Ithaca College Quarterly 1999/No. 2

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LAST LOOK

 

New Guy
for Alumni

The Office of Alumni Relations has a new director: Graham Stewart ’81. Stewart worked in public relations, marketing, and advertising before returning to Ithaca College in 1993 as coordinator of music admissions. He is also a regular entertainer at campus events. Graham StewartHe met his wife, Tina Trombley Stewart ’83, when they were both undergraduates in the School of Music; they now have two children and she works in the Office of Admission. Our editor sat down with Stewart for an interview just before he moved into his new position. Excerpts:

Ithaca College Quarterly: Why did you apply for the position?

Graham Stewart: After I had been in my current position for some time I realized that there wasn’t a logical progression for job growth. When the alumni director job opened up it seemed the right time, the right move, and a great opportunity. I had always been interested in alumni relations.

ICQ: Why do you think you are particularly suited to the job?

GS: I’m an alumnus and a current student. [Stewart is in the graduate communications program.] I can talk comfortably and positively about Ithaca because I have a truly deep affection for the institution and I know and feel comfortable discussing its programs. And I love talking to people.

ICQ: What about the tougher aspects of the job — the troubleshooting, talking to those who may feel disconnected?

GS: Over the years I have learned a lot about customer service. I’ll do needs assessments, listen to people’s concerns, and then do my best to address them. Some people will want to see changes immediately, but we have a huge constituency and can’t lose focus on the overall picture. I’ve got to understand the constituency base and get a feel for it before I act. It’s also a matter of getting the institutional goals clearly delineated and communicated.

ICQ: How do you hope to open the communication lines with both administration and alumni?

GS: One of my administrator friends said, "So, Graham, what they do there? Just put Reunion together?" There’s a real lack of understanding of what the alumni relations office does. We basic- ally need a PR campaign!

I’ll also get out on campus, meet with faculty. It is clear the faculty are ready, willing, and able to participate more in alumni relations. It would be great to get them in tune with programs happening on campus so they can forward this information when they communicate with alumni. Rather than just connect alumni back to an individual, we’d like to connect them back to the institution.

Technology will help, too. Seventy-five percent of our alumni have graduated since the advent of desktop computers. Everybody’s dealing with e-mail, list serves, the Internet. There’s a lot of potential: "Can’t make it to Reunion? Download the video and look at the reception."

But technology shouldn’t dominate. We still need personal contact. And the older alumni are always going to get our attention. They’re the ones who’ve had full lives and have good things to share.

ICQ: Do you have any ideas about Reunion?

GS: There are many people who feel fine about coming back and having their group of friends get together, or just seeing who shows up. But I like this scenario: We call a young alum and say, "Before you graduated you gave us a list of 10 friends that you’d like to catch up with 5 or so years down the road. Well, we’ve called them all and we’re encouraging them to come to Reunion. We’ve got 8 committed. Do you want to come, too?"

Before the current students — 12 percent of our alumni base — graduate, we must identify their interest groups, so that when we decide to put an event together we can tailor it to their needs. That’s one reason why your Student Alumni Association is so important.

There also has been talk about moving to a celebrated-era program or a four- or three-year grouping, so you’d also meet people a couple of years older or younger. A lot of people probably had friends who were seniors or juniors when they were sophomores, for example.

ICQ: Another challenge for you is rebuilding the alumni relations staff.

GS: Yes. The support staff — Anita [Costa], Cerise [Foster], and Melinda [Butler] — have done a wonderful job of keeping things running smoothly during the last several months while working with an interim professional staff.

My role is clear: Solidify the staff and then put a face on the program, invigorate it, get out there, be an ambassador. Bring the College to people if they can’t come here — take a multimedia presentation, and give a well-formatted, thoughtful overview of the College. We’re not just about happy hours.

 

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Web pages created by Andrejs Ozolins. 19 Oct 1999