It’s summer—traditionally a slower time for higher education—but St. John’s University’s Queens, NY, campus still brims with activity.
Since Commencement in late May, the University has hosted more than 40 school graduations, a host of sports camps, and several cultural immersion experiences for students from abroad eager to enjoy summer in the Big Apple. In August it will host a graduation ceremony from the New York Police Department (NYPD)’s Summer Youth Police Academy.
The man in charge of coordinating these summer activities is Richard Wolcott, the University’s Director of Conference Services. “We’ve been busy,” he said. “Once the summer comes and the students move out of the Residence Village, we get the rooms cleaned and maintained for the groups that are coming in.”
“It’s a great admissions tool for the University,” Mr. Wolcott continued. “The guests—many of whom are near college age—can see what the St. John’s experience is all about.”
The Department of Conference Services coordinates all requests for access to University properties, classrooms, and athletic fields. It also assists in event setup. During the school year, that can include planning for academic conferences, religious retreats, media services, and more.
But come the summer, when those requests dwindle, the department pivots to graduation ceremonies, sports camps, and other on-campus experiences. It also offers dorm rooms to visiting guests eager to stay in New York City at an affordable price.
These visits are facilitated in part by Mr. Wolcott’s staff of 35 student employees, some of whom are pursuing Bachelor of Science degrees in Hospitality Management at The Lesley H. and William L. Collins College of Professional Studies.
Students can serve on either a summer housing team, a facilities team, or a guest services team.
“That’s the part I enjoy the most—watching the students deal with real guests and issues,” Mr. Wolcott said. “In college, that professional development is so important.”
While these summer programs generate revenue, that is not the only reason they are offered. They are all part of St. John’s “good-neighbor” policy, according to Mr. Wolcott, especially the graduation ceremonies.
“Many of the high schools are not large enough to accommodate the graduates and their families, so they come to us. We’re happy to help,” Mr. Wolcott explained. “There are not that many places in the area that can have graduations.”
From June 1 through 30, 43 middle- and high-school graduations from both public and Catholic schools were held on the Queens campus. Groups ranged in size from 1,500 to 6,000 guests. Carnesecca Arena hosted the larger ceremonies; Marillac Hall auditorium was the choice for smaller groups.
Another four ceremonies were held on the Staten Island, NY campus. The NYPD’s Youth Police Academy will graduate a class of junior trainees on the St. John’s campus on August 12.
In 2021, the University hosted 35 outdoor graduations under strict COVID-19 protocols at a time when few venues were hosting such ceremonies. “Attendance was limited and guests were spread out,” Mr. Wolcott recalled. “You also had to have proof of vaccination or a negative COVID test. But we were so happy to be able to have those ceremonies last year.”
The cultural immersion camps have been historically global; this year’s attendees are from Italy, but past groups have come from as far away as China and Turkey. Guests stay in the residence halls, eat in Montgoris Dining Hall, and venture throughout New York City before returning at the end of the day.
Likewise, the hundreds of young athletes attending sports camps this summer get a big-league experience from members of St. John’s coaching staff. Day camps are held in boys’ and girls’ basketball, baseball, boys’ soccer, and volleyball. Players get top-tier instruction and a glimpse at college life.
“They can experience the sights of New York and come home and get ready for the next day,” Mr. Wolcott said.