Q & A with Patsy Fisher, Vice President for Alumni Relations
The new vice president of alumni relations at Brandeis, Patsy Fisher, expects to spend her first months at the University engaged in the work of an anthropologist as she endeavors to learn a new culture. She spent the last 25 years at her undergraduate alma mater, Dartmouth College, in a variety of leadership positions in alumni relations and advancement. She helped Dartmouth establish one of the strongest alumni-relations programs in higher education. She recently sat down with LouieNews to discuss her first impressions of Brandeis, plans for the future and ideas to spur alumni engagement:
LN: What are your early impressions of Brandeisians?
PF: There is evident passion on the part of alumni for the Brandeis academic endeavor and a commitment to the ideal of social justice. It doesn’t seem to matter when alumni graduated, their love for the place and their desire to see it grow and succeed shines through. That is particularly evident among members of the Alumni Association Board of Directors, many of whom I have had the pleasure of meeting already.
LN: What is the key to a successful alumni engagement program, one that connects alumni to the University and educates them about the benefits of staying connected?
PF: Our program has to serve alumni of all generations; we need to connect young alumni to the past and connect older alumni to the present and future. We must do a better job of making alumni understand that there is much to be gained by maintaining an active and lifelong relationship with the Brandeis community. Whether taking advantage of career services, faculty lectures, social and professional networking events or a host of online engagement opportunities, there is something for every alumnus at every stage of life, no matter where they live.
LN: What plans do you have to enhance alumni programming?
PF: It is important to involve alumni with the academic life of the University through lifelong learning opportunities on campus, online and abroad. I want to build new alumni affinity programs – for international alumni, for former athletes and for those concerned with social justice – that bring together Brandeisians from across the generations who share a common interest. The success of BOLD, Brandeisians of the Last Decade, is a great example of how to design alumni programs around life-stage and other affinity connections. I would also like to create additional excitement around Reunions by creating programming that appeals to a broad array of interests. People come back to see their friends, but while they are here it’s also an opportunity for them to meet students, engage with faculty, reconnect with campus, visit with the president and learn about Brandeis admissions.
LN: When should alumni engagement commence?
PF: The lifecycle of engagement should begin the moment that students matriculate. They are students for four years but alumni for life. When they arrive on campus we should be conveying immediately the mutual benefits of lifelong engagement. Doing so requires building partnerships with the Office of Student Life, the Office of Admissions and the Hiatt Career Center so that students can build connections with alumni.
LN: Can the Dartmouth model of alumni engagement succeed at Brandeis?
PF: Much of Dartmouth’s success stems from sheer longevity and its isolated location in northern New England. Dartmouth engenders a strong sense of place, and students and alumni connect to that place and to one another. I don’t know that you can replicate that sense of place at a suburban Boston campus. It’s important to recognize, however, that when Dartmouth was 65years old – the age Brandeis is today – it was 1834 and it was a school for clergymen and gentlemen farmers. It did not have the type of international academic reputation that Brandeis enjoys at such a young age. That being said, I fully believe that a committed alumni engagement program will engender continue loyalty and support among Brandeisians of all generations.