Inside Iowa State

Inside Archives

Submit news

Send news for Inside to, or call (515) 294-7065. See publication dates, deadlines.

About Inside

Inside Iowa State, a newspaper for faculty and staff, is published by the Office of University Relations.

July 19, 2007

Conference coordinator works to showcase Iowa State

by Dan Kuester, News Service

Jennifer Tabke

Photo by Bob Elbert

Her month started with a business and industry conference. That was followed by an international conference on pollination with attendees from 18 different countries. The following week she was off to Orlando to organize a conference sponsored by an Iowa State University department. This week, she has focused on the players, coaches and administrators on campus for the Shrine high school football game that takes place July 21.

This is a busy - but typical - month for Jennifer Tabke, a conference coordinator with University Conference Services.

And when the work week is over, she still doesn't stop. She is off to see family and friends around Iowa and in Minneapolis and Wichita, Kan.

Tabke keeps a pretty busy schedule, and she doesn't mind a bit.

You see, it took her so long to get the job she loves in the town she loves, she wants to make the most of it.

Iowa, Texas, Wisconsin and Iowa again

Tabke first arrived at ISU as an undergraduate, fresh from the farm in Moville and Woodbury Central High School.

After getting her degree in public service administration in the College of Agriculture, she went to Texas A&M University, College Station, where she spent a year and picked up her master's in leadership development.

Then Tabke took a job in northwest Wisconsin working as a 4-H agent. She loved it.

"It was great," she said. "If you could have taken the whole county and moved it closer to family and friends, it would have been better."

The family-oriented Tabke was eager to locate near her hometown. When she had a chance to work for Iowa State University Extension in northwest Iowa, she couldn't say no.

Then, in January of 2006, University Conference Services was looking for someone to help organize the first-ever Special Olympics USA National Games in Ames. The job was only a six-month position, but Tabke took it and jumped at the chance to return to Ames.

"I worked with all 50 state delegations to get what they needed. It was more than a full-time job," Tabke said with a smile.

The games included venues all around the Ames and Story county area and welcomed more than 30,000 athletes and administrators from all over the country.

When the temporary job expired, she was offered a full-time position.

A job she loves

And now, as a conference coordinator, Tabke said she has found the job that suits her perfectly.

"I love this job," Tabke said. "I love working with the different people and getting things done."

"I am a very organized thinker. I like thinking things through - sometimes too much," Tabke said with a laugh. "And this job uses that skill as an asset to be able to think ahead and anticipate things."

Despite all the preparations, sometimes there are things even Tabke can't anticipate.

Like when an attendee at the 9th International Pollination Symposium arrived and didn't understand English.

"All the presentations were in English, all the printed materials associated with speakers were in English and even the registration process that we had on the Web site was in English -- and no attendees told us that language might even be a consideration," she said. "We assumed, rightly or wrongly, that everyone would speak English."

When problems come up, it is Tabke's job to deal with them. That guest received extra help and attention during the conference, even though language remained a barrier.

International visitors also may present other challenges.

Like the man coming from Nepal whose luggage was lost by the airlines -- with all of his conference papers and his visa.

Tabke worked to get the man what he needed to live, but the luggage never did arrive. (Eventually, they did locate his bags in London.)

Another attendee, this time from Kenya, kept asking for special treatment from the conference staff.

"She wanted a ride to the bookstore so she could go shopping," Tabke said. "And other special favors that we don't normally provide. But in the end, we got her what she wanted."

Face-to-face isn't going anywhere

Tabke gets real satisfaction out of coordinating conferences and knows the value it brings to the university if the job is done right.

"It's good for the university," she said. "It provides exposure for the university and shows people what we have. They are more likely to come back if they see how easy it is to have a conference here, how close everything is and how friendly everyone is."

Tabke said that in addition to being the face of Iowa State for the conference attendees, she also has to work hard to be better than the competition to get people to come.

That competition is not just other conference centers, but also teleconferencing.

Despite the many teleconferencing options available to people, Tabke said that face-to-face conferences will never go away completely.

"Even with satellite teleconferences and phone conferences, everything technological that we can do, people are still going to have to meet face-to-face at some point because there is a value in seeing someone across the table who has the same needs, same issues, same problem areas, same everything, and that is valuable to people," she said.

Again, she points to the pollination symposium.

"Many of the foremost scientists in pollination biology were in the same room. And they used that as an opportunity to learn from each other and ask questions of each other," she said. "And you can't do that over the phone or through e-mail. There are ways to use technology to enhance communications. Face-to-face isn't going anywhere."


"I am a very organized thinker. I like thinking things through - sometimes too much. And this job uses that skill as an asset to be able to think ahead and anticipate things."

Jennifer Tabke, University Conference Services