Wednesday, May 18, 2011

If You Build It They Will Come

You know, I realize I should just get used to this . . . but I continue to be amazed at the willingness of Westminster alumni to stand up and be counted. Last week I wrote about the importance of relationship building over networking, and I pledged to do my very best to create an alumni network that is worthy of our alumni.

And then, without any more prompting from me, I got responses from young alumni around the country offering their help!
  • From the Bay Area, California - Chris Skinner
  • From the Washington DC area - Seth Longhurst
  • From New York City - Jessica Mertlich and Cassie Norman  
I feel like the guy in "Field of Dreams". Remember that movie? He builds a baseball field in the middle of his cornfield? Well . . . humor me, because I feel a little like that. I've been dreaming about what the Westminster alumni network could become (kind of like the Costner character did with his ball field). I have had this idea that by communicating often and well (like creating this blog) we could engage alumni all over the country and the world and do so in meaningful ways. I am thrilled that our first big "call" has resulted in alumni from various areas of the country stepping up to offer their assistance in creating a viable, and meaningful network. 

I honestly believe that our alumni have been patiently waiting for us to "build it". As alumni, we need just a bit of infrastructure (you know, like the ball field in the movie) and our alumni will come!!! The good news is that we've built the infrastructure. It now exists in a unique online community called  inCircle. Within this program, alumni can connect with each other in the same industry, city, or area of interest. We can promote the idea of "alumni hiring alumni". This program will also allow alumni to network with each other, search for jobs, provide career advice, or reconnect with former classmates and professors.

Like the "field" in Iowa, inCircle can be our field of dreams!

In the trailer for the movie (above) Ray's wife reminds him that he believed in the magic and it happened. 

Well, I believe in the magic - and it is happening. I'm so encouraged. Let's do this. Let's build this field of dreams. Let's make those dreams reality for our alumni. Contact the alumni office at 801-832-2748 or

The Alumni Network is OUR field of dreams. We're building it. Will YOU come?

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Relationship building rather than networking

We've all heard the old adage, "it's not WHAT you know, it's WHO you know". There is a little bit of truth to that, but honestly, if what you know isn't much, then who you know really doesn't matter, right?

Conversation card
 For example, a lot of people get jobs, big breaks, maybe even fall in love based upon the connections they've made with other people in their lives. So who you know can make a difference.

But, honestly, anyone can just "get out there" and start meeting people. And I'm pretty sure you know some of those people. The people who have a ton of business cards but not many true friends? The people who literally "collect" facebook friends, but would be hard pressed to tell you how they know each of them? They may think they are doing a good job in the networking department, but they really aren't.

It doesn't matter how popular you are, or how many friends you have on facebook.
Real connections, and ultimately real relationships, are built upon knowing someone, not just superficial acquaintances or brief encounters and handshakes at an event. I know I'd much rather hear a story about someone's life than get their business card. And . . . I'll also be much more likely to remember them. I'd much rather know who a person is, what they stand for, what types of things they feel passionately about, and how they contribute to the world in meaningful ways.

If all you have is WHO you know, and there is no substantive "WHAT" to back it up (i.e., an honest connection, a compatibility, an understanding and respect), then ultimately it is all for naught.

For example, we've all been told about the power of networking. I checked out this word and found this definition:  "the cultivation of productive relationships for employment or business." Did you know the word "networking" first appeared about 1967? I'm picturing all those marketing guys in the television show "MadMen" walking around full of self importance while talking about their "networking lunch". This is not what I'd call meaningful.
Salt Lake Country Club: A great venue certainly doesn't hurt

Networking is, on its face, relationship building for a purpose. Therein lies the problem. Ultimately, people realize that they are being "net-worked". I believe that is why both the word and the act of networking have lost their power and their meaning. Superficial connections are just that - superficial.
I've been studying up a bit on this, because in my new role as alumni director I really feel a certain sense of obligation to help our graduates find employment. More importantly, I'd like them all to find employment that they love and that provides meaning and purpose so that they can really enjoy their lives. In this economy, that is a tall order.

