Hear the Conversation 21:07 min – 12.mb mp3
Michigan State University President Lou Anna K. Simon and Spartans Athletic Director Mark Hollis talk with Scott Westerman, Executive Director of the MSU Alumni Association.
Westerman dubs 2012 “the year of the network” for the MSU Alumni Association he says, which has also made strides in membership growth. But, Westerman says, more important things have been happening through the Alumni Association this year.
“We’ve been able to touch more lives in person this year than I think we ever have before,” Westerman says.
Janelle Goodwill is a senior at MSU studying psychology and African American and African studies, he says, who was named to the 2012 homecoming court. In December, Goodwill accompanied MSU Trustee Melanie Foster on trip to South Africa, Westerman says, where Goodwill was assigned to blog about her experience.
“There’s still a lot of the old culture, the apartheid culture, that is alive and well there,” he says. For Goodwill, an African American student herself, she encountered South Africa’s the new democracy and changing culture, Westerman says. She also was a role model for South African students, he says, some whom have never considered college, showing them how studying can change their futures.
“These are the kind of things that are happening all the time at the Alumni Association,” Westerman says. “It’s one of the reasons why I have the best job in the world.”
The traditional philosophy of being a student, graduating and then becoming a member of the Alumni Association is antiquated, Hollis says. The process of becoming a Spartan starts much sooner, Westerman says, before students make the decision to attend MSU. Alumni are active in recruiting young high school students and in the admissions process, he says.
“This past fall, we had over 300 Spartans that came back to the dorms where they lived to don their welcome t-shirts and unload those minivans,” Westerman says. These alumni have had personal experience in the dorms, he says, which freshmen and their parents first encounter on move-in day.
The Student Alumni Foundation, an organization whose name is admittedly met with confusion, Westerman says, is a pivitol group that works with Student Life to develop hundreds of student leaders, facilitating the most on-campus internships. “By the time you leave Michigan State, you already have had four years of experience and exposure to alumni,” he says. “What we hope it will be is a foregone conclusion that you’ll want to stay connected when you get into the real world.”
The Spartan Pipeline is a new initiative, Westerman says, which connects Spartans who are moving to new cities. “We live in a world now, where people want to be invited,” he says. Spartans who are new in town will be personally invited to an Alumni Association event through the Spartan Pipeline.
“There are no normal days for people with jobs like ours,” Westerman says, “and that’s what I love about this place.” The Alumni Association got a letter from a sixth grade student this summer asking for an autographed photo of Sparty he says, because she and her classmates were researching colleges. Sue Petrisin, Associate Director of the MSU Alumni Association, was treated like a rockstar when she payed the student’s class a surprise visit, Westerman says.
“When we walked out, everybody knew about what the Spartan magic was all about,” he says.
It is important to take the time to spend an extra five minutes with those we encounter everyday, Simon says, because you never know how meaningful that brief interaction may be. “While technology is really important,” she says, “it is not what defines Michigan State and our Michigan State community or team MSU; it is about those personal moments.”
Westerman says he has been speaking to Alumni Association groups across the country about social media this year. “Everything that you do, in every communications medium, ultimately should lead to the face-to-face encounter,” he says. This allows all senses to engage and ensures tailored communication, Westerman says, which can only be ignited by a tweet or post.
During his first year with MSU, he says, Westerman visited a tailgate hosted by the Arab Students Association and the Jewish Students Association. Traditional foods were interspersed throughout the tailgate and the students were good friends, Westerman says. He was struck by the students because “They said, ‘Imagine if our two cultures could connect as closely as we have under the Spartan mantra; what could happen with the world?’”
The Alumni Association houses MSU Evening College, which Westerman says is undergoing a few changes to better serve the community and address the university’s Boldness by Design initiative, especially increasing global outreach.
In development is the Evening College Legacy Lecture series, he says, which would identify and bring the best professors back to MSU to give lectures to enthusiastic students. The lectures would be broadcast worldwide, Westerman says, additionally serving as a fantastic recruiting tool.
Immersion learning is also on the Evening College’s agenda, he says, which would take a professor and class to locations in and around Michigan for onsite learning. Alumni Career Services plans to partner with Evening College, Westerman says, to create webinars hosted by alumni to further graduates’ careers.
Tradition is one Spartan ethic that brings Spartans back year after year, he says. The Alumni Association sponsored a virtual tailgate so Spartans across the globe could experience the team walking to the stadium, the band marching past Sparty, and MSU dignitary interviews firsthand, Westerman says.
“The whole idea of being able to bring this tradition, that we loved while we were here, to people that may be in far parts of the world,” he says, “that’s one of the most exciting things we’ve been working on.”
There is more to alumni relations than many would think, Simon says. Every decision made at the Alumni Association reflects at least one of four pillars, Westerman says: improving MSU’s reputation, helping recruit great people, broadly and deeply engaging Spartan alumni, and identifying investor donors. Only 20 percent of time is spent doing outreach in South Africa, alumni groups, grade schools, evening college, and online, he says. The other 80 percent is prioritizing programs, allocating funding, maintaining partnerships, and listening to the institution, Westerman says.
As for career advice, Westerman says having a passion for your career, knowing what company culture is best for you, and to make sure you are prepared to make a difference. “People don’t hire jobs,” he says. “We hire idea people who can help us solve our problems.”