College towns are happening hubs of activity, where the arts, sports and culinary delights thrive. All that and more is on deck for planners who book a university setting for a conference.

Situated on or nearby campuses throughout the U.S. and Canada are some of the most impressive conference centers for successful meetings.

They feature technology-filled meeting rooms, often with natural light and lovely views, university-affiliated speakers and teambuilding activities, locally sourced F&B options, ample guest rooms either on-site or close by, and easy access to off-campus attractions.

Following are five conference centers that showcase how meeting among scholarly pursuits enhances the group experience.

AT&T Executive Education and Conference Center
The University of Texas, Austin, Texas

The partnership that the AT&T Hotel and Executive Education and Conference Center has with the University of Texas’ McCombs School of Business gives the conference center exclusive access to unique additions for meeting planners.

“Tier-one university resources including executive coaching, custom classes and renowned industry guest speakers enhance the experience for meeting attendees,” said Alison Berg, director of sales and marketing.

A recent expansion brings the total meeting space to 80,000 square feet. Standout venues include a new 15,000-square-foot ballroom featuring a modern feel and a 4,000-square-foot mural by artist Jose Parla in the prefunction space, and a 10,000-square-foot grand ballroom with dramatic wood beams and chandeliers.

“Many of our meeting rooms feature natural light and noteworthy views of the University of Texas tower and the Texas Capitol,” Berg said.

She added there are outdoor gathering spaces, too, including a courtyard and patios, as well as an array of teambuilding programs to incorporate during a conference.

“Because of our star culinary team and dining room with a show kitchen, we can build custom culinary events such as a cooking challenge,” Berg said. “Also, our connections to the university’s public art program provides an opportunity to bring art education to groups.”

The staff also encourages groups to explore sights within walking distance, including the Blanton Museum of Art and the Bob Bullock Texas State History Museum.

University of Wisconsin Extension Conference Centers, Madison, Wisconsin

The staff at University of Wisconsin Extension Conference Centers, including Lowell Center and Pyle Center, often hears from planners that their campus location strengthens programs since an educational environment focuses attendees on learning.

“Not only is there a certain energy to the campus, but there are so many resources close by that can add a special dimension to a program,” said Joshua Goldman, program manager, auxiliary services for UW Colleges and UW Extension. “On a campus as big as UW Madison, there are experts to partner with, and labs or facilities to tour that can really add a lot of value to a meeting.”

The conference centers’ partnerships extend to the community, including showcasing the works of regional artists, which Goldman said supports the arts and beautifies public spaces.

There are several standout options throughout Pyle Center, which offers 135,000 square feet of meeting space, and Lowell Center, which has 137 guest rooms and conference space for up to 400 attendees. Options include the Alumni Lounge, with floor-to-ceiling windows and views of picturesque Lake Mendota, and a rooftop terrace, also offering lake views.

“Having a hotel that we are able to pair with our meeting spaces as well as a full-service registrations department truly enables us to provide end-to-end service,” Goldman said.

Groups can also include trips to Frank Lloyd Wright’s Taliesin or the farmers market on Madison’s Capitol Square, the largest producer-only farmers market in the country.

“There is so much to do in and around the UW Madison campus that our location is distinguished as a standout destination for meeting planners,” Goldman said.

The Inn at Villanova University, Radnor, Pennsylvania

Things are particularly exciting at Villanova University, whose men’s basketball team, the Wildcats, took home the NCAA Championship title in April.

Managed by Villanova University and situated within two miles from campus is the recently renovated 56-room Inn at Villanova University, which is connected to a conference center that’s housed in the historic Montrose Mansion.

“With the renovation, not only do we have the support and resources of the university available to us, but we have reopened with the latest and greatest technology available in our meeting rooms,” said Kathy Welsch, the property’s director of sales and catering.

Smart podiums are accessible in larger meeting rooms, and all meeting spaces come equipped with Wi-Fi, LCD projection and other necessary bells and whistles that make group sessions a breeze.

The property also has an in-house executive chef who works with a team of culinary experts to prepare everything from business conference lunches to formal dinners.

Since the property resides on 32 acres, Welsch said groups often utilize the spacious grounds and participate in outdoor activities such as horseshoes and volleyball.

“With the gardens, corporate groups take their meals outside as well,” she said. “And we are in the heart of the Main Line, where there are great restaurants, shops and attractions.” 

UBC Conferences & Accommodation at the University of British Columbia, Vancouver

Hosting a meeting with UBC Conferences & Accommodation (UBCCA) at the University of British Columbia allows groups of 10 to 2,500 people access to a variety of conference venues and university-affiliated amenities on a campus that’s surrounded by beautiful ocean and mountain views.

According to Tony Tsu, UBCCA’s business development manager, there are also on-site accommodations that meet all needs and budgets, from premium hotel suites to traditional dormitory rooms, and the in-house Scholar’s Catering, a pioneer in the food services sustainability field, dishes up everything from fine dining to barbecue fare.

“UBC Food Services also runs their own fleet of food trucks that can cater casual corporate events,” Tsu said. “Anything from fish-and-chips and tuna tataki to hot dogs, sliders and poutine are all possible.”

Beyond its traditional meeting rooms, the event venue lineup is quite impressive, including dramatic spaces at the Museum of Anthropology, the European-style Sage Bistro and the Chan Centre for the Performing Arts.

“Some of Vancouver’s top tourist destinations are located right on campus,” Tsu added.

He said guests could purchase a UBC attractions pass that includes access to the Museum of Anthropology, Beaty Biodiversity Museum and UBC Botanical Gardens, which also offers a teambuilding program.

“Corporate events seeking performances can also possibly hire talented student performers through UBC’s School of Music,” Tsu said. “UBC also has a variety of athletic facilities that can mostly be booked for private events, including the indoor batting cages, indoor tennis courts and various gyms and sports fields.”

Mission Bay Conference Center at UCSF, San Francisco

The UCSF-affiliated Mission Bay Conference Center is available to host a variety of group events, including business meetings, dinners and cocktail receptions, as well as rooftop parties.

“Our infrastructure is designed to offer in-house amenities that some groups may pay hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars for at hotels,” said Ryan P. Coate, the venue’s general manager

Free public Wi-Fi is an example of an amenity that helps “seal the deal and enhance meeting planners’ budgets,” Coate said. Plus, flexibility in adding and changing room setups, and built-in AV equipment, makes for a convenient turnaround time.

The booking window is appealing to meeting planners as well, considering many hotels ask them to commit to a dollar amount in guest room revenue.

“As an all-day conference center, planners can book meetings that do not have guest room requirements,” Coate said.

Among the center’s spaces is the 4,600-square-foot Fisher Banquet Room, which features windows that overlook Mission Bay and direct access to a terrace, a 600-seat auditorium and an executive boardroom accommodating 18 to 53 people in various setups.

On-site catering is available to create a nutritious Bay Area-inspired menu made from fresh seasonal ingredients from local purveyors, and the Campus Life Services Department’s Outdoor Programs can facilitate teambuilding add-ons.

Opportunities include fun team development workshops, rock climbing, bay kayaking and various local excursions.