“We have a tremendously large and successful community of alumni,” says Jennifer Bernstein, Pace’s recently appointed vice president for Development and Alumni Relations. “They have a lot to be proud of, and we want to find ways to connect to what’s relevant in their current life.”
This philosophy is helping drive Bernstein and her department’s approach to finding better ways to engage alumni at the University. Bernstein, who has been with Pace for several years, first as a fundraising consultant for the Centennial campaign and later as interim vice president, believes the secret to success is tapping into those unique Pace experiences that made alumni’s time at the University so meaningful.
“In the past we’ve had more of a focus on events that connect people geographically,” says Bernstein, who notes that recent networking events outside the tri-state area, such as Florida and California have been highly successful. “But so many of alumni are from the tri-state area or have stayed here, they already have their own personal networks. We want to reconnect them to things that were meaningful when they were here at Pace,” she explains. “We’re building a program around natural networks, such as Beta Alpha Psi, or a group of former football players who have stayed in touch, or the Honors College. There are some real hot spots of alumni activity, some of which we are aware, but there are also new ones that we are learning about every day.”
Through these “hot spots” Bernstein and her staff, including Dawn Rigney, executive director of Alumni Relations and Annual Giving, hope to build not only more relationships but also stronger ones. And part of the process includes giving alumni the tools they need. “If you want to reconnect with a sorority, fraternity, or professor, Alumni Relations is here to help you,” says Rigney. “We can help advertise the event, help arrange a space, even send Pace paraphernalia and giveaways,” she says noting that alumni groups have driven some of the most interesting recent events, citing an example of a small number of athletes who connected on Facebook and eventually met again at Pace’s recent Athletics Hall of Fame Induction.
That’s one reason that sharing your news with the University and your classmates is so important, explains Rigney, who encourages more classmates to connect via Pace’s Alumni Online Community, Facebook, and through the class notes. “The more we know about your interests, the more we can do to support the things that are important to you,” she says.
Another way that Alumni Relations is changing to better serve alumni needs is providing that same “have it your way” approach to the Annual Fund—offering donors the chance to give to what they care about the most. Whether scholarships, athletics, student life, or in honor of faculty, donors can now specify where they’d like their money spent to improve the University.
And that alumni support—both financial and emotional—is critical to the fate of Pace. “The future of the University rests with our ability to attract the best and brightest students,” says Bernstein. “And so many of their perceptions are influenced by word of mouth. We want alumni to be real ambassadors in their own network and companies for Pace, to carry the ‘Pace flag’. We’re starting to hear more often from alumni that they are proud of what Pace has done—be it the trajectory of our performing arts program, or the new Entrepreneurship Lab, or the Lubin center. We’d like to make sure alumni have all of the reasons to be proud about Pace so that they can pass that message on.”
Connections that Count
While your support of the University is important to its success and reputation, Pace is also there to help support your success and reputation with a number of services. Nobody knows that better than Renee Wright, who graduated with a BBA from Pace in 1981. Career Services helped Wright secure her first full-time job, which eventually led to a successful 22- year career at Bristol-Myers Squibb. Throughout that time, Wright stayed connected to Pace through the magazine and alumni e-newsletter.
Thus, when Wright found herself downsized, Pace’s alumni listserv caught her eye. “It’s great that Career Services is available to alumni, even if you can’t be on campus,” says Wright, who was based near Princeton, NJ. Working with Career Services and Barry Miller, PhD, manager of new employer development, Wright retooled her skills and conducted a successful job search.
Now in a new job at LifeCell Corporation, Wright gives back to Pace both for the education and support she received as a student (as an undergraduate she received a partial tuition scholarship) and as an alumna. But most importantly, she gives back to help others. “I give to Pace because it could help someone who was in the same situation I was in,” says Wright. “And I’m sharing my story because I hope it will prompt other alumni to give and help the next generation of alumni.”