Rachel Anne Peniche

Rachel Anne Peniche

“Entry into the hospitality industry is relatively easy, the work itself is hard, and the rewards are absolutely priceless,” says Rachel Peniche, an instructor with San Diego State University’s Professional Certificate in Meeting and Event Planning. She’s a perfect example of the program’s biggest strength — instructors with decades of industry experience, who share candid insights about every aspect of the business.

“We don’t hold back,” says Peniche, who began her career in 2000 by coordinating the celebrity and VIP elements of the Governor Gray Davis Committee at the Democratic National Convention in Los Angeles. At SDSU, she teaches the popular Weddings and Social Events every fall. The two-part course covers what it takes to be a successful event planner. Topics including how to identify your niche market, pricing, job responsibilities, event themes and styles, and how to assess a client’s needs, especially religious and cultural protocol.

Last fall, the course met 9 am–4 pm on a Saturday at Pacific Event Productions Inc. in San Diego, where students saw thousands of products for rent — furniture, florals, lighting, staging, bars, and props that include entire sets such as a 1950s diner, a lighthouse, and a Mexican mercado. By the end of the second session — held on the SDSU campus— students have a clear picture of whether or not this is the right career.

Peniche answered a few questions about her career and SDSU’s program.

Please give us a brief overview of your education and career.
I’m a San Diego native and graduate of the University of San Diego High School, and attended Clark University in Worcester, Massachusetts. After obtaining certification in Event Management and Meeting Management and Special Events Planning from UCSD and USD, I started Plan It San Diego, an event planning and coordination company specializing in weddings, bar/bat mitzvahs, and corporate, political and charity events. As an independent consultant for nonprofit event planning and development, I’ve worked with numerous organizations to help them achieve their fundraising goals, including Rady Children’s Hospital, The Thursday Club, and The Leukemia Lymphoma Society.

How did you come to be an instructor with SDSU’s Meeting and Event Planning program?
I was a part-time instructor at the L. Robert Payne School of Hospitality and Tourism Management [SDSU main campus] where I taught and mentored several hundred college students. That led me to the College of Extended Studies’ Meeting and Event Planning Certificate Program.

What’s a key takeaway from your Weddings and Social Events course?
One of my clients — a bride — had the motto “Team work makes the dream work.” She actually had it printed on her cocktail napkins at her wedding. I have adopted that motto when it comes to planning events. First you have to build a great team, have faith in their abilities, and work hard to make the client’s vision a reality.

What kind of activities/homework can students expect?
I like the students to role play different aspects of the event planning process, from interviewing clients to vetting vendors to putting all the details together. We do this through small group projects.

Do you have a favorite anecdote or two that you share with students about event planning?
I literally have hundreds of stories and only wish I had more time to tell them all. Each class is different so I customize the anecdotes I share based on the dynamics of the class. There is usually one about animals (elephants, cheetahs, llamas) since they always add excitement at events. Mother Nature also provides for lots of interesting tales.

What do you think is the biggest strength of SDSU’s program?
I think the biggest strength is the experience and breadth of knowledge the instructors share with the students. We actually share trade secrets and tools we have developed over many decades. We also keep in touch with the students. We really care about their success and future endeavors.

How much have you seen the industry change since you began your career?
Immense change has occurred in the industry over the last 18 years since I founded my company, Plan It San Diego. Back in the early 2000s we didn’t have Pinterest, Facebook, or Instagram. Clients flipped through magazines for inspiration. I have also seen huge diversification of event styles. There is much more personalization and blending of cultures in what I call “fusion” events.

What do you enjoy most about your career?
No two days are ever alike and just when you think you have seen or heard it all, something comes along and surprises you.

What do you enjoy most about teaching?
I enjoy seeing the “ah-ha” moments that happen in and out of class with the students. One student once told me that she felt like Alice in Wonderland going down the rabbit hole during my class. I took that as a compliment that I was expanding her mind in new and curious ways.

What advice do you have for anyone wanting to enter the meeting and event planning industry?
Take these classes and maximize your time by networking with students in the program. I also highly recommend not just joining one of the many industry associations but really getting engaged in them. Volunteering is also a fantastic way to gain experience and quite often help you find your passion.