This wasn’t the year I expected when I served as President-Elect of the Mizzou Alumni Association with Steve Hays as President. Each role on the board prepares you for the next as you become more familiar with MAA, but there was no instruction manual for leading through a pandemic.
When the executive committee (including President-Elect and Flagship board member Sabrina McDonnell and Jeff Vogel as Treasurer) came together this summer for a retreat, we decided not to look ahead with trepidation. Instead, we looked for opportunity. We started using a new word that would soon become our mantra: “re-imagining.” Instead of canceling 2020, we were going to fully commit to re-imagining alumni engagement to build on the energy of our Tiger family. This week we’re celebrating the successful end to the Mizzou: Our Time to Lead campaign, and record-breaking volunteerism is part of that success story. This is the Tiger family story, and the reason why Mizzou perseveres.
Looking ahead to the fall, we committed to a series of online events typically held in-person; our largest yet would be the newly named Alumni Leadership Conference (previously Alumni Leaders Weekend). The event, long-adored by our alumni, was always a great way to come home for the Volunteer of the Year Awards, networking and professional development. But the event had stopped growing. 2020 gave us an opportunity. Move the whole production online, and fully flex the MAA’s new virtual events platform by integrating video with our alumni “celebrities” like weatherman Craig Moeller, interactive trivia, and Q&A with top MU leaders, including President and Chancellor Mun Choi. Sabrina and I co-hosted the event along with the MAA team, and we worked together to bring our creative ideas to life. We never dreamed of canceling, but instead, we grew the event to record-high attendance.
MAA’s new events platform allows us to address a long-time barrier to volunteer engagement – travel. By moving our speakers online, we reach a national (even international) audience with excellent alumni-focused content. 2020 is our chance to try new things to see what will work. Two upcoming events are great examples of the fun and engaging content now available to alumni to watch from home: Top Chief of Staff: Life as Padma Lakshmi’s Right Hand Man on Sept. 30 and CAFNR Conversations with Dean Daubert on Oct. 6.
Our chapters have embraced the concept of re-imagining, as well. In Kansas City, the chapter launched a series focused on health and wellness including Chef vs. Fitness Trainer grocery shopping challenge; Ask the Doc; and a kick-boxing class with over 2,400 views. The Chicago and NYC chapters connected for a cross-market speed networking session overcoming 800 miles of physical separation. Chapters from Hannibal to Houston transitioned student send-offs to virtual experiences and ended up being more accessible to incoming students and parents than ever before with a warm welcome to our newest Tigers.
For Griffiths Leadership Society, their first virtual informational meeting brought alumnae together from California to Maryland, and even as far as Indonesia – women who were unlikely to travel to a traditional event, but who shared the same virtual space to learn about the incredible professional development and networking opportunities with Griffiths. Now, they plan for their first virtual Griffiths Leadership conference with new ways to engage members from around the country and the globe.
Soon we’ll announce what a re-imagined Homecoming experience will look like. It will be different, but what we’re learning is that there are incredible new opportunities when we take the leap and re-imagine. One thing is for certain, we aren’t canceling 2020. We’re embracing the unknown, and leading through change.
Robin Wenneker, MAA Board of Directors President and University of Missouri Board of Curators, District 4