Recently we hosted the annual "Cocktails and Connections" event at the Salt Lake Country Club. It was a knock your socks off success. We doubled the number of attendees, and everyone had a great time. Of course, it didn't hurt that it was in a beautiful location, with good food and good wine.

And while some people there networked and were "net-worked", more often some real relationship building was taking place.

Westminster Alumni at "Cocktails and Connections"
The best thing about an alumni network is that everyone starts with common denominators in both the WHO you know and the WHAT you know departments. When one alumnus meets another, they already have a lot of shared experiences, classes, professors, friends, etc. At the Cocktails and Connections event I witnessed people beginning to establish real relationships based upon immediate mutual respect for each other, born of a Westminster education. This is the power of a true alumni organization.

I'm going to work like crazy to bring the power of a real alumni network to as many Westminster alumni as I can. I hope you'll join me. In the meantime, tell me what you think, give me your suggestions, and help me create a robust network that will serve us all well into the future.

Thursday, March 31, 2011

Seattle and SCUP

Me & the Seattle Skyline!

Last week I had the opportunity to attend a conference in Seattle, Washington. It was my first visit to Seattle, which is a beautiful city. I was there for the Society for College and University Planning (SCUP) conference. Since my entrance into the world of higher education, I've had the opportunity to attend several conferences related to my field. Of all of them, I have found the SCUP conference to be the most rewarding. Attendees are facilities planners, community relations executives, architects, community planners, and more. Sessions vary from demonstrations of particularly innovative facilities on campuses around the world to broad-based thinking and strategizing about the future of higher education generally. It was fascinating.

I had the opportunity not just to attend, but also to present. Westminster's recently completed master plan was featured at the conference, and one of the most rewarding aspects for me was learning that Westminster is quite cutting edge in not just thinking about community involvement in campus planning, but also encouraging innovation and out of the box thinking to create an accessible and affordable college experience for a broad range of incoming students - and then doing something about it. Honestly, I'm incredibly proud of the work we are doing here. If you haven't seen our master plan yet, check it out here! Westminster College Master Plan

An added benefit of my trip to Seattle included the opportunity to visit with some of our amazing alumni. I wanted to share their stories:
  • Ray Bradford graduated in 2007, having served as ASWC student body president. He was accepted into Stanford's MBA program, from which he graduated in 2010. He is now working for Amazon in the Seattle area. As you can see, Ray has had amazing success at a very young age. But what I like most about him? His ability to incorporate pop culture and intellect into his off the cuff witty remarks. Honestly - this guy is funny like Dennis Miller used to be 20 years ago . . . I encourage everyone to attend our next Seattle regional event just to get a moment to hear Ray "wax nostalgic and funny" about his Westminster experiences.
  • Roxanne Mennes is an alumna non-grad. Roxanne came to Westminster from California, and attended for four years, leaving her last semester to attend the University of Utah. She was hoping that would give her a leg up in the psychology ph.d. program there, but eventually she ended up in law school. That's where she and I originally met! Roxanne is now working in the law school at Seattle University. We had a lovely time talking about her Westminster experiences - Hogle Hall life, favorite professors, and friends from that late 80's era. We even learned that there is a network of people at Seattle University with connections to Westminster College!
What's next? We need to get Roxanne and Ray in touch. Not only can they enhance their own network of friends and professionals in the Seattle area that way, but they've both indicated a willingness to assist Westminster in our recruiting and admissions process in the Pacific Northwest area. I'm hoping to create a program that will engage our regional alumni in the work of admissions. There are no greater ambassadors for the Westminster experience than our alumni, and we can enhance the overall well being of the college by sharing our stories far and wide, and particularly with our potential students and their families.
Are you an alumnus from out of state? What would you like from the college? How would you like to be involved??? You can always email me at

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Life . . . and The Sound of Music

Clayton Middle School Production
 My daughter is in 7th grade and was recently in a middle school production of The Sound of Music. I saw the play last Friday. Now, you'd think that I would tell you a story about a mother sacrificing her time to sit through something produced by a teacher who doesn't want to be there, with obnoxious kids who are either seriously into theatre or who just want attention. But, this production was none of that. It was truly amazing and of professional caliber.

