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Engagement Programs Earn CASE Awards

“These awards are a powerful testament to the caliber of our relationships, and they celebrate the many people who make Alma College a special place by so generously sharing their time and resources.” — Matt vandenBerg

Two innovative Alma College outreach programs designed to engage alumni and friends in the life of the college have won gold awards in a competition sponsored by the Council for Advancement and Support of Education.

The Pride of CASE District V Awards Program honors colleges and universities that demonstrate “outstanding achievement in the concept and execution of advancement programs.”

This year’s awards program generated 400 entries from 80 institutions in the District V region encompassing Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio and Wisconsin. Advancement professionals from outside of District V judged the entries.

The Alma Ambassador Program, the college’s comprehensive engagement initiative, earned gold in the “Best Collaborative Program” category. The 2016 “Plaid Returns” spring term course won gold in the “Best Program Engaging Institution CEO in Fundraising” category.

“We are deeply honored to receive this incredible recognition from CASE and our industry peers,” says Matt vandenBerg, vice president for advancement. “These awards are a powerful testament to the caliber of our relationships, and they celebrate the many people who make Alma College a special place by so generously sharing their time and resources.

“Together, the greater Alma College community is creating a new model of excellence in higher education engagement,” he says.

Ambassador: National Pacesetter

The Alma Ambassador Program invites volunteers — i.e. “ambassadors” — to assist Alma College in student recruitment, engagement, retention and career assistance activities. More than 1,600 alumni, parents, friends, faculty, staff and students have registered for the program.

<em>Ambassadors have created internships and participated in career assistance activities, such as the Career Explo.</em>Ambassadors have created internships and participated in career assistance activities, such as the Career Explo.“Amanda Slenski, director of alumni and family engagement, led our efforts to galvanize an extraordinary number of alumni and friends to engage with the Ambassador Program,” says vandenBerg. “We believe Ambassador is the largest program of its kind among U.S. liberal arts institutions.”

Since the program’s official launch in October 2015, Ambassadors have created internships for students, promoted Alma programs on social media, shared life lessons in classrooms, referred prospective students and more. This past year, Ambassadors referred 939 prospective students, helping the college to achieve its largest-ever class of first year students. About 40 percent of the new first year class was referred by alumni or friends.

‘Great Leaders Wear Plaid’

In May 2016, President Jeff Abernathy, Professor Greg Baleja and Trustee Darryl Schimeck, a 1982 alumnus, partnered to teach the Spring Term class “Plaid Returns: Strategic Leadership.” The course engages alumni leaders to teach current students about the many paths to a successful career in business.

<em>The inaugural "Plaid Returns" class.</em>The inaugural "Plaid Returns" class.“This innovative course, made possible through the vision and expertise of Darryl Schimeck, had two outcomes: to introduce Alma students to leaders who have achieved professional success, and to allow alumni to share their experiences and meet young leaders who are preparing for life after Alma,” says Abernathy. “We hope to build on this model in the years to come.”

Speakers for the 2016 “Plaid Returns” class included CEOs, presidents, executive directors and vice presidents of organizations from a variety of business fields. While many of the speakers traveled to Alma to participate in “Plaid Returns,” the class also traveled to Chicago and Detroit to allow students to interact with successful alumni in metropolitan areas.

Showcasing Best Practice

The annual Pride of CASE V awards showcase best practices in alumni relations, fundraising, advancement services, special events and outstanding communications. Alma College representatives have been invited to accept the awards for the Alma Ambassador Program and “Plaid Returns” at the annual CASE V conference, which takes place Dec. 11-13 in Chicago.

Alma College was one of only two MIAA institutions to receive a gold award and the only such college to receive two through the Pride of CASE District V Awards Program this year. This is the first time that Alma has won for its engagement and fundraising efforts. 

Story published on November 18, 2016