Throwing off Fear: High Profile Events Become a High-wire Act 

John Kowalewski, Marketing & Communications

Brandon Stoddard, director of the Hall Global Entrepreneurship Center, was pleased to complete his preparations for the 2020 Outdoor Weber entrepreneurship competition a day ahead of schedule. The annual contest gives college students around the world a chance to pitch their recreation ideas for a chance to win $30,000.

He didn’t realize the real challenge was ahead.

When WSU suspended in-person operations March 12, event organizers everywhere had to improvise, developing plans for a virtual 5K, yoga at your desk, and converting a poetry and gardening event into an online platform. Among the unexpected results of holding online events, many of Weber State’s nontraditional students, whose schedules often prevent them from attending on-campus events, were able to participate.

Across campus, Bonnie Christiansen, academic sustainability coordinator of the Sustainability Practices and Research Center (SPARC), and the Intermountain Sustainability Summit organizers had spent the week prior to the WSU announcement brainstorming a white board full of ideas on how to move from an in-person to a virtual event.

Event organizers everywhere had to improvise, developing plans for a virtual 5K, yoga at your desk, and converting a poetry and gardening event into an online platform.

“The decision to pivot to an online event was hard, but it was much easier to deconstruct/modify the summit than to plan it,” Christiansen said. Suddenly an event featuring 25 sessions and 68 speakers sharing sustainability best practices, needed to be pared back — eventually to three sessions including the two keynote presentations.

Rather than offering participants a discounted rate for online access, registration fees were refunded and the virtual summit was offered free to anyone who wanted to attend. Instead of hosting attendees from five states and the Navajo Nation, the online presentations attracted people from 20 Utah cities, 21 states and, surprisingly, more than a dozen countries. Workshop presenter John Cook, who shared the event with his social media followers, is credited for garnering the international audience.

Alice Mulder, director of the SPARC, said that while hosting a virtual summit offered a greater reach, and alleviated travel issues which in turn reduced carbon emissions, she’s not ready to abandon the networking and connections that occur at an in-person conference.

Stoddard had less time to pivot. The decision to go virtual was made on the Friday before his event started the following Wednesday. A crash course on Zoom was essential to allow 10 teams of students, along with 53 mentors and seven judges to engage remotely.

Aside from some technological hiccups the first day, Stoddard joked that the worst thing to happen was announcing the winning teams out of order.

“This situation really mimicked life and what it’s like to run a business,” said Stoddard. “You just never know what’s going to happen, but you need to learn to move quickly and solve problems fast if you hope to survive.”


COVID-19 forced the cancellation of all sports at Weber State in spring 2020. In August, the Big Sky Conference announced that the fall sports season would be postponed until spring 2021. Our Wildcat student athletes and coaches have shown grit and tenacity, as well as a great deal of patience, as they continue to practice in hopes of returning to the fields and courts soon.

Other sections of our Throwing off Fear feature:

WSU Students

WSU Alumni

WSU in the Community

A Prepared Response

COVID-19 Timeline