The entire production  - the multiple sets created or borrowed from the Utah Opera, the costumes tailored to each actor, the vocal abilities of the young actors amplified perfectly by sound and lighting systems - were all surprisingly professional. The family members whom I had dragged to the show to support my daughter were captivated. This was a really good play, every bit as good as something you'd see at the university level. These students had honestly pulled off an amazing - and moving - production. In fact, the play is featured in an upcoming article in the Salt Lake Tribune.

I learned that nearly half of the entire population of this middle school participates in the annual school play. It is a tradition that these students actively seek out, giving up hundreds of hours of time to perfect. At a time in life - middle school - when everyone changes, and popularity becomes a sport, and being cool can be the number one requirement for a good life - all of these kids pulled together to create a truly inclusive community.

I was floored.

And then I was inspired.

These 7th and 8th graders knew that participating in the play would be a life experience they didn't want to miss. They knew that even though they'd be putting in a ton of hours, putting up with other people who might make them crazy, and sacrificing their cool quotient, they'd become part of something bigger.

It struck me that school can be like that. You have a finite opportunity to make a difference, and therefore you have a heightened awareness of your life. Who among us doesn't remember homecoming dances, high school sports teams, winning (or even losing) seasons, a particular teacher or class? We know in middle school, high school and college that these are "times to remember" and so we specifically act in such a way as to make our efforts worth remembering.

So why does that change when we become adults? Are there no more opportunties for personal growth? Have we learned everything we can learn? Are we never going to be part of something "bigger"?

Aren't our efforts worth remembering now???

There is a scene in The Sound of Music in which Maria implores Mother Abbess to let her return to the abbey. The wise nun explains that there are many paths our lives may take, and they can all be meaningful. She tells Maria to "go out and find your life".

Sitting in the darkened theatre, watching these amazing young actors reciting this important line, struck a chord in me. Each one of those kids had auditioned, put in the time, and risked embarrassment or even rejection to be in the play. But they did it. They put themselves out there to start the process of finding their own lives.

Which of course got me thinking about the fact that, as adults, we all continue to have the opportunity to "find our lives". We're living our lives every day, but sometimes it can feel like a treadmill. Are you  honestly living a life in which you're consciously aware? A life in which you find meaning and purpose and beauty? A life that is worth remembering - every day?

I was preparing to facilitate my group session for the Alumni Mentoring Program last weekend, and I came across the poetry of Mary Oliver. I was struck by the last line of her poem The Summer Day, which succinctly and eloquently summarizes everything I've been thinking about and trying to say here. And I challenge you all to really think about it - and then LIVE it - we always have the opportunity to live a life worth remembering.

"Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?"

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

There is Something About Snow

Utah was hit with a spring storm last night, which dropped inches upon inches of fluffy white powder all over campus. Even at the end of winter, and having had a few hints of spring weather, late spring snows have a way of reminding me that the one thing you can count on is that you never know what is going to happen next.

And I have to tell you, there isn't a sight much more beautiful than walking through Westminster's campus just after a new snow. It is a striking balance between bright and sparkling as well as muted and quiet. There is something about the way the snow quiets the world that both calms me and makes me hyper-aware of the beauty in small things - the hint of green under the snow, the color of the stones of Converse Hall.

It reminds me of just how truly lucky I am to spend my days at Westminster College. 

