The Students Behind Picnic Day
Amanda Jane Portier attended her first Picnic Day as a senior in high school. As a freshman at UC Davis, Portier volunteered to help ASUCD plan the event.
Four years later, she chairs the board of directors for one of the largest student-run events in the country. And this year’s iteration holds added significance — if things go as planned, it will be the first in-person Picnic Day in three years.
The board planned two virtual versions of the UC Davis tradition — in 2020, the event website drew 5,000 page views, and the following year drew 11,000.
In organizing the return of the campuswide open house, scheduled for Saturday, April 23, Portier said the board is trying to bring back as many favorites as possible.
That means the return of the parade, the Doxie Derby and the Battle of the Marching Bands.
Animal events — always a highlight of the day — are also scheduled. Adrianne Daniels, animal events director, noted a few to look forward to, including the chick-handling exhibit, cow milking and Sea-sational Scientists and Fin-tastic Creatures.
The board is also committed to keeping the event safe for the community under COVID-19 conditions.
“One of the biggest challenges right now is uncertainty,” Portier told UC Davis Magazine in January. “We are constantly monitoring local and federal guidelines as we plan and will adjust event logistics as needed for the safety of our community.”
The Picnic Day experience
As the board juggles changing guidelines, publicity director Alexis Tornero said they still expect to provide the classic Picnic Day experience.
“[This] Picnic Day is expected to be mostly the same as past in-person Picnic Days,” Tornero said. “Of course with COVID-19, there are some precautions we must take. Aside from that, we are hoping to bring back and continue some of the classic Picnic Day traditions along with introducing new participants as well.”
Staffing shortages also present a hurdle for the student planning committee.
Many ASUCD programs — such as the Coffee House and Unitrans — struggled to find student staff this year; the Picnic Day board was no different, having empty positions as late as January.
The board returned just four members from last year’s team, including Portier. And many of the new directors are new to the in-person event.
“The bulk of our board has never experienced an in-person Picnic Day,” Portier said, “so there is a lot more learning involved in the roles, and extra time spent from the new directors and assistant directors to understand and envision what Picnic Day is and will be.”
But, she added, that might be a positive.
“New members aren’t constricted to past ways of doing things, so they bring fresh perspectives and ideas to our planning,” she said. “I think having fresh eyes and fresh ideas speaks to our theme a lot.” The board’s chosen theme for this year is “Rediscovering Tomorrow,” a nod to the past two virtual Picnic Day themes, “Envisioning Tomorrow” and “Discovering Silver Linings.”
An organized effort
As the team ramped up its planning in the beginning of winter quarter, they had several positions to fill.
The board is made up of directors for each of the various Picnic Day needs — animal events, graphics, operations, parade, transportation, exhibits and more. Portier, vice chair Jesse Goodman and ASUCD adviser Heather Gastellum round out the crew.
Each director has a group of assistant directors — usually three to eight per position — who share the workload.
The board welcomed its assistant directors for the first time at a Zoom meeting early in winter quarter.
Directors and assistant directors introduced their roles, talked about current projects and obstacles, and brainstormed events for Picnic Day.
The team tossed out ideas … an auction to pie Chancellor Gary May … a giant chessboard where Picnic Day attendees are the pieces … or a water balloon fight on the Quad, possibly involving drones.
Still early in the planning process, every idea is on the table.
Portier said she and the other returning members of the board are not discounting the lessons they took home from planning two successful virtual Picnic Days.
But the students also know the power of being on campus.
“I think Picnic Day in a way represents hope to the UC Davis and Davis communities,” Portier said. “Having been virtual for two years, this year is something to look forward to, something to be hopeful for.”