July 17, 2024

Ali Hieber: By the Book

When spring semester rolls around, a certain series pops up on people’s calendars. The William B. Crawley Great Lives Lecture Series is one of Mary Washington’s most anticipated and well-attended events, attracting renowned authors, who talk about the subjects of their best-selling books, and – sometimes – more than a thousand audience members.

Coordinator of Community Events Ali Hieber organizes UMW's William B. Crawley Great Live Lecture Series, which starts Jan. 18.

Coordinator of Community Events Ali Hieber organizes UMW’s William B. Crawley Great Live Lecture Series, which starts Thursday, Jan. 18.

From her office in George Washington Hall, Coordinator of Community Events Ali Hieber is the spine that binds the series together, from communicating with the prestigious speakers to reserving VIP seats. The tedious process draws out for months and requires all the decision-making, planning and public relations skills Hieber honed in her former role as associate dean of undergraduate admissions. But “the heart of my work,” she said, “is still tied to the University’s mission, and to service to the students and the greater community.”

Q: What’s the best part of coordinating the Great Lives Lecture Series?
A: It’s got to be seeing an audience of 500 to 600 guests enjoying one of the lectures!

Q: What’s the most challenging part?
A: Early on, I have a hard time keeping the names of all the topics, authors and book titles straight. This year three of the book titles are: Code Girls, The Hello Girls and Dust Bowl Girls. Once we exchange a few emails or phone calls, it gets easier.

Q: Do you read all the featured books all the way through? Be honest!
A: No.

Q: Since you’ve been coordinating the series, what’s been your favorite presentation?
A: Rebecca Skloot spoke in 2016 about her book The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks. We had a tremendous turnout, with more than 1,150 students and community members completely engaged. The book was that year’s Common Read selection, and the lecture exemplified the best of Great Lives – connecting our students and the greater Fredericksburg area community in learning.

Q: What’s your biggest fear during the series?
A: I’ve had a dream that we’re all in Dodd auditorium with hundreds of guests and everything is ready to go, but I forgot to get the speaker.

Q: Any particular memory of a snafu that you can look back on now and laugh about?
A: In events, you should always be prepared for the unexpected. During my first season, our office had a good laugh when the Hyatt rooms were initially booked under the names of the lecture topics rather than visiting authors. Particularly funny when we got a room confirmation for Secretariat!

Q: What would people be surprised to learn about you?
A: I’m an extrovert? After being around this place 20-plus years, I don’t have any surprises.

This year’s Great Lives series begins on Jan. 18 and wraps up in April. All books featured in the series will be available at the UMW Bookstore. For a schedule of lectures and more information, visit umw.edu/greatlives.