Prospect Magazine: Alumni Stories

The Heart and Soul of the Place

During her student days, Samantha Kiley ’07 had an awesome Elmhurst Experience. Now she’s transforming the ways the College engages and serves its 23,000 alumni.

When she arrived on campus in 2003, Kiley says, she was a shy first-year student from La Grange, Illinois, whose immediate goal was to get through freshman orientation without attracting too much notice to herself. Instead, she found herself being led by new friends to first meetings of student organizations. By the time she graduated four years later, she had served as the president of the Union Board, was an Orientation Student Leader and a member of Sigma Kappa sorority. She also had found a new professional goal: a career in higher education.

 “This is the place that transformed me,” she says. “This is where I developed a new sense of confidence, discovered my career ambitions and met the people I knew would be lifelong friends. Being able to share my passion for the College in my current role truly is an honor.”

Peggy Sandgren, vice president for development and alumni relations, and Kiley are helping to reinvent the College’s alumni outreach. The two are implementing a strategic plan for alumni relations that calls for, among other things, heightened communications, expanded programming across the country and increased opportunities for professional networking. Developed in 2008, the plan is the product of an extensive set of surveys, interviews and focus groups meant to inform the College on the range of ways it can better serve, inform and engage its 23,000 alumni. It’s the most ambitious plan for alumni ever devised at Elmhurst.

 “What we heard was that our alumni and alumnae want to be involved—and not just for parties, but for networking and volunteering, too,” Kiley says. “Our goal is to engage our alumni in meaningful volunteer opportunities, events and programs that ignite their fond memories of the College.”

Sandgren chose Kiley to lead the Office of Alumni Relations in the fall of 2009. She had been working in the office since her student days, first as an intern, then, after graduation, as assistant director. When the director position became open, Kiley asked Sandgren to meet for lunch and made her pitch.

 “I told her how much the College means to me and how I wanted to be part of moving it forward,” she remembers.

The pitch worked.

 “Sam had all the qualities you look for in a professional,” says Sandgren, “and she has something that not everyone can offer. She understands the heart and soul of the College. She’s done an amazing job. She’s taken us further, faster than we thought possible in just two years.”

Sandgren and Kiley have introduced more resources for alumni, and more ways for Elmhurst graduates to give back to the College. Their increased focus on professional networking has resulted in new working relationships with the Center for Professional Excellence on campus and the Career Transition Center of Chicago. That means alumni can benefit from the same kind of advising, life coaching and career counseling that students receive. They also can more readily help current students by acting as mentors, offering professional shadowing experiences and creating internships.

The alumni office is working with the admission staff to create a formal group of alumni volunteers that will assist in the recruitment 
of future Elmhurst students across the country.

Communication has come in for an overhaul, too. Working with the Office of Communications and Public Affairs, the alumni office launched FYI, a newsy magazine; a quarterly electronic newsletter and a meaty new web site (www.elmhurst.edu/alumni). The College also is connecting with thou-sands of graduates through social networking sites like Facebook and LinkedIn.

The to-do list includes adding more programming in cities from San Francisco to Washington, D.C. “We want to establish a regional approach and bring the College to our alumni,” says Kiley. In collaboration with President S. Alan Ray, the Alumni Association Board and other College leaders, the office organizes alumni gatherings in Illinois and across the country with the near-future goal of creating self-sustaining regional clubs.

Of course, alumni, and thus the alumni office, also like parties. Kiley was made director just before Homecoming in 2009, which meant 
that one of her first tasks was to preside over the biggest alumni party of them all.

 “It was a whirlwind,” she recalls. “Homecoming is an event that brings what we do full circle—you have alumni, students, faculty and staff all coming together to celebrate who we are. Being placed into this role at that time was perfect.Thinking of it reminds me why I do what I do.”

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