Commitment to Learning Leads to DES for Jessica Dunham

College comes with many exciting personal growth opportunities and sometimes the unexpected leads to a full-time career.

Through her time at Lyon College creating sorority events and handling registration processes, Jessica Dunham found a passion for planning events.

“My career counselor [at Lyon College] said, ‘what has been your most fulfilling part of college?’ As someone who was not a fan of Greek life going into college and joined on a whim, it was that experience of planning events and meetings for members. It was that experience that made me recognize I have a passion, I enjoy it, and I’m good at it,” said Jessca Dunham, DES, MTA, Director of Events for EAST Initiative. “She helped me find a program, and I continued to fall more and more in love with the idea of planning events.”        

Although her college experience helped her find a career path, her bachelor's degree in Psychology didn’t exactly transfer to event planning. As a result, she extended her education and attended George Washington University for a Masters degree in Tourism Administration, Event and Meeting Management.

As the events industry grew toward digital experiences, and already being a natural learner, Dunham was hooked by the PCMA’s Digital Event Strategist Certification Course.

“I like to continuously learn things, and once I got my degree I found myself still wanting to keep up-to-date with all the things that were happening,” Dunham said. “I started researching organizations out there and found PCMA. I was very blessed to receive a scholarship to join the Heartland Chapter and really dive into the content and benefits that membership provided.”

After receiving another continuing education stipend through PCMA, Dunham paused her learning to consider all of her educational opportunities until the COVID-19 pandemic.

“COVID happened. PCMA had this course out, but really started to push this course at the time and it just made sense. My organization paid for me to do a crash course; I found so much value in it that I decided to do the full course and never looked back. It was a great experience,” Dunham said.

When asked if there was anything from PCMA’s course that helped her plan EAST’s most recent events, Dunham responded: “Everything. It was so new to me, and I felt like I was doing a good job staying up to speed on everything. The way they broke it down into modules, getting to watch videos, access resources, and the webinar style conversations with those presenters were great. There are so many ways you can engage virtually and you just have to let go of what you did in person and re-invent.”

For many event planners, the shift to hybrid and digital experiences came with uncharted territory. However, for smaller associations, offering digital experiences allows for increased attendee reach and brand awareness.

We were able to stream a lot more and we definitely increased our reach. In our home state and outside our state we were able to get more eyes on who we are as an organization.  

As for the future of the event industry, Dunham hopes a hybrid model remains at the center of conversation.

“I never knew how much of a fan I was of a digital experience until COVID. I think it's because of the DES course, and being able to experience some of these other conferences has opened my eyes to what's possible and what's out there. But, I also like the in-person experience and I recognize the value it brings. There seems to be more pressure on digital but there is more opportunity, but I also recognize the other side.”

“For me personally, I hope hybrid continues to be a thing and we don’t revert to one or the other. I value and recognize the benefits to both and the drawbacks.”        

About Jessica Dunham

Jessica Dunham is the Director of Events at EAST Initiative. Jessica has been a part of the event industry for over 9 years and has a passion for working with nonprofit organizations.

About this series

JUNO believes in the future of strategic events, delivered in hybrid, digital, and in-person formats. As supporters of PCMA Foundation, we value reskilling for industry professionals and want to highlight Professionals Who Go Beyond.