From Higher Ed to Ed Tech
So, if you asked me twenty years ago as I was finishing a speech at my high school graduation ceremony: Hey Alan, what do you think about a career alumni engagement? Honestly, I think my response would have been: Alumni what? It is hard to believe that my twenty-year class reunion happened this past weekend, just as I am embarking on a new adventure in my career to help advance an industry view on Alumni Relations.
I certainly did not take a direct route to becoming an Engagement Specialist with Tassl. Only a few months after graduation I was off to boot camp with the Army Reserves and was prepared to immediately dive into Political Science and English at Duquesne University upon return. Suddenly, the US Army Reserve 458th Engineering Battalion out of Johnstown, Pennsylvania was called to Germany to design tank training ranges.
When returning from Germany, I began my studies in preparation for a career in law. I found, as I dug deeper into the rabbit hole of Political Science, it was interesting. I also found that this was not the direction I really saw my life going so I moved to State College, Pennsylvania to enroll in some general education classes. Then, fate reared its head again and I found myself accepting a job offer as a designer and decorator for an event company in State College.
The new change into Event Management proved to be a welcomed challenge and fulfilled that lack of passion I had in my previous endeavor. I learned everything I possibly could, supported by an event leadership certification course I completed through Temple University. After about nine years with the company, an opportunity to direct a small non-profit art school in Pennsylvania presented itself. While my main focus was on generating new sustainable revenue channels for the organization, working with volunteers and developing an alumni program for graduates of the art school introduced me to some new passions. Then, at the perfect moment, I was giving the opportunity to combine these passions together in a role in Development and Alumni Relations at Penn State University.
My introduction to Tassl happened in the fall of 2014 when I began working at Smeal College of Business at Penn State University as the Coordinator of Alumni Programs. One of my roles in this position was to help manage the Smeal Alumni Society Board on which Tassl founder and CEO Melissa Schipke sits (however at the time we met, Tassl had not yet started the company).
As we led my first Smeal Alumni Society Board meeting and discussed our strategies regarding our engagement metrics system, lots of conversations were flowing. With the little support the industry offered on measuring engagement, we had come up with our own systems and were leveraging the support of our board to help implement. I could see the lightbulb go off in Melissa's head from across the room.
The first break in the meeting allowed some time Melissa and I to connect and chat about the Smeal Alumni Relations engagement strategies. If you've ever talked to Melissa, you know she asks a lot of questions. She wanted to know how things were currently done, tools that we had, and the challenges we faced when it came to measuring engagement. And the truth is - in our industry there really wasn't much for tools and how we measured engagement became very frustrating.
In board meetings like that you are surrounded by a group of some of the most engaged members of our alumni and the best we could do with our data was see their giving amounts or say they attended a events. What was driving their engagement? What interaction had they had with us that led them to step up in these roles? How do we get those experiences to everyone? With metrics that only focus on giving information and events (that we know about) it's hard to answer those questions.
"Our alumni are so much more that event attendees and donors and our metrics need to reflect this."
Six months later Melissa presented to myself and our Director of Alumni Relations for Smeal - Jennifer Crispell - a new tool she had began creating as a one-stop-shop for alumni relations. To see the challenges I had share translated into actual solutions was almost to good to be true. I wouldn’t have to spend my career paralyzed by excel spreadsheets. I could see real time metrics around our programming and what drives our engagement. I could now defend specific programming needs with real data that was easily accessible. I was finally able to see some correlations and realizing how powerful our network really was. And most importantly, I was able to get more time back in my day to engage our alums, instead of being dragged down by excel sheets and looking up alumni ID codes. Having Tassl as a tool in alumni relations arsenal was going to be a game changer, and for me, a career changer too.
It seems like my entire career has built up specific experiences for me to get me here to Tassl. I am now able to take my experiences in event management and board volunteerism, along with solving some of the woes of being in the trenches of alumni relations. I look forward to continuing to solve some of the problems we are still facing volunteers and alumni professionals, but mostly to helping establish the standards we need around metrics in alumni engagement. Through working with Tassl as a client the last 2 years, I know this is the place where that is getting done.
Our institutions can't just be a brand anymore, we have to be a community. And in order to serve that community - we are going to need better data and metrics.
Join the conversation and feel free to reach out to me at email@example.com or connect with me on LinkedIn.