Hosting the President of the United States – A Look Behind the Scenes at 'Project O'
Hosting the President of the United States is not something that you do every day of the week. As Dr. Vandana Saxena, a Senior Lecturer at the School of Liberal Arts & Sciences (SLAS) - American Degree Transfer Programme (ADP) reported in The Star newspaper, "It is a world of secret service, of classified blueprints and maps, of confidential reports – a world that most of us have seen only on our television screens. It is so different from the goings-on in campus with its routine of lectures, time tables and teacher-student interactions". But the two coalesced at the Taylor’s University Lakeside Campus. While the media attention was focused entirely on the visit itself, there was a 'back-story' of how the event was pulled together by various staff of the university in liaison with the US Embassy, the White House and the US Secret Service. It all started with a phone call to Dr. Andy Nazarechuk, the Dean of SLAS (who was overseas in the Philippines at the time) about hosting a Town Hall event at Taylor's University Lakeside campus. The resulting combination of shared leadership, co-ordination, teamwork and a 'can-do' attitude within Taylor's University saw "Project O" being born, implemented and completed in less than 10-days. But instead of the pomp and pageantry, security and confidentiality held prime importance. Each member of the team was repeatedly reminded to exercise discretion. “We knew that the event might be cancelled at the last minute if there was a breach. It was difficult not to tell your family,” Prema pointed out considering the cloud of uncertainty following the Paris incident on the weekend before the scheduled visit. Needless to say, the project was a huge learning experience not just for the staff but also the students of the university.
“It is surreal now. To think that we did this. The excitement of working with the White House, the Secret Service, I think is exciting. But more than the event itself, was the build-up,” said Dr. Anindita, the Deputy Dean of SLAS. Adding that, "It was an opportunity for the school and students to be associated with this extremely prestigious event. I think for us, the biggest reward was that 31 of our students had the privilege of attending this memorable meet. And I was willing to walk a hundred extra miles to make it happen”.
In terms of the security preparations for the visit, the coordinating Special Agent - U.S. Secret Service (Presidential Protective Division) wrote to Mr. Rave, the Head of Campus Security of Taylor's University after the event noting, "I just wanted to write you a quick note to thank you for the unbelievable job you did preparing for President Obama’s visit to your university……. Being a member of the President’s detail certainly has me traveling quite a bit. I have had the opportunity to work with different facets of law enforcement all over the world. I would place your preparations and your willingness to work as a team at the top of my list". Adding that "During the visit, I observed that you were flexible and able to trouble-shoot last minute problems. You did so while remaining calm and collected. This is a hallmark trait of the U.S. Secret Service. I certainly didn’t expect to see this in others, but you did so admirably…… You balanced the needs of our President’s security with the needs of the university and you did so seamlessly. You are to be commended". For the full behind-the-scenes story of President Obama's visit to Taylor's University read The Star online.