By George Mauzy
After taking the reins of the Ohio University Alumni Association in July, Assistant Vice President for Alumni Relations Graham Stewart quickly proved he is not your typical alumni director. Not only can he manage an alumni office, he can sing and whistle with the best of them. Armed with the results of a recently completed alumni survey and in the midst of planning the Alumni Association's 150th anniversary celebration, Stewart sat down with Outlook to share his latest thoughts.
How is your staff comprised?
We have 15 staff members, including four directors. They oversee regional and affinity-based volunteer groups, board, budget and human resources, reunions and Homecoming, alumni education, special programs, and communications and marketing.
What are the strengths of your staff?
They have a passion for alumni work and work well together. In this business, you have to love what you do because there are long demanding hours.
What is the role of the Alumni Association?
We are here to serve alumni in whatever ways they feel they want to be connected to their experiences, their affinity with the university and to each other. We develop communications and programs to support those efforts. We want to bring Ohio University to them in all of our programming -- make them feel proud about their degree. Overall, we need to identify the needs of alumni and find the point where they intersect with the university's messages and bring that synergy together.
What made the position attractive to you?
The history and appeal of the campus impressed me from the beginning. In the alumni business, you want to work for a school that fosters pride and passion from its alumni and Ohio University does that. I also liked that the development and alumni teams are moving in the same direction.
How was your first Homecoming experience?
I found out that our office does a heck of a lot of work as we participated in 30 to 40 events across campus during Homecoming. The parade impressed me because many schools don't have one. It got me pumped to see the alumni band perform, the floats and all of the people lined up on the street. Many schools struggle to find their traditions and history, but not here.
What plans do you have to engage young alumni?
We know that alumni develop their strongest relationship with their institution during their last two years on campus and their first three years after graduation. Research shows that this is when we have to build quality relationships with students because after that it becomes much harder. That is why we are working with our many regional volunteers, the Student Alumni Board and the Alumni Association Board of Directors to develop programming that will keep them engaged with the university before and after graduation.
What did the recently completed alumni survey reveal?
The survey told us that alumni want to hear more about the value of their degree. They want to find ways to make the university grow, whether it's through volunteerism, advocacy or promotion. They want more career development and services and they want it easier to connect with us when they live out of state. We're taking steps to increase our communication and programming in these areas. The survey also revealed that 96 percent of alumni felt their student experience ranked good to excellent and 94 percent said they would recommend it to another person and talk about it regularly.
Do you have any other important initiatives planned?
People say it takes a village to raise a child. I like to say it takes a university to raise an alumnus. That is why another focus for us is leveraging our existing campus partnerships and building new ones. We can't make someone a loyal and dedicated alumnus on our own. It is based on their college experiences and how they are treated by their respective colleges and organizations after graduation. As a university, we have to strategically work together to reach out to more alumni.
What role will your office have in the university's next capital campaign?
Our job is to bring the excitement and help build a regional volunteer base that is willing to tell others about the great things going on at Ohio University. I'm happy that our development office will allow us to play an important role.
Tell me about your music and theater career.
I've been singing for 30 years. In college, I was a trombone major before switching to vocal performance, with a minor in theater. I've performed in operas with my wife, acted in 10 musicals and performed with a big band for eight years while living in Ithaca, N.Y. Currently I'm performing with a jazz ensemble, led by Michael Parkinson, director of the School of Music, called Jazz Spoken Here.
Is it true that you are a competitive whistler?
I've been a whistler since I was a 5-year-old paperboy, but never competed until 2004. I took third place out of about 30 international competitors in a three-day international whistling competition. The competition was captured on the HBO film "Pucker Up: The Fine Art of Whistling."