Before the pandemic, Alumni Relations Director Christine Del Favero’s office had a handwritten board that listed dozens of alumni chapter group meetups across the country. Once COVID-19 hit, those gatherings at restaurants, bars, and other spots were wiped away like the whiteboard they were being planned on.
“The running joke is that I encourage large groups of people to come together,” kidded Del Favero. “The challenge [in doing that] is that for alumni, there [seems like] no good time or good place to meet. Not in Pittsburgh… or Boston…no one wants to cross the river…everyone hates that bar — there are so many logistical challenges.”
Logistical challenges notwithstanding, Emersonians love meeting in person, and especially with the pandemic, need personal connections more than ever before.
Alumni Relations has had to find other ways to connect to alums. And the silver lining of the pandemic is that so many people are home Zooming, Skyping, and hanging on their devices. They’re available.
That availability led to hosting online panels with speakers from all around the world. While the option existed before, it became more of a reality when everyone had to be on a video screen from their home. And people were able to watch it in real time or their own time.
“We are getting Zoomed out, but for the right content and the right speakers, people will watch,” said Del Favero. “I can get people in a room even if they live in Germany, DC, or Zimbabwe. We have taken advantage of that angle. We’ve asked alumni, community members, faculty, ‘What do you want to talk about?’ And then we got those people in the room.”
Another pandemic-driven creation is the Making It Big In 30 Minutes podcast, created by Associate Director of Alumni Relations Rebecca Glucklich and hosted by Alumni Board Member and chair of the professional development committee Terri Trespicio, MFA ’02.
“We need[ed] something that puts a spotlight on alumni and what they’re up to. That was the inspiration for it,” said Trespicio. “There are a lot of [Emerson alums] who’ve gone on to great success and won awards. They get attention. We know the famous people, but there are so many people who are doing incredible things and they got those skills from what they learned at Emerson.”
Glucklich said Alumni Relations did TED Talk-like programs for 2019’s Alumni Weekend, which were received very well.
“People want to hear those alumni stories, and this is a way to make it more accessible to more people, but with a smaller budget,” said Glucklich. “We can tack onto Emerson’s good branding about One Emerson and Emerson Everywhere, and embrace [President Pelton’s] vision of a borderless campus. We have people who’ve received degrees from the College, but never set foot in Boston. We want them to feel like they’re part of the Emerson community.”
Trespicio described the podcast as a connective tissue which lets us recognize and celebrate the achievements and work of alumni, wherever they are and whatever they do.
“What I like about the podcast is what I hope other people like about the podcast,” said Trespicio. “It is surprising and insightful, and spurring conversations about careers you may not have thought about. It gives us a chance to not only learn what Emersonian alums are doing, but shift and in many cases expand our definition of success.”
Trespicio recommends that people listen to podcast episodes even if they’re featuring guests who are not in their professions. You never know what you’re going to learn from one of them.
Philosophically speaking, Trespicio said the students are the present of Emerson College, while the alumni are the past and the future. It’s not just they once attended the school, she says. Alumni are a big part of the College’s community, which extends far beyond the campus or the buildings or the time they spent at Emerson. Current and future students look to alumni to see the power of their education at work in the world.
“No matter what you do as a student or graduate, chances are you make something, because Emersonians are makers. They make jokes, they make businesses – they make lots of things,” said Trespicio. “What they have in common is they not only like to make — they make their living doing it.”
Trespicio says she came up with the name and mission of the podcast based on a desire to reframe what “making it” even means. She asks every guest what it means to make it and how will they know when they have made it.
“Everyone has a really different answer to the question of what it means to make it, and it’s fascinating. To my mind, if you’re making something, you’ve made it. That’s the bar,” said Trespicio. “Not if you’ve been written about on Buzzfeed. The happiest graduates are the ones who continue to make things. I want more people to hear about the cool things people are making so that they can feel inspired to make more great stuff themselves.”