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Academic Exercises: The Big Ten Conference Center

There’s more to the Big Ten than sports. Jill recently visited the Big Ten conference center in Chicago.

Most Nebraska fans knew from the start that joining the Big Ten conference was about more than athletics. It was mostly about athletics, but there were, and are, a lot of advantages for the academic side of the University as well.

I recently got to visit the Big Ten Conference Center located near O’Hare airport in Chicago to participate in a symposium. Most academics attend a handful of events like this every year. Despite advances in technology that allow us to collaborate virtually, an occasional face-to-face meeting forms the basis for the trust and comfort needed to do effective work.

One reason that this particular visit caught my attention was the use of a magic word, “Free”. Yes, the use of this facility is free for departments at Big Ten institutions. There are limits of course. The meeting must start and conclude within the normal business hours of the building or incur costs for personnel at the security desk. Any food or beverages are at the expense of the meeting organizers.

As a person who has suffered through many a conference cussing under my breath at everyone else who was also trying to use the same crappy hotel wifi, I was incredibly impressed with the technology and bandwidth we had available at this site. There were no hiccups in connectivity, the sound and video was high quality (believe me, I’ve suffered through many hotel conference center house audio systems too).

This particular symposium involved people from quite a few different states and was organized by faculty at the University of Illinois. Chicago is pretty easy travelling for anyone that needs to take a flight. For me, it was an hour drive to the airport (Sioux City), followed by a one hour and twenty minute flight and then a 15 minute shuttle ride to the hotel next to the conference center. I left home shortly after 4 a.m., checked into the hotel, knocked out an hour of work emails, and was over at the conference center ready to begin by 10:30 a.m.

As a side note, when I left for the symposium, I beat a winter storm to the airport by about an hour. I was in Chicago for three days and my kids had school called off back in northeast Nebraska for the first two days. Because of crappy road conditions, they would have been excused on the third day if they couldn’t get there. They went to school anyway #ProudMom. However, my drive back home that night was on the stressful side.

A drive that normally takes an hour took me 2 12 hours and was over patches that alternated between black ice and bumpy white ice (rain that solidified in a wave pattern because of the strong winds). This was navigating the hills and staring at the accompanying steep ditches of Highway 20 west of Sioux City. Fortunately, the roads got better as I got closer to home and my death grip on the steering wheel had loosened enough to let go by the time I pulled in the garage.

Returning you to your regularly-scheduled story.

The facility hosts around 350 meetings every year. There was one other meeting on the second and third days we were there, a “pretty normal” amount of activity, according to the staff. I believe there were around eight meeting rooms that could hold groups of all sizes. Almost every meeting room, with the exception of the large “ballroom” had an exceptional amount of natural light. There is something about having windows and sunlight that makes meetings like this more enjoyable.

In short, this is a great asset for the University of Nebraska and other Big Ten schools as they work to fulfill their primary missions. Visiting this facility made me curious about other ‘academic’ aspects to the Big Ten and I’ll try to share those throughout the spring and summer.