My Experiences at the Philadelphia STC Summit
by Sharon Lynn, Writer/Editor, Houston, Texas
As the plane began to descend for its landing into Philadelphia, I could see the luscious, heavily-wooded green terrain below, nestled in silvery fingers of water and snaking rivers.
City of History
Philadelphia is a wealthy and progressive city. The American Revolution was born here and the United States Constitution was signed here. A cab ride from the airport took me into the city center and to the Marriott and the Convention Center, headquarters for the 55th Society for Technical Communication (STC) Summit. Banners hung from every street corner, welcoming STC and proclaiming it Technical Communicators’ Week throughout the state. Philadelphia is known as a great food city, and not only were great restaurants within walking distance, but across the street from summit headquarters was Reading Terminal Market. Housed in the old train terminal at 12th and Arch Streets, the Reading Terminal Market is an enclosed farmers’ market where over 80 merchants offer local produce, meats, fish, groceries, flowers, baked goods, crafts, books, clothing, and specialty and ethnic foods.
This year, the Quality & Process Improvement (Q&PI) Special Interest Group (SIG) that I manage formed a triumvirate with two other SIGs: STC Policies and Procedures SIG, co-managed by Dawnell Claessen (SAIC) and Lois Marsh (BMO Financial Group); and Environmental, Safety, and Health SIG, represented this year by Gary Sternberg of the Philadelphia Chapter of STC, who stood in for manager Diana Barkley (Texas Commission on Environmental Quality). Together, the three SIGs planned events that would amplify the value of our experience at the summit.
Standing Room Only
The technical summit was exceptional this year. Even before it opened it offered two days of optional certificate programs, one in Adobe Professional Suite. Sunday night at standing-room-only opening ceremonies, the tradition of a panel discussing current trends in technical communication continued with a spirited and timely exchange about virtual teams. The panel was moderated by Paula Berger and it included Jack Molisani, Barbara Giammona, Bogo Vatovec, and Andrea Ames. Two large screens on either side of the panel projected talking points and the panel took questions from the audience.
The keynote speaker, Howard Reingold, a critic and writer whose specialties are the cultural, social, and political implications of modern communication media such as the Internet, mobile telephony, and virtual communities (a term he is credited with inventing) amplified the theme. His 2002 book, Smart Mobs, discusses the cultural and political implications of the virtual community as a new communications medium.
Afterward, honored guest Pennsylvania Governor Edward G. Rendell formally welcomed attendees to the conference and spoke about the vital role technical communicators play not only in the Pennsylvania workforce but around the world, and he honored all those who contribute to the field of technical communication. He expressed his appreciation for the discipline of technical communication and those who can make highly complex information available and understandable to a broader audience. He was also very personable and funny as he discussed with great seriousness the famed Philly cheese steak, which ranks as a particular pop-cuisine phenomenon. He told where to get the best Philly cheese steak in the city, emphasizing that the concoction cannot be gentrified and still be the real deal; rather, to provide the full experience, it must be juicy with fat that drips down the sides of your mouth with each bite. I agree. (The same is true for the best Texas hamburgers.)
The next morning, the three SIGs held an excellent joint breakfast meeting. The hotel provided partitioned space that gave us both privacy and the chance to meet each other and talk. (I thought it was fortunate that the breakfast was set up in the room in which the Q&PI SIG was located.) The highly organized Dawnell Claesson and Lois Marsh held a more formal meeting, while members and others interested in becoming members of Q&PI SIG and Environmental, Safety and Health SIG took the opportunity to talk to each other in person. Later, all of the SIG managers met for the monthly SIG Manager’s Meeting, which is normally a teleconference. The summit provided them an opportunity to connect a name with a face, which is quite beneficial but often difficult to accomplish.
