OHIO Phonathon teaches student and recognizes them for their accomplishments

Student employees are recognized for their achievements at the annual Phonathon banquet.

Photographer: Megan Johnson, BSJ '17

Meghan Stursa, new director of the Ohio University Phonathon

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OHIO Phonathon teaches students marketing skills; introducing new manager Meghan Stursa

If you’re an Ohio University graduate, you’ve probably received a call that has started something like this: “Hi, my name is Alexandra Whaley and I’m a junior studying communication sciences and disorders.” It’s not a telemarketer or an automated response on the line, it’s a current OHIO student working for the OHIO Phonathon.

The OHIO Phonathon was founded as a way for alumni and friends to give to the University while connecting with students about their shared college experiences. However, the position also strengthens students’ professional demeanor.

The interpersonal skills and experiences gained from working at the call center benefits students. Feeling comfortable talking with strangers, adapting to any kind of situation and keeping a positive attitude are valuable life skills that student callers can apply to their future careers.

“I want to do clinical psychology, and you have to be able to think on your feet,” said Lucas Aschemeier-Brunner, who has worked at the Phonathon since May 2016 and is studying psychology and social criminology. In this job, you have to respond to what people are saying and be able to answer their questions, he said

Located in the Human Resources & Training Center on W. Union St., the call center employs about 75 students per year.

The student callers place between 150 and 300 calls per three-hour shift, depending on how many people answer the phone. While their opening line stays the same, student callers are encouraged to treat the calls as conversations instead of reading from a script. Callers typically talk about three topics related to University events. Current topics include the newly renovated Jefferson Market, McCracken Hall and South Green dorms. 

“We’re often the first hand that gets out to alumni,” said Whaley, a student caller. “We’re one of the main communication links and voices to alumni from the University.”

For many student callers, the best part of the job is getting to talk with alumni about their college memories and experiences. Some share what dorm or off-campus street they lived on, and others recount stories or events that happened during their time at OHIO. Whaley said that while it can be nerve-wracking to call strangers, the great conversations she has with alumni makes it worth it.

“They have so much to give and to say; it’s so cool,” she said. “I love when they share stories that they have; it’s really interesting and a good note to leave a shift on. It just makes your day a little better.”

Working at the call center changed the course of Hanna Merklin’s college and professional career. When she started working at the Phonathon during her sophomore year, Merklin was studying to become a nurse and quickly became one of the top callers at the center. After injuring her back and realizing she didn’t want to continue pursuing a nursing degree, she turned to what she knew she was good at — sales.

The call center helped me realize what I have a passion about, and it definitely helped me figure out my career,” Merklin said. “I wouldn’t be in the place I am now without working in the call center.”

Along with studying marketing, event planning and sales, Merklin now works as a student leader in the call center. Student leaders are made up of a select group of students who train new callers, help their peers hone their giving pitch and keep everyone’s spirits high during a long shift.

Whaley said that working as a student caller has made her feel confident enough to talk to anybody. She’s found that this practiced confidence has helped her excel in internship and job interviews.

“I used to get nervous during interviews because I’ve never met the person and wouldn’t know if they’d like me,” Whaley said. “But now I call 300 people per day and talk to people from across the country, and it’s helped me talk to people and feel confident in myself.”

Introducing new Phonathon Director Meghan Stursa

As the new director of OHIO’s Phonathon, Meghan Stursa has found that Bobcats love helping other Bobcats.

“It’s very refreshing to see students who care so much about keeping their campus as great as possible,” Stursa said.

Stursa, an employee of the philanthropic services firm Wilson-Bennet Technology, Inc., began managing the call center for Ohio University’s Phonathon in July. She supervises day-to-day calls, coaches callers and ensures the team is on the right track for meeting goals.

 “All of the students I’ve been working with are very passionate about the fundraising that we do — they understand that what we’re doing is very important, not only for themselves as students but for their peers, faculty, for keeping their campus beautiful, all of those types of things,” she said.

Stursa’s favorite part of working with OHIO students is hearing the stories shared between alumni and the students.

“The alumni always have great stories to share from their time here, especially some of the senior alumni. They talk about how different things are and how things used to be,” Stursa said. “Callers always get advice about what to do after graduation, and for things they should do at OHIO before they graduate.”