Creativity helps MUW light up for Christmas

November 27, 2012 9:42:56 AM

Carmen K. Sisson - [email protected]


Mississippi University for Women is celebrating Christmas in a big way this year, beginning what campus officials hope will become a community-wide, annual tradition.  


The logistics of creating such a winter wonderland, made up of equal parts magic and frugality, was not the easiest task on Angie Atkins' to-do list, but it was easily the most fun.  


On an ordinary day, the W's director of resources management spends her time handling purchasing, receiving, fleet management, facility reservations, work orders and inventory. And in her 18 years with the university, her role occasionally included decorating for the holidays.  


As presidents came and went, so, too, came and went the garland and bows. For the past few years, there have been scant signs of Christmas cheer around campus. President Dr. Jim Borsig wanted to change that, and he found a willing partner in Atkins. 


What began as a casual conversation about The W's Christmas traditions, and ways to draw the community on campus, has become a small-scale exercise in creativity, frugality and homespun ingenuity.  


But how do you deck the halls when you're dealing with multi-leveled, historic buildings, a limited grounds crew and a tight budget? Though $4,000 may sound like a lot of money, Atkins said it presented a challenge when she began pricing Christmas lights.  


And then there was the energy factor. College bean counters tend to dislike the post-Christmas present of inflated electric bills.  


Atkins found a pleasant surprise in the technological advances that have taken place over the years, and she has used them to her advantage.  


Two of the most striking examples can be found at Whitfield and McDevitt halls, which appear to be covered, ground to rooftop, in strands of green Christmas lights. It is a luminary illusion created by five "BlissLights Sprights" at Whitfield and three more at McDevitt.  


Each "Spright," which resembles a floodlight, projects pinpoint beams of laser lights across 625 square feet. Each unit uses an average of three watts in temperatures above 55 degrees Fahrenheit and eight watts in lower temperatures. With a 7,000-hour lamp life, they should last nearly five years.  


The catch to the lights is they are only visible in darker areas, so Atkins walked around campus at night, photographing every corner and deciding how to maximize her options without sacrificing campus safety or security.  


She decided to use LED lights in the trees along Welty Drive, creating a fairyland canopy for students and guests to walk beneath. LED lights also circle tree trunks and icicle lights illuminate the gazebo.  


Atkins began decorating Monday and hopes to finish Wednesday. The next items on her list include decking the halls of Welty and the president's home at 1217 College Street. For those, she will use floor-to-ceiling trees, garland, bows, wreaths and greenery gathered from the magnolia trees on campus.  


She also enlisted the aid of David Carter, with MUW's theater department, who will transform PVC pipe into a Christmas tree near the campus entrance. It was difficult to find "tasteful" decorations within budget, but that was also part of the enjoyment. 


"I had lots of fun planning the project and working with people on campus," Atkins said Monday afternoon. "I love Christmas, and we have a beautiful campus. It was nice to highlight some of the different areas." 


Borsig said he hopes the community will get involved and the tradition will grow bigger and better each year.  


"This is a gorgeous campus," he said. "The architecture is spectacular, and being able to highlight the buildings and campus in this way is good for everybody. The holidays on a college campus are some of the best times of the year." 


The public is invited to tour MUW and enjoy the light show, free of charge, from 5 p.m. until midnight through Christmas.

Carmen K. Sisson is the former news editor at The Dispatch.