Doug Skaff still remembers his first WVUp All Night.
Up All Night is West Virginia University’s on-campus late-night program, started in 1998 to offer alternatives to Morgantown’s late night social scene.
“I had some fraternity brothers razz me a little bit when I told them I couldn’t go to a party, because I wanted to be at Up All Night,” said Skaff, now a member of West Virginia’s House of Delegates. “I told them all, ‘come to Up All Night at midnight, and it will be a really good time. Trust me.’”
Just past midnight on the first morning of Up All Night in spring of 1998, Skaff, then a junior, saw four of those fraternity brothers walk through the doors of the Mountainlair in search of the program they had made fun of only hours earlier.
That’s the first time Skaff realized WVUp All Night would be a hit.
For an hour and a half that night, Skaff and his friends enjoyed Up All Night with thousands of other students.
“Nobody knew what to expect on that first night,” he admitted. “We could’ve done as much mailers or advertising in the paper; we could’ve spent tons of money on advertising, but the one single thing that got it out there was students’ word of mouth. That was our best advertisement.”
Up All Night, now in its 13th year, still thrives and transforms after more than three generations of students. In addition, it continues to improve WVU’s image and reputation by giving students an alternative on the weekends.
“Up All Night is a program that shows the steps we have taken to combat our ‘party school’ image and offer true alternatives throughout the years,” said Student Government Association Vice President Rashad Bates. “We try to make it an exciting and fun atmosphere for students who don’t want to feel pressured to drink or stay in dorms or go home on weekends.”
Now, WVUp All Night is more popular than ever.
Shortly after Ken Gray, WVU’s vice president for Student Affairs, joined WVU in the fall of 1997, the University showed up on Princeton Review’s list of top party schools. Also, police incident reports continued to grow in Morgantown, and many citizens blamed the students.
It was clear to Gray that WVU had to develop a program to give students another option than go to bars, go home or stay inside.
Click below to hear Vice President for Student Affairs Ken Gray talk about the reasons WVUp All Night was created and its history.
[ Click to download ]
Gray developed a task force headed by Mary Collins, then the assistant vice president for Student Affairs. The group, which included students like Skaff, looked at other universities which had already established some sort of late-night program but found nothing it wanted to duplicate.
“We wanted to go beyond saying ‘no’ in terms of what’s safe behavior especially related to alcohol. We didn’t want students to think it was a prevention method, because that comes across negatively instantly,” said Collins, who is now the vice president for Student Affairs at St. Vincent (Pa.) College. “We wanted it to build community. We wanted to improve safety.”
Based on some preconceived notions, the task force understood that free food and entertainment would attract students. That became the selling point.
With support from then-University President David Hardesty, Student Affairs partnered with Dining Services, University Police and other departments across the University to develop one of the first late-night alternative programs in the country.
“I remember when I briefed WVUp All Night to the senior leadership. They looked at me like I was crazy; I could see it in their faces that they thought it would never work,” Gray said. “I had no idea that you were supposed to study something for a year, get the budget planned for it, do all of that and then roll it out. I pulled a lot of different entities from across the University and got people to volunteer and come forward to help.”
The task force’s idea included free food from 10 p.m. to 2 a.m. on Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights in the Mountainlair. In addition, there would be entertainment throughout the student union for students to enjoy.
Collins remembers the final few days before the first Up All Night in 1998. She and others in Student Affairs had no idea what to expect.
Would anyone come?
Would those students who did come have already been socializing, leading to an uncontrollable situation?
Would it have staying power?
“To be honest, I thought we were going to give something a try and it would be too expensive or it would be something that students wouldn’t partake in and it would just fizzle out,” said Michael Ellington, assistant vice president for Student Affairs. “But, I was wrong thankfully.”
“All I could say was, ‘wow’ “
An aggressive marketing campaign consisting of advertisements in the student newspaper, door hangers in residence halls and apartment buildings and a strong, last-minute word-of-mouth effort worked. The line for the first WVUp All Night stretched like a snake throughout the Mountainlair’s first floor.
“When we were ready to open the doors, we had no idea what would happen,” Collins said. “All I could say was, ‘wow.’”
The first weekend and throughout the first year, Up All Night was staffed by volunteers from across the University all the way from deans to professors.
“When administrators at that level decided at 1 a.m. to give up their time to serve eggs to college students, it showed the students that they cared about them,” Skaff said.
Skaff, who coined the term WVUp All Night, eventually became student body president in 1999-2000. Even as confident as he was about the new program, the then-21-year-old had no idea if the culture at WVU would change once the program started.
In the first year, attendance each night varied between 1,000 and 4,000 students. In the years to follow, it was found that 15 percent of students considered Up All Night when deciding whether to come to WVU.
Students gobbled up 126,000 hot dogs, 120,000 chicken wings, 76,000 sausage links, 50,400 donuts and thousands of gallons and pounds of other items, too, in 1998.
