On a Mission to Increase Support
Meet the new VP of institutional advancement, Chris Biehn
Earlier this month, Chris Biehn joined Ithaca College as the new vice president for institutional advancement. With more than two decades of fund-raising experience, Biehn came to IC from Drew University in Madison, New Jersey, where he had served as vice president for university advancement since 2009.
Q: What drew you to Ithaca College?
A: I’ve always loved the beauty of the campus and, of course, the view of the surrounding area and the lake. More recently, I’ve heard about the successful campaign and the completion of the A&E Center—both great achievements for the College. As a parent of a 17-year-old interested in communications, I had also heard about the programs at the College and how many students at my daughter’s school held the College in high regard both for academics and the broader student experience. As I went through the interview process, I had the sense that the faculty and staff at Ithaca recognize the importance of tradition and the need for innovation. That balance is, I believe, necessary for continued success in today’s competitive higher education landscape.
Q: What do you see as the biggest challenge or opportunity?
A: Today it is more important than ever to have alumni supporting the institution. There is an opportunity at Ithaca to build upon the great work of my predecessor, Shelley Semmler, and to help alumni understand why philanthropy is a necessary, but not exclusive, part of that support. In order to improve participation from alumni, we will need to establish and build connections through mentorship programs, an alumni admissions network, and other engagement strategies that help alumni feel greater ownership of the College. I think this ownership will translate into pride and a deeper understanding of why they need to support their alma mater.
Q: What goals do you have, long-term or short-term?
A: My primary long-term goal is to continue to strengthen the culture of philanthropy at Ithaca and ensure the successful funding of IC 20/20 and other ongoing priorities. I think another long-term goal is to build and foster a broader base of alumni engagement and to ensure that IC parents also feel a deep sense of connection while their sons or daughters are here and even, perhaps, after their sons or daughters have graduated. My short-term goals include getting to know the College and the student experiences. I think this begins with getting out and about on campus and meeting with faculty, staff, and students and listening. I also have the goal of hitting the road and getting to know the alumni, parents, and friends who support the College. If possible I’d also like to spend time with some alumni whose support has lapsed and find out why they are not as connected to the College as perhaps they once were.
Q: How do you plan to strengthen the College’s relationship with alumni?
A: I think the time to start engaging our alumni is before they graduate. I also believe we can strengthen the relationship by building programs that help alumni feel more connected to students and faculty. Gone are the days when we could rely on reunions, homecoming, and regional events to accomplish this. These elements are important, but they must be bolstered by others that connect alumni directly to the faculty and students. Assigning alumni mentors to students as they go through their programs will give alumni a chance to get to know students on a personal level and perhaps help them recall their days at Ithaca as well. Internship programs allow students to work directly with alumni in their field and help prepare students for work or graduate programs.
Q: What interests or hobbies do you have outside your job?
A: I enjoy cooking, reading, writing, and especially doing anything with my wife, Julie, and our kids, Hannah, Andy, and Parker. My family and I spend as much time as we can in the Adirondacks, where I have gone each summer for the past 46 years. While there, we enjoy swimming, slalom skiing, hiking, and sitting around a fire discussing everything from politics to philosophy. I started running a few years ago, and I really like the way it energizes me. Finally, I love to travel, especially internationally, and I do so as often as my schedule will allow.