From Carnegie Mellon University Athletics
One of the most unique traditions of any college is what Carnegie Mellon University refers to as "booth." Booth is just one part of Spring Carnival that brings the entire campus community together and it's unlike anything you'll find across the nation.
At Carnegie Mellon, student organizations plan for months to build a booth in just one week, only to tear it down after three days. It's an intense week for those who participate but it brings a sense of satisfaction and amazement to all.
While booth is a competition, it's also a chance for students to apply knowledge learned in classes, demonstrate leadership skills and show off creativity otherwise untapped.
Many student-athletes are members of sororities, fraternities and student organizations on campus that accept the challenge of constructing a safe and decorative booth that will light up Midway and entertain classmates during the much anticipated four-day weekend that Carnival provides.
Sarah Jurgens, a sophomore on the volleyball team, accepted the responsibility in her Delta Gamma sorority of booth chair for crafts this year.
"A few upperclassmen friends said I'd be good at it and it seemed like a fun leadership role," said Jurgens, a mechanical engineering major.
Jurgens is one of three current volleyball players who are or have been booth chairs. Senior Molly Higgins and junior Heather Holton each served as a structural chair for Kappa Alpha Theta.
Once the theme for Carnival is announced in the fall, organizations enter a lottery to determine an order for individual theme selection. Then meetings upon meetings take place and members of each organization begin the design process to be prepared for the building phase following spring break.
Many hours, upwards of 150, are put in by members during preparation, but perhaps none more important than those of the booth chairs who are responsible for making sure the booth goes up.
Higgins, a business major, has been on Theta's build team since her freshman year. She has leaned on her experience with Habitat for Humanity and the strength she's developed as an athlete to play a pivotal role for her organization.
"This year I decided to be a structural chair because of what I've learned the last three years while building stairs, roofs, and leveling floors," said Higgins. "I love the long days and how we can make something so massive appear in just a week."
That might be the most impressive thing about booth.
"Each organization handles it differently but once we move on to Midway and begin to build, we have 12-15 people spending every minute from Friday at 7 p.m. to the following Thursday at 1 p.m. piecing together our structure," said Higgins. "And the girls responsible for crafting also put in crazy hours to complete crafts for installation in the rooms."
Prior to building onsite, every organization builds walls, stairs, platforms, and roofs while cutting and painting crafts. The items are stored in garages and approvals must be met before installation can take place.
Holton, a civil and environmental engineering major, also got interested in being a structural chair for booth after being on the build team her freshman year.
"Although you don't have to be an engineering major to design and build a booth safely, it is cool to see and understand how supports and other structural designs in a booth relate to the coursework we do," said Holton.
All three also agree that their time and responsibilities as student-athletes have helped them be successful the week of build and the time leading up to it.
"Volleyball prepared me in countless ways," said Higgins. "Since my role has been physically demanding, I think that volleyball made me resilient and certainly capable of building despite being exhausted. I'd say the most translatable aspect would be motivating a team. It's not easy to get a group of women who have very demanding majors and extra-curricular responsibilities to drop everything for a booth that only stays up for three days. It takes a lot of humor and passion, but it certainly helps our organization to bond and grow."
"Being a booth chair is a huge time commitment, so in that way it definitely compares to being a part of the volleyball team," said Holton. "It's similar to playing volleyball because we spend so much time preparing and building for carnival much like we spend so much time working out in the offseason as preparation for the season. Booth, much like volleyball, is really a push. Our season is long and sometimes tiring but in the end the outcome is worth the hard work. In both you get to see the results of your hard work and long days, and they are both really rewarding in that way."
For Jurgens, she leaned on leadership qualities she's developed while being part of a team to get her organization through a disappointing moment.
"I had a bunch of girls looking to me to provide direction," said Jurgens. "Our plan was to have two stories to our booth but halfway through build we realized it wasn't possible and we had to cut it down. There was a lot of disappointment and I had to step up and stay positive and lead the group through the adversity."
The time, dedication and tradition of booth makes for a unique, annual experience that everyone at Carnegie Mellon, from students and staff to visiting prospective students, families and alumni, can enjoy every April.