Chicago Liberal Arts Leadership Summit Recap

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Chicago Liberal Arts Leadership Summit Recap

Liberal arts institutions are rapidly evolving the way they think about career services and alumni relations. On Feb 26th, we assembled 25 leaders from 15 institutions to share approaches to growing alumni engagement, bettering student career outcomes, and achieving strategic departmental priorities. Greeted by a sunny February day in Chicago, we convened at the University of Chicago Gleacher Center for a day of deep discussion.

Setting the Tone

It’s easy to see a mountain of challenges when sharing ‘war stories’, so to set the tone, the group identified opportunities for exciting and positive growth. One article emerged in the conversation, highlighting how tech companies are increasingly reliant on institutions who produce well rounded thinkers. In a world where companies seek a balance of technical and creative thinkers, liberal arts schools have a massive opportunity to differentiate and build an incredible talent pipeline through their alumni network.

Building a Successful Engagement Strategy

Meredith Daw, AVP and Executive Director of Career Advancement & Linda Pantale, Assistant Director of Alumni Careers and Programs
University of Chicago

Chicago-LALS1Meredith Daw, AVP and Executive Director of Career Advancement, joined Linda Pantale, Assistant Director of Alumni Careers and Programs, to provide a unique dual-perspective on their engagement strategies. Meredith focused on their high-level strategy (“30,000 foot view”), while Linda dug into the mechanics of launching successful alumni-student programming (“on-the-ground view”).

The University of Chicago has consistently climbed the rankings, increased its enrollment yield, and maintained incredible retention. How? Well, that is a lot to unpack, but Meredith took time to walk through a key strategy that helps all of these initiatives.

Early student engagement leads to the best career outcomes.

It’s a simple concept but takes intense focus to execute. UChicago has leveraged many of their alumni volunteers and staff members by bringing them into the admissions office. They direct most of their resources toward first-year students, ensuring they understand their degree and learn to network effectively for internships. Recently admitted students are provided with templates for success and what to expect in different degree paths. As a result, by junior year, 25% of their student body already has a job offer in hand.


UChicago has partnered with Wisr to centralize their alumni assets and deploy them in the most resourceful ways. Wisr and UChicago’s administration have co-developed key resources for low-income and first-generation students. Inside of their pilot year, they have captured 2,500+ engaged alumni, 1,000+ students interacting, with a 99% survey feedback rating from every interaction.

UChicago – Wisr’s Role in a Successful Engagement Strategy

Prioritizing “Relations” in Future (often Tech-Based) Constituent Relations Programming

Danielle Young, AVP of Alumni Relations and Annual Giving
Oberlin College

Danielle Young, AVP of Alumni Relations and Annual Giving of Oberlin College, is managing a confluence of changes at her organization: changing roles for alumni relations, a new president, and an evolving articulation of the value of a liberal arts education.

Danielle walked through her observations of what’s essential and what’s obsolete in her industry. All teams have limited resources, and focusing those on what truly matters is key. It’s very easy to maintain the status quo, but Oberlin College has embraced a culture of trial and error and learning from experimentation.

Oberlin College – Prioritizing “Relations” in Future Constituent Relations Programming

Here are the results of our brainstorming exercise, and how the group thinks about the relevance of traditional alumni relations functions:

Essential Obsolete
– On-campus reunions, homecoming, parents’ weekend, commencement
– Communication vehicles such as magazines and e-newsletters
– Regional programming
– Collecting accurate data and contact information
– Volunteers
– Programming based on affinities
– Campus partnerships
– Student engagement and preparation for life beyond college
– Print communications
– Awards programs (as currently designed)
– Standing committees
– One-off, event-based activities
– Events without strategic purpose
– Pet projects and mission creep
– Traditional travel programs
– Scattered and siloed technology

Finding Your Blue Lobster

Deb Mills-Scofield, Management Consultant and Founder
Mills-Scofield LLC

Why be one in a million, when you can be one in two million? That’s exactly how rare a blue lobster is, the name of Deb Mills-Scofield’s innovative methodology.  As one of the first female engineers at Bell Labs, a seasoned venture capitalist, and a Mentor Maven (yes, her actual title at Brown University), Deb has an incredible ability to bring out the best in her mentees.

When Deb meets with students, she discusses their life as a set of legos. There are some core pieces… Where you come from, your morals, your family. But all the other pieces are configurable, can be rearranged, and can be changed as you go through life.

To help get a new mentee started, and survey those ‘lego pieces’, Deb asks three questions:

  • What are you good at and like to do?
  • What are you good at, but don’t like to do?
  • What do you want to be better at?

For university career offices, her Mentorship 101 is:

  • Start simple and small
  • Focus on the short term (3 years instead of 10 years)
  • Mentoring for internship and career advice is very tangible
  • Articulate the value to the mentor, mentee, and university
  • Get constant feedback from all parties

Deb Mills-Scofield – Finding Your Blue Lobster

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Co-founder & President

John Knific is co-founder and President of Wisr. An entrepreneur who is passionate about what education technology can do for students, John's on a mission to tackle the big challenge of getting students connected with jobs after college by engaging alumni.

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