Nestled amongst flashy posters and wig-wearing plush sharks, the directors of the University of Maryland’s Student Entertainment Events create concerts, comedy shows and lectures that bring big-name talent to campus.
This semester, SEE brought comedian Eric André and Crying in H Mart author Michelle Zauner to campus, continuing a more than 50-year-old tradition of providing student-driven entertainment at this university.
Helen Wang, a junior economics and marketing major and SEE’s lectures director, is responsible for bringing speakers like Zauner to campus. SEE’s lecture series is one of the organization’s most anticipated events, hosting figures from celebrity chef Antoni Porowski to Stranger Things star David Harbour for Q&A-style interviews.
The long event planning process begins with the students, Wang said. SEE directors reach out to student groups and send out Google form surveys to gauge interest in a public figure each semester. This allows Wang to narrow her search for that semester’s speaker.
For Wang, SEE’s fall lecture provides an opportunity to increase diversity among the series’ speakers — specifically Asian American representation. Her involvement in SEE stemmed from Jimmy O. Yang’s comedy show in fall 2021, which she said was a defining moment in her early college career.
“I’ve spoken to a lot of friends who expressed that sometimes they wish that they had seen more Asian American representation at SEE events,” Wang said. “I really wanted to focus on that representation aspect, and then also having a unique lecture that people could go to and really enjoy.”
Zauner, who doubles as the lead singer of the alternative pop band Japanese Breakfast, fit Wang’s description of an ideal speaker. The next step is to reach out to the talent’s representatives through an intermediary booking agent. If schedules align and payment is agreed to, the directors launch event preparation.
Wang worked with Omicron Delta Kappa and the Asian American Student Union to host Zauner’s lecture. Despite the size of its productions and fame of its talent, SEE is as subject to room availability as any other club.
Although SEE events can be technically challenging — and physically exhausting — the organization means a great deal to those involved. SEE’s public relations director, senior marketing major Elise Bailey, found a home in the organization as a transfer student at this university.
“It was kind of hard really fitting into the UMD community as an outsider,” Bailey said. “Coming into an organization that runs events where our whole purpose is bringing people together has been just great to be a part of.”
For SEE funding director Mackenzie Smith, the organization represents an intersection of personal and professional interests.
“Besides giving me amazing relationships and just a really fun time and great experiences, [SEE] has been so helpful to my professional development,” the junior psychology and sociology major said. “It’s a club, but we do so much work.”
For this semester’s Art Attack, Wang worked until 2 a.m. The team started loading equipment for the event a day in advance.
Directors are always improvising and adapting to students’ changing needs, such as adding a second lecture time when Jennette McCurdy spoke last spring.
The spring semester will mark Wang’s last as lecture director, but her work to help the position evolve is far from over. Working with more student groups, continuing SEE’s collaborations with The Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center and encouraging greater representation among speaker choices are all on her to-do list before her time in the position ends.
As for the identity of the spring semester’s guest lecturer, Wang couldn’t say, but she’s keeping an eye out for candidates students will be excited for.
“I think pop culture is constantly changing, and we have to move with that,” Wang said. “SEE events are something that are so special and I always want to bring as many people as possible so we can have that experience.”