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Davis, California

Wednesday, October 20, 2021

Q&A with Picnic Day chair and special events director

If you thought planning your last birthday party was hard, try organizing an event that attracts more than 50,000 visitors a year and includes hundreds of exhibits, performances and interactive events. That’s Picnic Day in a nutshell, and as senior environmental toxicology major and Picnic Day Chair Jennifer Mappus and fifth-year animal science major and Picnic Day Special Events Director Lauren Young will tell you, making it happen is anything but easy. Mappus and Young sat down with The Aggie to discuss how they keep Picnic Day fresh nearly 100 years after the celebration began.

AGGIE: Why did you want to be on the Picnic Day board?

YOUNG: I wanted to get more involved in what I want to do career-wise and saw the opportunity to apply. This is my fifth year here, and I’ve been to Picnic Day every year. I thought it would be an awesome opportunity to be on the other side of it and know what goes into putting it all together.

MAPPUS: I wanted to get involved on campus. My sophomore year I was a transfer student so I did assistant directing, and last year I was the parade director. It’s something I’m never going to forget.

How did you approach your job?

Y: From what I’ve experienced with Picnic Day, Preweek hasn’t been that well-publicized. A lot of people are like, “I didn’t even know that happened.” I wanted everyone to know about it and be involved. I didn’t want to have contests where a set of 10 people got to do it. People were walking by today and they were curious and it was like, “Do you want to come paint something?” “Oh, yeah.” So how I approached it was to do new, creative ideas that hadn’t been done before and sticking with traditional ones we do every year, like the cow-milking contest and making sure the word got out.

M: We have board reports from previous years that talk about what went wrong and what went well, and that gives you an idea of where to start. I started over the summer, so I had time to think about what direction I wanted to take Picnic Day. I’m heavy on education, so I wanted people to know what Picnic Day was. Each year, the chair has a way they want to go. Last year, Charlie [Colato] did the “rewind” thing and I wanted to educate people.

What has been the most challenging part of planning Picnic Day?

Y: With a board of 16 people, you’ve got 16 people doing their own different jobs trying to work together, so it’s working with all the different personalities. Luckily we’ve been able to do it really well. You have to learn how to utilize everyone and their skills.

M: The most challenging thing for me this year is managing the 15 people. Everyone has a different personality. I live, breathe, eat Picnic Day all the time, and it’s been a real pleasure and joy to get to know everyone. But let me tell you, during Fall Quarter it was challenging for me to figure out my own bearings for managing these people and then figure out how to effectively manage them without ruining the vibe we were trying to create. Us being this close doesn’t happen over a quarter. You have to start early.

Y: Another challenging thing is overcoming the idea that Picnic Day is a drinking day. People automatically have this idea that that’s what it’s going to be about. It’s getting people to open up to the idea that this is what it’s really about; this is something our school can be proud of. If you want to have a day of drinking, do it on a different weekend; that’s not what this is for.

How do you satisfy the many different types of visitors, like alumni, families and students, who come to Picnic Day?

M: I think with our 200-plus exhibits, everyone can find something to do.

Y: That’s what it’s for. It’s showcasing what our school has to offer, which is something for everyone. With exhibits, animal events and shows, there are so many activities and that’s why they all come — to experience all that.

M: That’s exactly what it is. With such a diverse campus it’s easy for people to find what they want to do. There’s a zero-alcohol policy on campus, so that gets rid of the whole let’s-drink-on-campus-around-these-families thing. It’s really geared towards a family-friendly atmosphere.

What have been the most memorable moments throughout this process?

M: We did a retreat in the fall and we went rafting down the American River. One of the rafts actually flipped. It was a great experience for us to bond as a team.

Y: That was our first thing [we did] all together. She [Mappus] hired 15 people and then we were like, “We’re going rafting next weekend. Let’s do this.”

M: I would say the board meetings are pretty memorable. It’s a time when we can have fun and be serious at the same time and see all our planning come together.

Y: For me, it’s all the people I’ve met. I’m friends with the mayor of Davis on Facebook. It’s pretty cool. Richard Kossack, [director of retail operations] at Sodexo, is like my best buddy. We have lunch together all the time now.

M: And being quoted in The Aggie. I’m like, “Mom and Dad, look at the Aggie!” It’s on my wall, actually.

ERIN MIGDOL can be reached at features@theaggie.org.

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