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May 29, 2003
Pick up the Phone - It's a Bobcat Calling!
By Natalie Allen and Nate Wilkinson

Josie Ploehs, a junior English major, leans back in a blue, padded chair and stares at the text on her computer monitor. The Cincinnati native listens to an interesting question and answers it - without even raising her hand. Twenty-four other students share the McCracken Hall room, but none of them notice her response.

The reason? This is not just another class and Ploehs is not just another active observer. This is the Ohio University Phonathon. The assignment: Contact Ohio University's 160,000 living alumni.

"We're really interested in what the alumni have to say about the university and what they did after graduation," Ploehs says. "We're all going to be on the other end of the phone one day, too, so I wish they could put themselves in our shoes to know what a difficult and important job this is."

Ohio University's National Phonathon contacts an average of 75,000 alumni every year. Seventy-seven student employees call to update alumni records, inform them of events around campus and to introduce the Annual Fund program. This fiscal year, the Phonathon is nearing its $1 million goal with pledges totaling $850,000 from more than 13,500 alumni and friends.

Naturally, Phonathon callers enjoy talking to alumni. In fact, many have developed friendships from their telephone conversations. Joe Jefferson, a senior political science major, remembers one particular call with an alumnus in California.

"I was able to talk to a man in Los Angeles who owns his own company like I do," says Jefferson, a Cleveland native and owner/operator of Jefferson Painting, L.L.C. "Now we're friends and talk all the time."

The ability to connect past and present generations of Bobcats to Ohio University is what lures many students to the Phonathon's calling stations. It's also the reason Heather Soroosh, a junior biological sciences major, has been coming back three times a week all year.

"I enjoy talking to people who graduate from Ohio University with positive memories and who try to give back when possible, because they have a lot of positive memories and good connections," the Solon native says. "And, most of the people are interested in what I'm doing. The earlier generation is trying to look over us; someone who had a positive experience is trying to continue that experience for us."

Soroosh's favorite call exemplifies the "Bobcat spirit" she cherishes.

"One husband and wife went to the University when the football team wasn't very good, but everyone went to see the marching band," Soroosh says. "When they had kids they would get on the Internet and play the music and put on all of the Bobcat apparel and march around with their kids. It's a part of their life."

Some Phonathon representatives never get the chance to talk about the re-routing of the Hocking River, Halloween or Homecoming. Instead, they are left with the disappointing silence a hang-up leaves.

"I think it's kind of frustrating when alumni don't give you the opportunity to explain," says Sam Grier, a sophomore photojournalism major. "Getting a pledge isn't all that matters, it's just as good to talk to people and get something out of it."

The National Phonathon seeks to reconnect alumni to Ohio University and encourage them to support areas and programs that mean the most to them. The emphasis is on participation at a variety of levels. The Annual Fund's goal is to increase annual participation to a level of 20 percent in the coming years.

Just as Grier, a Cincinnati native, and the other callers benefit from their conversations, the University benefits from the positive contributions of alumni. Alumni can give directly to the activities, athletic teams and organizations they were involved with during their college years.

Their pledges also support all of the University's colleges, enhance existing scholarships and fund new programs for students. This alumni involvement provides positive memories and a quality education for current Ohio University students.

"I think that people are ultimately loyal and have good intentions," Soroosh says. "They have a sense of reciprocation. The University provided them with good memories and a good education. They feel the need to continue that tradition."

Have you heard from a Bobcat Phonathon representative this year? For more information or to make a gift please visit www.ohiou.edu/campaign/online.html or call 1-800-592-FUND.

Natalie Allen and Nate Wilkinson are seniors majoring in journalism. Both are supervisors with the Ohio University National Phonathon

 

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