By Bestsey Norgard
One student heard about a fire that broke out in one of the houses on campus in the 1970s. Another enjoyed hearing perspectives from a studio art major about his work at a financial organization. A third met with an alum who fondly remembers the tasty cinnamon rolls that students often got in Morton Hall in the mid-1950s.
Twenty students working in the Alumni and Constituent Relations Office recently completed the first year of Project IGNITE. They’ve been meeting with alumni to learn more about the role that the College played in the lives of the alumni and to share stories and experiences about Augsburg then and now.
Senior Brittany Goff is the intern who directs the students’ work for Project IGNITE. Once she hand-matches students and alums who share similar majors and/or interests, a letter from President Pribbenow is sent explaining the program and alerting the alum to a future call from a student. The student will invite the alum to a meeting preferably on campus or at a convenient coffee shop.
That first contact can be a little daunting for students, but knowing they share interests makes it easier. Melissa Herrick, a communication studies and art sophomore, says it tells the alum that “this is not a random call; there’s a reason I’m calling you,” which, in her case, is to share with them what art at Augsburg is like now and to hear about their experience studying art at Augsburg.
STUDENTS CONNECT WITH ALUMNI
On a cold day last fall, Herrick met with Patti Lloyd ’83, who owns a web development and interactive marketing company. While Lloyd was an international business major and not an art major, the two immediately discovered common interests in web design. Herrick was trying to plan a webpage for an arts project and was delighted to get some ideas from Lloyd.
“We had a great meeting,” says Lloyd, “and when she left, I think she felt comfortable that all the resources were there for her project.”
One of the meetings that Goff enjoyed was with a physician. In the conversation, Goff, a psychology major, learned about the physician’s medical practice that has included a psychologist and a nurse, enabling him to offer both physical and mental testing and care. “This was really a great experience for me,” Goff says, “to help me consider my future career and the option to be in a practice like that.”
Adam Spanier, sophomore class president and an Honors student, says he has met many interesting people through Project IGNITE. His favorite aspect of the program, he says, is “hearing the many different bits of advice and wisdom that alumni have to offer.”
ALUMNI ENJOY RECONNECTING
Most alumni contacted in Project IGNITE are graduates who have not been active in alumni activities or participated recently in events. Re-engaging with their alma mater through Project IGNITE has also been enjoyable for them, especially seeing the College through the eyes of current students.
Christopher Haug ’79 was one of the alumni Spanier met last fall. “What benefited me the most,” Haug says, “is that I felt I was connected again with my school. There’s nothing like a faceto- face relationship with a person who is going through the experience.”
Haug and his partner returned to campus in December for the Advent Vespers dinner and enjoyed talking with people they knew and meeting others.
VOLUNTEER OPPORTUNITIES CONTINUE
Pat Grans, the Project IGNITE volunteer coordinator, follows up with the interests and/or requests that students bring back from the alumni visits. She crafts individual plans recommending events and volunteer opportunities that could include speaking in a class, inviting a student to job shadow, or helping with registration at an event. Or, Grans can seek to create a tailored opportunity based on the alum’s interests.
Grans has now developed volunteer job descriptions and oversees all aspects of recruiting, training, scheduling, supervising, and recognizing volunteers.
HAS PROJECT IGNITE MADE A DIFFERENCE?
Project IGNITE means Involving Graduates Now In Thoughtful Engagement. A three-year project funded by Thrivent Financial for Lutherans, Project IGNITE is designed to serve as a model to help other colleges and universities engage their alumni.
What makes Project IGNITE an out-of-the-box program and readily transferable are several components that together offer lifelong alumni connections:
- One-to-one interaction between students and alumni—who better to talk about the college experience and re-engage alumni than current students?
- Mutually beneficial matching of student and alumni majors and interests
- Individualized and ongoing follow-up from a volunteer coordinator to keep engagement and energy alive
In the project’s first six months at Augsburg, both attendance at events and volunteering have increased. Of the alumni the IGNITE students have visited during this time, 14% have now attended College events. Nearly 76% have expressed interest in volunteering; and of those, 20% have begun. More than 1,800 hours of volunteer time have been logged.
Kim Stone, director of alumni and constituent relations, is excited by the results. She attributes success to the total package Project IGNITE makes possible—engaging students in the alumni program before they graduate, encouraging ongoing attendance at alumni events, and keeping alumni connected to campus through meaningful volunteering.
For more information or to arrange to meet with an IGNITE student, contact the Office of Alumni and Constituent Relations at firstname.lastname@example.org or 612-330-1085.