“Because of Up All Night, the thinking and mindset of administrators changed. WVU students no longer stopped being students at 5 p.m. on a Friday; they were our students 24 hours a day, every day,” Skaff said.
In addition, the total number of incident reports from the University Police Department steadily declined. Gray added that incidents in residence halls and at landlord properties decreased, as well.
“Who knows what we may have prevented from happening, as well as helping students grow in other ways,” Collins said. “This isn’t just the ones dealing with alcohol issues, but the students who went home, because they weren’t into the drinking and feeling not connected. We didn’t think about those aspects to start out with, but those are the things that we saw come out of it.”
WVU turns into trend-setter
“This morning, we’re going to show you a solution at a campus that used to be known as party-central,” said the host of ABC’s Good Morning America on Sept. 24, 1998.
Good Morning America aired a more than five-minute piece for its broadcast that day centered on how Up All Night had helped one school mend its party school reputation. In addition, Collins was interviewed on BBC radio about the program.
“We were on cloud nine when Good Morning America came in. And you had to remember the times the university was in at the time. We had to grow as a University, and we had to send a positive message back home to mom and dad that this was a safe place for son and daughter to go,” Ellington said. “We were on the national spotlight with Good Morning America, because we took it to the next level. It made us a leader.”
The success story quickly spread across the country after that.
After the Good Morning America piece, phones starting ringing off the hook from other colleges and universities wanting to know WVU’s secret. Some traveled to Morgantown to see WVUp All Night for themselves. Others paid for WVU officials to travel to their school to present the program. In addition, the task force went to many different conferences focused on higher education to discuss its program.
And, WVU embraced that opportunity to lead others in finding a successful late-night alternative for their college or university.
“I would email school after school to tell them about our basic model. That’s not something you do in corporate business. There, it’s about hiding your secrets. But, in higher education you share, because we all know that we’re trying to help students,” Collins said. “We received many awards for it from national and state organizations for innovative programming. Now you see it all over the place. It’s just what you do.”
Collins, Skaff and others traveled around the country to show off Up All Night.
“Being 21 years old, it was a surreal experience knowing that people from all around the country wanted to hear what you had to say about controlling alcohol abuse and binge drinking,” Skaff said.
Up All Night was preceded by the development of FallFest and followed by many other student-related additions like the Resident Faculty Leader program, the Mountaineer Maniacs and the Student Recreation Center as part of the Ultimate First-Year Experience.
Future of WVUp All Night is bright
WVUp All Night has weathered more than three generations of students and continues to grow. The program was turned over to Sonja Wilson, Mountainlair senior programming administrator, three years ago, and she has implemented some major changes.
“Really and truly, Up All Night was started as a program as an alternative for the students. It helps build a sense of community with the students,” Wilson said. “I just don’t think there as much offered on the weekends, especially in the building.”
Up All Night has evolved to include different ideas received from students through the years. Each weekend now has a different theme like “Carnival Night” on Oct. 14-15 or “50’s Weekend” on Jan. 20-21, 2012.
In addition, Wilson has created a board of interns led by sophomore Jackie Riggleman to handle much of the entertainment. Students on that board are in charge of different aspects like promotions and scheduling.
“Because Up All Night is student-run and planned, you’re getting what the students want. A lot of times, our advisors have been out of school for years, so they don’t really know what the trends are with our age group,” Riggleman said. “We are the demographic that we are targeting. What better way than to put a focus group together with the people you’re trying to reach?”
Click below to hear Mike Ellington talk about his original pessimism, and how Up All Night continues to change .
[ Click to download ]
Up All Night still takes place each Thursday, Friday and Saturday evenings during the fall and spring semesters, not including football game days, and offers tutoring sessions along with the free food and entertainment.
The program continues to offer movies, comedy clubs, theme-night entertainment, take-away items, student-run programs and continues to have free food each night.
It has seen a significant increase in attendance over the last two years. After a 2008-09 total of 58,952, that number has increased by more than 60 percent. In fact, last school year, attendance was 94,479.
“The future of Up All Night can be anything, and I think we’ve proven that from our existing program, where it was, where it is today. We still fine-tune the one we have now every weekend,” Ellington said. “We’ve got more student-driven programs compared to contractual programs. We let the student organizations showcase what they have. That brings more students in. It can be a little bit of anything.”
This year’s totals have been even better, as the program had a record attendance of more than 6,000 on Sept. 22-23.
The program has increased its numbers while lowering its budget by 12 percent in the last year.
“It has continued to take off, and I’m very pleased because it does give our students an alternative,” Gray said. “It gives them something else to do, and I’m very pleased that students embrace it.”
By Tony Dobies
p>. University Relations/News
CONTACT: Sonja Wilson, Mountainlair
Follow @WVUToday on Twitter.