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Egypt, Young People, and Higher Education

Like most Americans, I watched the news of the Egyptian revolution with interest. I greeted it with almost a sense of disbelief. The last time I remember feeling so moved was when the Berlin Wall fell in 1989. I was a student at Westminster at the time, and remember talking about the meaning and gravity of the act with my professors and classmates.

As an adult, I viewed the Egyptian revolution with the same awe and interest, but I didn't have the outlet of my classes and professors available for discussion. Instead, I turned to passively watching the news, reading blogs and trying to absorb as much information as I could. However, I continue to feel as though I'm missing something. There is simply no substitute for intellectually stimulating conversation in an academic setting.

I learned through reading blogs that the revolution was led by young people, organized and promoted on social media, and had a lot to do with unemployment levels among the highly educated. As a person who regularly works with recent graduates, many of whom are entering the work force during a recession, these events make me worry even more about their future. How can we, as Westminster alumni, create a stronger alumni network - one that doesn't leave our recent graduates worrying about the future and feeling ostracized and neglected by those who have come before them?

If there were ever a time to be involved in alumni organizations, I believe that it is now. Opening up your own networks, providing job counseling and expertise, mentoring a student or even taking them to lunch one time is an immensely important way to ensure the vitality of our future. It is more important than ever to connect with one another. In the alumni program, we are looking for your ideas, your willingness to commit to building relationships with each other, your desire to create that alumni network. It is through the interconnectedness that we will maintain our strength! Are you willing to help?

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Leadership: Can Inspiration and Manipulation Play Well Together?

I was recently asked to take one of those personality tests at the office. You know the kind – read a set of statements and choose the one that fits you best. At the end of the test you will find out what kind of person you are. This particular test was about communication style. It divides communication types into dominance, influence, steadiness and conscientiousness. I was the last person on my “team” to take the test, and everyone was making bets on my results. Just about everyone was certain that I would be labeled a “D” – for dominance. That certainly isn’t surprising, as I would assume the same thing. After all, at the end of my service as Alumni Board Chair, alumnus Gene Barton presented me with a gift from the entire alumni board: a sledgehammer. Hmmmm…….

Not surprisingly, I scored a high “D” on the test. However, my scores were almost completely equal in the D (dominance) and I (influence) category. Interesting. Taken together, at least according to this survey, my communication type was categorized as “inspirational”.

Well, I really liked that description. Inspirational just sounds nicer than dominance. Imagine my discomfort when reading the description of the inspirational “type” in the profile description and learning that it really wasn’t what I had expected. While words like

·        charming
·        clear
·        results
·        persuasive

were listed, other words like

·        manipulating
·        predetermined end
·        controls environment

were equally present.

 I laughed it off but found myself wondering – is this really what I think of myself? And how do manipulation and inspiration really fit together?

According to Merriam-Webster, inspiration means “the action or power of moving the intellect or emotions” and “the act of influencing or suggesting opinions.” I know that I appreciate a leader who inspires. Don’t we all? We want to feel as though our efforts have greater meaning, and an inspirational leader can tap into our emotions and intellect so that we feel empowered and even compelled to act.

I was upset that the word “manipulating” was in my descriptor, but upon further thought, I’ll take that back  We generally think of that word with a derogatory meaning – “to control or to use to one’s own advantage by unfair means”. But I learned that it is also defined as “to manage or utilize skillfully”. Wait a minute. That’s not such a bad descriptor. Don’t we want our leaders to manage our resources skillfully? Don’t we want our leaders to utilize the skill sets of their team members to their best efforts? I set forth that the word manipulate may have gotten a bad rap. Manipulating, particularly in a leader with vision and ethics, can be incredibly important to an organization.

Taken together in the best senses of the words, manipulating and inspirational leaders may actually be those who have both the charm and the skill to get their organizations to the next level. I think that’s what we’re all craving in our leaders right now: those with the vision to inspire us to great work, and those with the skill to manage our human and other resources to actually get that great work done.

Do you know any leaders with these qualifications? Who inspires you???