"It's a New Day"
Susan Vosper talks about the state of Alumni Relations at Seattle University
Nearly a year ago Susan Vosper ('90, '10) returned to her alma mater to serve as assistant vice president for alumni relations. Since then, the Office of Alumni Relations has formulated a vision and mission, as well as a strategic plan. Included in the plan are such goals as expanding benefits and services for alumni; improving and increasing the university's marketing to its graduates; fostering a more active, engaged role for the Alumni Board of Governors; and developing an operational and resource model that supports all of these initiatives. Vosper sat down with The Commons to talk about the progress Alumni Relations has made in the past year and what's in store for the future.
The Commons: Generally speaking, how would you assess the state of alumni relations at Seattle University?
Susan Vosper: I think we're at a good place. I've been here for 10 months, and right off the bat, we were really clear about the vision that we wanted to put forth, which is being a world-class alumni relations office and presence for SU and our alumni. We also got really clear on a mission to foster that common bond of pride, affinity and connectivity. We're just beginning-I think we're at the base of the mountain and we have done a tremendous amount of work to ensure we can climb that mountain. When we talk about our vision of being a world-class alumni relations office and presence, that's the mountain we want to climb, and I think we're on our way. We have put a plan in place for the next 12-18 months to ensure we are ready and have what we need to make that climb.
The Commons: When we get to the top of that mountain and see a world-class alumni relations office and presence, what do you think that will look like?
Susan Vosper: People ask me that all the time-what is world-class? If you wanted to put a name on it, I always say Notre Dame or Georgetown, Stanford. Those are nationally, even internationally, renowned universities, and there's a lore around being an alum from those schools. What it would look like for us is that our alums, our school, our name, our brand-the mention of us-would evoke a common bond of pride, affinity and connectivity that is just bar none. That sense that, "Of course, you're part of Seattle University-you wouldn't want to be anyplace else!" And part of me believes we're almost there, because when you talk to alums, they're quietly enthusiastic about their alma mater. When you mention Seattle U, they say, "Oh yeah, I went there!" and they have nothing but great things to say about their alma mater. We want to take that next leap so they're not only quietly enthusiastic, but proudly, boldly enthusiastic to be an alum of Seattle University.
The Commons: The current SU Magazine is focused on alumni, and in those pages the president makes a very direct appeal to alumni, asking for their feedback on how they'd like the university to engage with them. What kind of response has that been getting?
Susan Vosper: We've had a very good response. You're always going to get a range of feedback, whether it's good, bad or indifferent, but the most important thing is that we are getting feedback. Our alums are talking to us. Let's be honest, we haven't invested a lot in alumni relations over the past several years. This is the first time in a long time, if at all, that the university has understood the need and the value in investing in their alums and including the alumni in the makeup of the university, the planning of the university, the brand of the university. And so with that, you're going to get all kinds of feedback, because if you haven't heard from people in a while, they're going to want to tell you a lot. But the point is, it's good that they want to tell us, that they want to stay connected and that they want us to work with them to make this a world-class alumni association and presence for the university. They want that and expect that of us.
The Commons: Looking at the goals in the strategic plan, can you elaborate on the goal of improving services and benefits for alumni?
Susan Vosper: There were some key things that really came to light in this regard. The first was around having a plan for career services for alumni, and we've made great strides with the Career Services office-so much so that we've been able to secure for them a headcount to be able to focus just on programming for alumni. That'll start sometime this year and I am really excited about working with Beth Krietl and her team to put this resource into place.
The next big movement is what we are calling the "Development of a lifetime relationship" with our alumni, and that really starts at the beginning of a students experience when they are admitted, so we've been working with Admissions and Student Development to really ensure that we're in on the ground floor when students enter into Seattle University, whether they're an undergraduate or graduate or transfer student. So we're identifying those key engagement points that we can be a part of as a student begins their relationship with SU, such as Accepted Student Open Houses, summer orientation, student send-offs, Welcome Week and Family Weekend.
We're also launching a Young Alumni Program and we're looking to understand how we can better engage with faculty because one of the things our alumni tell us they truly cherish is the relationship they had with their professors and the experience they had in the classroom and they want those same connections and experiences as alumni.
The Commons: You mentioned that already you're seeing some signs of progress in strengthening the university's relationship with its alumni. What are some of examples that are foremost in your mind?
Susan Vosper: There are so many things that have happened this year! We had a really great partnership this year with Athletics and the KeyArena, and all of the pre-game rallies we held before our men's basketball games proved that people are just aching for wanting to be together and to celebrate Seattle University. We had an average of about 300 people every pre-game rally. Every pre-game rally I looked around and thought, "It's working. People want this." They showed up in their SU gear, they showed up with their friends and family. We had a multigenerational turnout. This was a proof point that people want that common bond-that pride, affinity and connectivity with their alma mater.
The alumni awards we just had last month, again a packed house in Campion Ballroom, celebrating six people from Seattle U who have done just incredible things. We've also had some breakout events-(musician and former Albers student) Duff McKagan was here the end of October and we had a full house. It was a great partnership with Elliott Bay Books right here in our neighborhood. The Alumni Day of Service in partnership with Magis and the SU Youth Initiative was an inaugural event and we got a video endorsement from our Governor! We re-launched the Downtown Breakfasts this winter to highlight the Battle in Seattle with UW.
We're also seeing a lot of activity in other areas. If you look at the response to our online alumni directory that just launched, the feedback has been really outstanding. Our Facebook page and Twitter accounts are growing exponentially. We've probably added in the last six months alone almost a thousand "Likes" on our Facebook page. We refreshed our website and our web presence in partnership with Marcom, and of course we launched the first alumni-focused SU Magazine in response to the survey that was conducted. We also launched an alumni gear store so alums can buy popular SU alumni gear to promote their pride as an alum of SU, which was a big deal.
The Commons: You're an alum, of course, and I know there are many other alums working here as faculty and staff. Can you talk about some of the recent efforts to engage particularly with employees who graduated from here?
Susan Vosper: Yes, the SUFASA (SU Faculty and Staff Alumni) Chapter, has resurfaced. There's 300 or more faculty and staff who are alumni. I didn't realize how many faculty and staff we have who are alumni, and it's a proud group of people, so I'm having a good time getting to know them. The group got together last November and have started to represent themselves as a voice on campus and do some things together, not only socially, but also events such as our Alumni Day of Service last month. I think we'll see them a lot more at games and other events and they're starting to have more of a presence on the Alumni Board of Governors.
The Commons: Anything else?
Susan Vosper: There are so many things that we have in the works for Alumni Relations at SU! Some of the things to look forward to-you'll see an enhanced alumni relations presence at Senior Week and Commencement. You'll see an enhanced presence for this building (Admissions and Alumni) we are updating the vestibule and we be holding a re-dedication of the building. We're really working to ensure that we're part of the everyday vernacular and operations of the university. We're just getting started to climb that mountain, but we're committed to a long-term plan and process to get there and I belive we will. As we like to say here in Alumni Relations, it's a new day.