Q&PI SIG hosted luncheons on Monday and Tuesday, where I had the chance to meet new people: Etya Novik, Managing Editor of MSDN Magazine (Microsoft), and Tim Lulofs, Content Release Management Exchange UE (Microsoft); Alesia Harwood (Innodata Isogen) of Dallas, Texas; Birgitta Moller (Sony Ericsson Mobile Communications) of Copenhagen, Sweden; Sheryl Slopey (Oracle) of King of Prussia, Pennsylvania; Danielle Wagner (Primavera) of Bala Cynwyd, Pennsylvania.
On Tuesday, the three SIGs again joined together and held a progression, somewhat like speed dating, where a topic is presented to a small audience at a round table in a 15-minute timeframe with a 5-minute interval for questions and discussion. After that topic’s interval is over, the audience members move to another table and another topic. The progression was entitled “Topics of Interest to Three SIGs,” and offered 14 general topics of interest presented jointly by Environmental, Safety, and Health SIG; Policies and Procedures SIG; and Quality and Process Improvement SIG. I presented “SharePoint Technology & Tools,” a topic I presented two years ago with my colleague and co-author, Frank D. Cook, at the STC Summit in Las Vegas, Nevada. Dawnell Claessen presented “Policy and Procedure Together or Separate?” and Gary Sternberg presented “What Is Environmental Technical Writing All About?”
I took some time away from the conference one evening drive out to Longwood, the formal gardens and conservatory built by the du Pont family and bequeathed to the people of the world at their death. In 1700, a Quaker family named Peirce purchased the over 1,000-acre property that is now Longwood from William Penn. Peirce planted an arboretum there, and in 1906 Pierre S. du Pont (1870-1954) —great-grandson of E. I. du Pont, who founded the DuPont chemical company—purchased the Peirce Arboretum to save its trees from being cut for timber. Over the next 50 years, he developed Longwood into the showcase gardens and conservatory that it is today.
Philadelphia is replete with gardens, though. Winterthur’s 1,000-acre country estate encompasses rolling hills, streams, meadows, and forests. As a boy, founder Henry Francis du Pont (1880-1969) developed an appreciation of nature that served as the basis for his life’s work in this garden. Another garden, Chanticleer, was the estate of Christine and Adolph Rosengarten, Sr. Mr. Rosengarten was head of the pharmaceutical company Rosengarten and Sons. Their son Adolph, Jr., left the property to be enjoyed as a public garden. The garden opened to visitors in 1993. In Philadelphia, it appears to be a common occurrence to see the result of people who possess not only money but also vision and taste, but it is always welcome.
Philadelphia is also a great city for fine art. The last time I was in Philadelphia, I came by train from New York, where I was working that summer. Red Grooms’ (American, 1937) sculptural pictorama, Rucus Manhattan, was at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. As I walked into the museum, I saw a two- story-high Empire State Building with a mechanical King Kong as big as the building clinging to it, his head turning while looking from side to side and breathing fire. Walking on through the exhibit, I came to a lifesize subway car with uneven floor that simulated the rocking of the railcar in motion, and then riders, some standing, some seated and reading newspapers and books, and I could stand and read along with them looking over their shoulder. I have long since held an appreciation for Red Grooms since my exposure to his monumental work that summer so many years ago.
Final Dinner Meeting
The last evening at the summit, Gary Sternberg (Writer-Editor, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency), representing the Philadelphia Metro Chapter, held a dinner meeting and walking tour of Old Philadelphia city center. Dawnell Claessen and Lois Marsh, as well as several others, joined us for dinner. After dinner, the walking tour took us through the Jewelry District, Antique District, China Town, and America’s most sacred historic sites: Independence Hall and the Liberty Bell. We walked through Elfreths Alley at the edge of the inner city, known as the longest inhabited street in America, where tiny three-story townhomes built in the 1700s with only one room to each floor have been gentrified and are now all occupied. We saw the earliest synagogue, the Betsy Ross House, and Benjamin Franklin’s grave in Christ Church Burial Ground at 5th and Arch, where I placed a penny on his grave before hailing a taxi for the airport and my flight back to Houston.