Tempe Research Institution Leadership Summit Recap

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Tempe Research Institution Leadership Summit Recap

On April 12th, we gathered leaders from 15 national research institutions to discuss alumni engagement strategies. For two days, we engaged in strategic conversations focused on improving student and alumni engagement. Our participants represented a diverse combination of Career Services, Student Affairs, and Alumni Relations professionals: 

research institutions to discuss alumni engagement strategies


We sent a pre-summit survey to our attendees to better understand their goals for the summit. Two primary themes emerged:

  • When asked, “What is one thing you want to walk away with?”, 72% of attendees replied with some variation of improving their engagement with constituents (students and alumni)
  • The remaining answers were all related to improving collaboration, partnership, and processes across departments


Leveraging Alumni Engagement Data and Building More Successful Partnerships with Alumni Relations

Dan Gould, Executive Director of Alumni Relations & Annual Giving
University of Colorado Denver

While most participants were focused on engagement, our pre-summit survey revealed a gap in the number of universities engaged in capital campaigns and those leveraging alumni engagement data to score prospects.

research institutions to discuss alumni engagement strategies
Dan highlighted his collaboration efforts to measure ROI in Advancement, Admissions, and Career Services against alumni engagement efforts. Data points such as admissions referrals, fundraising, hired students, and internships help shed light on the types of engagement required to move the needle.

research institutions to discuss alumni engagement strategies

Further, given the need for Alumni Relations to partner with so many constituents across the institution, Dan’s team developed a rubric to evaluate and prioritize cross-departmental efforts.

The opportunity screen starts with a simple question: Does this opportunity support the mission of the CU Denver Alumni office?

“CU Denver Alumni advances the University of Colorado Denver through its graduates by inspiring pride, serving as a gateway for career resources, stimulating investment in the future, and illustrating the impact of alumni contributions to the University and each other.”

If the answer is not a resounding “yes”, do not pass go, do not collect $200! If the opportunity does support the mission, then the group answers 10 simple questions to clarify the target audience and understand potential risks associated with the opportunity.

The exercise only takes 15-20 minutes and ensures both partners are on the same page. It also helps prevent against bias and the groupthink that results from working with the same few people on a regular basis. 


Desperately Seeking Connection

Dr. Thomas Matthews, Executive Director – Career Center
Case Western Reserve University

Another interesting pattern emerged: Universities are beginning to reimagine the organization and integration of Career Services, Student Success, and Alumni Relations. Two participants, University of Texas at San Antonio and the University of Chicago, have recently consolidated Career Services under Enrollment, with a goal of increasing early engagement.


research institutions to discuss alumni engagement strategies

research institutions to discuss alumni engagement strategies tom matthews

In his presentation, Tom Matthews unveiled a new presidential initiative to merge academic, career advising, and experiential learning under the provost. What was the impetus for this significant undertaking? It was a fairly simple concept:

Students are not as decided in their path forward as they present.

Why? Case Western students do not prioritize discovery and exploration.

These are high performing students, who statistically are prioritizing intense engineering majors, like Biomedical Engineering. Tom regularly meets with students who are pursuing multiple majors, have completed impressive internships, and are leaders of student organizations, but have never asked themselves, “What do I want to do?”

The data backs up the need for a refreshed perspective. While CWRU has a 6-year graduation rate, averaging 80% over the past 10 years, these data points have, for the most part, remained unchanged. As Tom put it, “if the definition of crazy is doing the same thing over and over expecting a different result, then it’s time for a change.”

A new career pathways model is under development to intensify the emphasis on a transformational experience between students and CWRU, as opposed to a transactional one.

research institutions to discuss alumni engagement strategies

While it’s early in the development of this new program, CWRU has serious momentum, and will pilot portions of the program in Fall 2018. 

“From the minute you set foot on campus at CWRU, there is a system to help you think through goals and determine how your education leads to those goals. No matter what your interests, someone is here to coach and mentor you.”

– Barbara Snyder, Case Western Reserve University President

Partnering With Your Campus Technology Team and Thinking Big

Lev Golnick, Chief Information Officer
Arizona State University

research institutions to discuss alumni engagement strategies lev golnick

Lev Gonick recently assumed the Chief Information Officer role at Arizona State University. Lev has had the opportunity to work in an extreme variety of settings as a technology leader in higher education, including Cal State University Monterey Bay, Case Western Reserve University, and now, ASU.

At CSU Monterey Bay, the University was graduating its first class of a few hundred students when he joined. In that setting, his team developed the entire student and alumni support stack from scratch.

At Case Western Reserve University, he had to navigate complex dynamics with a robust alumni organization. CWRU had a completely different culture towards innovation, and the scale of Lev’s work was much greater than at CSU Monterey Bay. At CWRU, Lev and his colleagues were internationally recognized for technology innovations in community engagement, learning spaces, next generation network projects, and organizational development.

With over 70,000 students at Arizona State University, and a goal of growing engagement to over 200,000 online, the scale under Lev’s consideration is unprecedented.

Lev spoke about the importance of technology, alumni relations, and student services working in partnership.

To move higher education forward, these offices can no longer operate in silos, with siloed data. ASU has implemented a data lake strategy to help make student and alumni outcomes a collaborative effort University-wide. A data lake, unlike a data warehouse, takes in vast amounts of unstructured data from various locations. Schemas are developed when interpreting the data based on the questions and evolving needs of departments involved.

To other summit attendees, some of this sounded a bit like science fiction, but it’s happening in all levels of higher education. His advice for heads of alumni relations and career services is to participate in the architectural conversations with their IT offices. IT is often viewed as a blocker. To change the conversation, business units can support IT in understanding the long-game of where data can help them.


Cracking the Code of Millennial Engagement

Lenroy Jones, Director of Career Services
Ashland University

In the spirit of our engagement conversation, Lenroy led the group in a discussion around engaging our growing millennial alumni population. By 2025, millennials will comprise 75% of the active workforce. Millenials are often unfairly stereotyped by the media (e.g., entitled, self absorbed). The summit attendees, who work day-to-day with an incredibly bright, diverse set of students and alumni know that those labels aren’t the reality. That said, with a rapidly changing global economy, administrators need to grasp the realities faced by the new generation in the workforce. Graduating students place an increasing value on work-life balance, purpose, and a strong sense of responsibility in their role. Here are a few data points that Lenroy compiled to lead a discussion on the topic:

research institutions to discuss alumni engagement strategies


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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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