the sun goes down there needs to be a real flashy, high draw event to kick off Homecoming Week the right way. There's technically a "Homecoming Kick-off" on Monday, which is weird since the Homecoming events start on the Saturday beforehand...

Yesterday FAU held their Homecoming 5K Run/Walk to benefit autism. Admittedly I was a little skeptical of this event back when I served on the Homecoming Committee and totally underestimated how many people are interested in runs these days. In fact, I had two friends (who are grad students at FAU) run both the FAU 5K and the hugely-popular Color Run in Miami.

For those who wonder what the deuce is going on there, it's basically a race where runners pass through different "color zones" and have different colored food grade cornstarch powder thrown on them (it washes out easily, don't worry). People love it, and considering how many students loved the Freshman Foam Party (where they got equally messy in dayglo paint) perhaps FAU would consider doing the Homecoming 5K as a Red and Blue "Color Run" 5K where they could get covered in red, blue and gray colors along the way! That would definitely bring more people out and inject more "school spirit" into the event.

During the week the Owl Prowl kicks into more "high profile" events:

  • Monday's Carnivowl (a carnival before Friday's big carnival, the Fall Family Fest...), Owl Hunt (a fun event where students race around campus looking for Owl heads) and (this year) a Presidential Debate Watch Party in the stadium (great idea, BTW). 
  • Tuesday's big events are the Canned Food Sculpture Contest (occasionally interesting, and the cans get donated to the hungry afterwards, so that's a good thing) and the Timucua Pageant, a talent show and one of FAU's oft-forgotten traditions. It used to be an independent event but now it's been rolled in with Homecoming.
  • Wednesday's big event is the Homecoming Comedy Show featuring Ralphie May, who's kinda famous, I guess. I guess that's the draw there.
  • Thursday's Talon Awards historically draws the most alumni, boosters and administrators for a fancy-ish gala atmosphere. For the regular students, the big event on Thursday is the Homecoming Concert, this year featuring Pepper and The Supervillains... which is apparently some sort of a reggae/ska thing. Enjoy it because the concert budget was doubled from $15,000 to $30,000 to bring in the "greatest homecoming concert to date." I once asked the Program Board how much it would cost to get a "Dave Matthews" type of headliner and they estimated over $100K, if that answers any "Why can't we get ________ to play at FAU?" questions. Homecoming's total budget is $196,500, which you can see in the 2012-2013 SGA budget here.
  • Friday is the Homecoming Parade and the Fall Family Fest and is, in my opinion, the best day of events before the game. The Homecoming Parade doesn't draw a lot of people from the community when it should - not sure they advertise for it - and that's a damn shame because people put a lot of effort into the floats. Fall Family Fest is awesome, from the bonfire to the carnival attractions, and really the only thing that would make it better would be to significantly enlarge it, perhaps into the "campus green" (the "protected" grassy quad that stretches from Arts+Letters to Physical Sciences).
  • Saturday is the home football game against Troy, for better or worse. In years past this would have been a great draw since Troy was leading the conference and we had gunslinger Rusty Smith to help us upset them. That said, the football team will eventually get better and this will be the centerpiece of the Homecoming Week, especially if we can get a name brand team to play us at home here. Not going to go deep into FAU sports talk here as that's not the purpose of this blog, but we all know that this event is supposed to be THE tentpole event and thus the biggest draw of the entire week. 
  • And after the game, well, I guess that's it. No Homecoming Outro for us. We used to have a dance or a post-Homecoming brunch but over the years they kept getting dropped and re-added, dropped and revised, and now I guess it's just dropped in general. Speaking of dropped events: there used to be a pre-Homecoming Window Painting Competition that was really awesome... until people realized that no one really wanted to clean it off afterwards, so that got nixed.

Now, I know you could have just visited the Homecoming website link I provided and found out all about this yourself. But I wanted to tell you a little about these events because, fact is, this is actually one of the best Homecoming calendars I've ever seen at this school. In the past, we had to choose between a comedy show or a concert, this year we get both, and if you count the Homecoming with Hardwell show off-campus, we actually get three performance events. Additionally we get two carnivals, even though Carnivowls have historically been one of those kind of events where you can see and do everything in all of five or ten minutes... so there's that.

The downsides, like I said, are that we start off slow (no big flashy start), there's no Greek Event (e.g. a "Greekstravaganza") probably because they do everything during Greek Week, the comedy selections are sometimes duds and there's no real outro. But let's remember that the Homecoming Committee doesn't have a lot of money and has to spread their budget out across an entire week's worth of events - not to mention there are a ton of costs you probably don't think about such as security for the concerts/comedy shows.

Some universities get around limited funds either by increasing their Homecoming budget through SGA appropriations or by actively seeking out corporate sponsorship in the communities. Program Board has made the Homecoming Committee aware that they could get bigger, more expensive acts to play here if they charged for tickets (say $15 or $25/person) but they're always sensitive to the fact that students either may not show up in numbers needed to cover the cost or they'll pitch a fit that they have to pay to see an act when they've "already paid" in A&S fees. It's a valid argument, but the reality is that if you want to see a Louis C.K. at FAU, you're going to have to pay a little bit more.

If we had some more money - let's imagine we had $500k for Homecoming because we're somehow awesome rich like that - then I'd like to see some of the following things (besides the Blue/Red Color Run) added to the slate:

- A great kickoff event. I'm thinking a fireworks show at the stadium on the first night of Owl Prowl. Alternatively, this could end Homecoming Week. This is the kind of thing that signals "yes, something important is going on over here" to the whole community.
- Large scale decoration effort on campus. Nobody should come to campus this week and not know it's Homecoming Week.
- Have a steel drum band/performance artists out in front of SO on the Free Speech lawn, a new act every day.
- Get a thousand red and blue balloons, blow them up, and have students release them at the same time. Do it about 5 pm on Monday while people on Glades are waiting in traffic and look over to see this flurry of balloons coming off campus.
- A "meet the owls" wildlife show at the Barry Kaye Auditorium with birds and other exotic animals.
- Bring in a famous speaker(s) like Neil Degrasse Tyson, Penn & Teller or Kevin Smith.
- Consider moving Owl Madness to Homecoming Week.
- Instead of paying for a few carnival-type attractions to come to campus, pay for an entire carnival to come to campus, like churches do. Invite the community and give the community a discount on admission if they're wearing an FAU shirt. This could be the "enhanced" Fall Family Festival.
- Do a "Taste of Boca" type event with local restauranteurs setting up in the concourse of the stadium. This could be a pay-for-admission type of event. Could call it the FAU FOOD FESTIVAL.
- Create a Giant "Good Luck" Card for the players. Have it out on the Breezeway so students can sign it. SGA can deliver it on Saturday before the game.
- "Owlumni Connect", a social networking event of alumni looking to hire FAU grads - and FAU grads looking for jobs!

That's all I can think of for now. It's getting late - time to post this!

 GO OWLS!

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