December Late Night Highlight: Virginia Tech

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December Late Night Highlight: Virginia Tech

Posted by Emily Mawyer on Dec 19, 2018 9:45 am

Hi there! My name is Emily Mawyer and I serve as the Assistant Director of Campus Events for Student Engagement and Campus Life at Virginia Tech in Blacksburg, Virginia. I’m excited to share our late night program with you- GobblerNights!

Virginia Tech Breakdown
Virginia Tech is a public land grant, research institution founded in 1872. We have 27,140 undergraduate students enrolled in 110+ bachelor’s degree programs and 4,663 graduate students enrolled in 170+ master’s and doctoral degree programs. Virginia Tech is ranked in the top 5% of universities in the nation for research expenditures, and the only Virginia institution in the top 50.

30% of our graduate school population are international students, and our most recent incoming first-year class has 1,797 international students (7,854 total nonresident undergraduate students). 9,398 undergraduate students live on-campus and many of those students live in one of our 15 living-learning communities (more information here).

Virginia Tech has two institutional programming boards that are categorized in our student organization hierarchy as University Chartered Student Organizations; The Virginia Tech Union and the Black Student Alliance. Both organizations host various programs and events throughout the academic year, many at night and some during the day. These boards, however, never hosted a consistent or traditional late night program that involved multiple activities and/or novelties, and contributions from other departments.

In 2013, Student Engagement and Campus Life (Student Centers and Activities at the time) decided to start a late night program, GobblerNights, as an alcohol-free alternative to partying and going downtown. In the beginning, GobblerNights took place four times a year (twice a semester) and was planned and implemented by various professional staff members that took turns organizing each program, in addition to their normal job responsibilities. Each GobblerNights was from 9:00pm-1:00am and hosted several different novelties, inflatables, games, a DJ, and free food (normally a midnight breakfast). Attendance ranged from 500-600 students. Finally, in 2017, Student Engagement and Campus Life created a position to lead GobblerNights, as well as other departmental programming and student organization advising. I was hired as the Assistant Director of Campus Events in July 2017 and have done research and benchmarking to transform GobblerNights and follow best practice, as much as possible, in the area of late night programming.

For the 2018-2019 academic year, GobblerNights is occurring five times (August, September, November, February, and April). The program takes place on a Friday evening from 9:00pm-1:00am throughout Squires Student Center and each event has a $10,000 budget. A GobblerNights committee was created to bring together stakeholders for the program that provide input and activities for the event. Contributing departments include Housing and Residence Life, Hokie Wellness, Recreational Sports, Virginia Tech Police Department, and Office of Emergency Management. Each GobblerNights has a theme that helps tie the activities, food, and music together. Past themes have included 90’s Remix, Superhero Squad, Destination Disney, Carnival Celebration, Glow Party, and Around the World. At each event, we have at least one make-and-take novelty (such as street signs), a movie, games, recreational activities, inflatables, a photo booth or green screen, an art or craft project, a DJ, lighting, and food and drinks. We always have an “activity passport” that students must have stamped at each activity they complete. These passports can then be turned in at the end of the night for chances to win several prizes. We have seen attendance range between 600-1000 students, depending on the weekend.

Insights and Takeaways
As we continue to collect assessment data from students for each event, we analyze the feedback and do our best to make data-driven decisions about themes, activities, dates, and times. We’ve noticed that a significant percentage of our student attendees are first-year, on-campus students and international students. Because of this data, we are collaborating more closely with Housing and Residence Life, and trying to bring our Cranwell International Center on-board as a planning partner.

As marketing methods change constantly, we are always exploring new ways to reach our students where they are. From boosting events on Facebook to utilizing “gorilla” marketing in the student centers, this is an area we need to continue to assess and evaluate our efforts.

In August 2018, we hosted our first GobblerNights during Welcome Week on the Friday of move-in. With the help of major campus partners, our budget for this event was $34,000. The event concept was the same as a typical GobblerNights, but also included seven carnival games, a ride, a giant metal slide, indoor laser tag, bingo with high-end prizes, a dunk tank, several inflatables, and increased food quantities. Over 3,000 students attended this GobblerNights and we received the highest-rated feedback from students and staff alike. I’ve been told several times from administrators and students that, “This is what every GobblerNights should be!”. But, without an increased budget or human resources to help with the planning and implantation, I don’t foresee us going this direction any time soon.

Our hope is to eventually be able to host GobblerNights once a month, or six times within the academic year. We’re working on collecting more assessment data to make a proposal to the appropriate areas for a budget increase for the 2019-2020 academic year.

If you have any questions or would like to share resources or advice, please feel free to reach out to me at or 540-231-6309.
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