Alison Baringer

April 5, 2016

It takes a year of planning and more than a thousand volunteers to organize the annual North Carolina Azalea Festival, Wilmington’s signature rite of spring. For the past 11 years, UNCW alumna Alison Baringer ’04 has been responsible for making sure the pieces all come together.

As the festival’s executive director, she helps coordinate the volunteers who line up talent and street fair vendors and organize the parade, garden party, garden tour, queen’s coronation and a multitude of other events. She also is charged with helping develop new ideas to grow the festival, alongside handling day-to-day administrative functions.

Baringer arrived at UNCW from Canton, Ohio, originally intending to major in marine biology. She soon changed majors, graduating with a double major in English and communication studies, and says her liberal arts education prepared her well for her business-oriented job. A class she took in nonverbal communication has proven especially useful.

“It’s all about reading people and figuring out how best to get your message to each person,” she explained.

Effective communication skills are essential when dealing with one of the highlights of Wilmington’s community event calendar. A 2011 UNCW study found that the Azalea Festival has a $50 million annual impact on the local economy. A six-member volunteer board and about 120 volunteer chairpersons oversee the annual planning and preparation, while scores of other volunteers give countless hours to handling the fine details. (Other Seahawks share Baringer’s affinity for the spring celebration; Stephen Meinhold, professor of public and international affairs, is the board’s assistant treasurer, and is in line to serve as festival president in 2020.)

Though she graduated more than 10 years ago, Baringer didn’t leave the university behind. Today, she and a friend run almost daily through the campus. She says her job allows her to see how much UNCW faculty, staff, students and alumni give back to the community, including helping with the Azalea Festival.

“Through working with the festival, I see what UNCW does for the community, and it makes me appreciate my alma mater even more.”

-- Tricia Vance