Barbara Siska, CSEP
Director, Office of University Events and Ceremonies | University of Chicago
President | ILEA Chicago
For Barb Siska, curiosity and an ambition to enter the events industry was piqued after reading an article in high school featuring the eponymous Chicago caterer George Jewell. Upon learning about the excitement and opportunities of the catering world and beyond, Barb’s aspirations to play a role in the high-stakes events industry were cemented.
After obtaining a degree in Food Service Management, Barb worked for Sodexo at both the John G. Shedd Aquarium and Museum of Science and Industry in their restaurants and catering selling and producing a variety of corporate, non-profit and social events. After a combined 9 years, Barb was recruited to join the Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum to spearhead the Museum’s new event program. At the Nature Museum, Barb devised a top-to-bottom sales team and revenue program. By expanding her network of industry contacts via active engagement with Meeting Professionals International and Choose Chicago, exposure to and revenue for the Museum increased.
Barb then had the opportunity to work at Berkshire Hathaway-owned Pampered Chef as their U.S. Meetings Manager. At Pampered Chef, Barb planned and executed more than 12 meetings a year, including a national conference for nearly 10,000 [MB1] [BS2] attendees, as well as a leadership conference for 3,000. She traveled the U.S. extensively, executing meetings and scouting future locations.
In 2007, Barb was offered the Director of Corporate Events position at the Chicago History Museum. It was there that Barb oversaw facility rental sales, and execution of more than 100 corporate, non-profit and social events each year, along with managing the Museum’s café and beverage operations, as well as cross collaboration with various internal departments to plan and execute a diverse array of Museum-sponsored events and galas. Under Barb's leadership, the Museum received The Knot ‘Best Of’ award for five years, was honored in The Knot Hall of Fame, won the Illinois Meetings and Events ‘Best Historic Venue’ for two years, and was nominated for the Catering Executives Club Industry Excellence Award for ‘Best Off Premise Venue’. In 2011, Barb was nominated for BizBash’s ‘Best Venue Manager’ award.
In 2015, Barb accepted a Director role in the Office of University Events and Ceremonies at the University of Chicago. Among her responsibilities, Barb serves as the lead event planner for all Office of the President, Office of the Provost and other campus partner events. She manages a team of seven that collectively orchestrates and executes more than 100 University events and conferences each year, including the annual Convocation ceremonies, which welcomes more than 19,000 guests to campus each June. In the Spring of 2018, the Office of University Events and Ceremonies received the NACE-ILEA Chicago Excellence (NICE) Award for Best Logistical Achievement and has been nominated for a national ILEA Esprit Award for Best Event with a Legacy for Convocation 2017. Barb also earned her CSEP, Certified Special Event Professional, designation in April of 2018.
In 2013, Barb joined ILEA, The International Live Events Association, and soon after, served on the Programs Committee and became the event chair for the February 2014 and February 2015 Day of Education events, as well as the event chair for the June 2014 ISES luncheon, Same Sex Marriage is Legal, which featured five wedding industry professionals who shared their expertise and challenges when planning same-sex weddings. In 2015, Barb was honored to receive the ILEA ‘Rising Star’ award, and in 2016, co-chaired the association’s annual NICE Awards. Barb served as Vice President of Programs from 2016-2017, followed by President-Elect for 2017-2018. She is looking forward to leading the ILEA board through 2019 as President.