Athletes at Wesleyan have a new cheering squad whose members gather not in the stands but in meeting rooms for a voice in Wesleyan’s planning processes.
The Athletic Advisory Council (AAC) and similar councils in careers and in regional programs are intended to give alumni members a strong voice in programs that have an impact across the Wesleyan community.
The AAC is a new venture that reflects Wesleyan’s desire to engage alumni through their strong affinities. This approach has tapped into a level of passion and willingness to help that Director of Athletics John Biddiscombe says has impressed him.
“The members of the council are all former Wesleyan athletes,” he says. “They remember how powerful that experience was for them, and that translates into a strong desire to get things done.”
“The councils represent a truly new way for alumni to become a part of the life of the university,” says Gemma Ebstein, assistant vice president for alumni and parent relations. “We are looking for advice and assistance in areas that directly affect the success of Wesleyan. The councils give alumni a chance to have a real impact.”
The AAC is getting expert help from its co-chairs, Dennis Robinson ’79, newly named president and CEO of the New Jersey Sports and Exposition Authority (former senior vice president of the National Basketball Association), and Moira McNamara James ’78, a trustee emerita who is well acquainted with the university’s inner workings.
They and fellow council members are wasting no time in formulating a set of recommendations intended to contribute to strategic planning in the Roth administration. During the spring and summer, working groups discussed issues such as recruitment of top athletes, marketing and communications, and a hall of fame for outstanding athletic achievement.
The full council of 20 members met on campus in late September to discuss working group reports with the intention of delivering a set of recommendations to President Roth by the end of the semester. That will be just the beginning of their work.
“Our goal is simple,” says Robinson. “We want the athletic program to be at the same level of excellence as the rest of the institution. Our scholar-athletes and the university deserve no less. Athletics and physical education are an integral part of this community, but the world doesn’t know that.”
James says that the athletics program contributes to the longstanding mission of the university by attracting students from diverse backgrounds and by building a sense of community. “The athletics program attracts high-quality students who are disciplined and focused. We want to get more of the top scholarathletes and attract some we might be losing right now.”
Other councils are looking to the fast start of the AAC as a model worthy of emulation.
The Career Advisory Council, chaired by Michael Klingher ’78, a trustee, and Kate Quigley Lynch ’82, a former trustee, is also focusing on the competitiveness of Wesleyan students, but in a different arena.
“The career marketplace has evolved,” says Klingher. “To use Wall Street as an example, because I know it, it used to be that firms interviewed students during their senior year. Now, unless you interned the summer after your junior year, you can’t get a job. It’s more competitive at an earlier stage.”
They and Michael Sciola, director of the Career Resource Center, believe that Wesleyan students seeking jobs–not just business-related jobs–need skills that traditionally lie outside the liberal arts realm.
“Our goal,” says Sciola, “will be to create an awareness among all students that learning how to build a spreadsheet, create a mission and strategic plan, identify opportunities and allies, and gather resources is not exclusive to business careers. I hope we are able to develop a program that gives all students–future art gallery owner, environmental activist, physician, Wall Street executive, educator, or research scientist– fundamental skills that will give them a competitive advantage.”
Sciola underscores the point by noting that some major banks now find 98 percent of their new hires through summer interns. In focus groups younger alumni have confirmed the need to develop management and financial skills before starting a job.
The Council hopes to develop the means to assist Wesleyan students who want to acquire these skills, possibly through weekend seminars.
“I’m looking for a multiplier effect from the Career Advisory Council,” Sciola adds. “We need to get students premier internships between the junior and senior year. The Council can greatly augment our ability to bring alumni and students together so that the Wesleyan educational experience, which is topnotch, can be contextualized to help students understand how the world of work functions. We also need alumni and parents to be thinking about Wesleyan as a first source of their hires.”
Although internships have long been available, the CAC would like to help Wesleyan develop a more extensive set of offerings. To that end, the Council membership includes individuals drawn from a wide range of professions–medical, legal, business, entertainment, Wall Street, government, public service, and more. They typically have at least 10 years experience in their fields and are well positioned to offer advice about development of internships.
Students also need help networking with alumni and preparing for job interviews. One of the Council’s subcommittees will propose ways to enhance the CRC’s program in this area, such as developing a library of alumni interviews on video to help students and alumni job seekers better understand industries of interest to them.
Lynch noted that everyone she asked to serve on the Council was more than willing to help. “There’s a huge group of alumni hungering for more contact and eager to make a tangible difference,” she says.
The Council of Regional Programs is formulating its goals around delivering high-quality service to alumni. Its chair, Clare Schneider ’84, says the Council wants to promote attendance at regional events, which already attract approximately 3,800 people for 180 events annually. “Engaging people in club activities makes it much more likely that they will be engaged in other activities important to Wesleyan,” she says.
The Council will be looking at metrics this year, trying to determine how to assess the success of regional programs. Some of the measures will necessarily be qualitative. For example, an event that attracts new people to a regional club might be a stellar success even if overall attendance is not exceptional. The Council will be developing ways to foster communication among volunteers so that they may trade advice and success stories.
Another priority is to ensure that attendees at regional events hear news about Wesleyan that is both accurate and reflects priorities established by the university’s leadership. Alumni want to know what’s happening on campus, says Schneider, and they want to understand the university’s strategy for moving forward. The Council also will encourage alumni to support Wesleyan financially.
Chairs of the councils are all members of the Alumni Association Executive Committee, the governing body charged with oversight of all alumni affairs.