The young woman lay in a coma, swaddled in gauze from head to toe, in a hospital room in southern France. A Dartmouth student who was studying abroad, she'd been critically burned in a hotel fire. Steve Donovan, Dartmouth's director of regional affairs at the time, read about her plight in the student newspaper. Knowing there was a strong alumni group in Paris, he immediately picked up the phone. Several of the alums traveled long distances to visit the student, and one spent three days helping her father, who didn't speak French, get acclimated. The student, who eventually recovered fully, remains deeply grateful for the support she received and is pursuing a career in higher education administration in part as a result of this experience.
For Steve Donovan, who became the new executive director of the UNH Alumni Association and associate vice president of Advancement in November, this is just one example of the importance of alumni involvement in the life of a college or university. "Connecting alumni with each other and with the institution—that's what we're all about at the UNH Alumni Association," he says. As someone who has worked in higher education for 21 years, he's seen how these connections can benefit both an institution and its alumni.
Growing up in Woburn, Mass., Donovan was the oldest of four children and the first in his family to attend college. Going away to college, Donovan believes, was the best thing that could have happened to him at that stage of life, and after graduation he was drawn to helping others have similar opportunities. He worked in admissions, development and alumni relations at his alma mater, Case Western Reserve University, before moving to Dartmouth College, where he spent 12 years, first as assistant director of alumni relations and then director of regional affairs.
As a long-time youth hockey coach and a "weekend warrior" hockey player himself, Donovan has thoroughly enjoyed the UNH hockey games he's attended, and he says the recent women's game at Fenway Park was "just magical." At gatherings in New Hampshire, Boston and New York, he's found alums who are eager to connect with UNH in a variety of ways. Donovan's wife, Molly, and their two children have attended some alumni events with him, but they will remain in Vermont while Matthew, 14, and Abigail, 12, finish out the school year before joining Steve this spring.
Donovan's primary goal for the Alumni Association is to engage a much larger percentage of UNH alums through involvement in athletic events, academics, student life, diversity initiatives and career networking. He hopes to bring more faculty speakers—both favorite professors whom alums might recall, as well as rising stars—to alumni chapter events. Donovan recalls an instance from his previous job where an alum and a professor met at such an event and began a collaboration that culminated in a book. "I've witnessed so many meaningful relationships and positive things that come about when alumni stay connected, or reconnect," he says.
Donovan also hopes to reach and involve more alums through social networking and other new uses of technology. He extends an open door—and inbox—to alumni, who are invited to call, visit or e-mail (firstname.lastname@example.org) with any thoughts or opinions they may have. "We're eager to hear from you," he says. ~
TV anchor Dan Kloeffler '99 says if there had been an alumni career network when he was a UNH student, he would have jumped at the chance to connect directly with working television journalists. That's why he didn't hesitate to volunteer when he found out he could be an online mentor for UNH students and alumni.
"I really believe that you have to be making contacts as early as you can," says Kloeffler, formerly the early-morning anchor for MSNBC and NBC. "The old saying, 'It's not what you know, it's who you know,' still applies to a certain degree."
A belief in the value of alumni networking is what motivated the UNH Alumni Association to ask UNH's Research Computing Center to add the Career Mentor Network developed by the University Advising and Career Center to the alumni web site in 2007. Designed to connect students with alumni, and alumni with fellow alums, the network currently has more than 800 alumni signed up to provide advice.
Rachel Genzer Flanagan '95, a communications manager at Deloitte in New York City, is one of those volunteers. "It's a great way to better understand what your options are as a student," she says. "As an English major, I was a dime a dozen when I graduated," she adds. "I had no idea that jobs like mine were available." An added benefit is alumni offer the inside story on corporate cultures not available in a classroom, she says.
Volunteer Steve Gaumer '81 is in his third career. He believes making connections is an important skill. "When I went through my last career transition 15 years ago, one thing I learned very quickly is that networking is part science and part art, but it's invaluable," says Gaumer, a senior vice president of wealth management with Morgan Stanley Smith Barney in Boston. "It's not just about finding a job, it's about building a reference base."
Jim Davis '03, who works in marketing for the Boston Celtics, says as a network volunteer he tries to provide students and alumni with "some insight from someone who is in the field day-to-day. I also try to offer them some direction, in terms of studies, internships and connections, that will help them be more successful when looking for a job."
Davis says he loves answering students' and alums' questions. "I wish I had been able to talk with people who were working in the sports industry field day-to-day when I was still taking courses and looking at internships and opportunities," he says. "I would have definitely taken advantage of it."
"You really don't know coming out of school what you want to do, I don't care what school you come out of," says Brian Taranto '96, chief administrative officer for Eaton Vance Distributors, an investment management firm. "I try to help them with what questions to ask, what to look for in a company. It's all about a willingness to learn and the drive to work hard."
Taranto, who began at UNH in marine biology, graduated with a degree in recreation management and policy and was hired into an entry-level position in financial services after graduation. He points out that "the real world is the real world. I try to tell them what it's like. I feel that's the one service I can really offer them. If I could go back knowing what I know now, this is what I would do."
For Kloeffler, whose connections began with professor Lisa Miller and led to an internship at WMUR and on-air work at WNDS, the value of networking was discovered first hand.
"I know Facebook, Twitter, Linked-In are key tools to networking," he says. "But, in addition to that, you still have to have human-to-human contact. It's not enough to just send e-mails. You have to be able to go in and say, 'I know professor Miller or I worked with so and so, who was also a graduate of UNH.' Connections are so basic really, they stick out with people and I really think they can be the difference between getting a job and not getting a job."
Edwin Tiffany, '68, treasurer of the CambridgeSoft Corporation, actually brings his Blackberry when he meets with a student so he can immediately write three letters and address them to contacts who would offer the best advice.
"What I always tell people is, 'You never can tell where the good leads will come from,'" he says. "I once heard it said 80 percent of jobs come from individual references. If that's true, anyone who does not use a network of any kind is not addressing 80 percent of the solution."Recipients of advice say they are grateful. When she was torn between pursuing a career in teaching or acting, Nichole Saccoccia '05 connected with several alumni-mentors, including Joe Pullia '95, who after a career in broadcasting with the Yankees became a fifth-grade teacher.
"He (Pullia) made me feel awesome about my life and being at a crossroads," said Saccoccia, who is now pursuing a master's in education but hopes someday to act. "He said to me, 'Whatever your goal is, do it 105 percent. You won't know if you can do it if you don't try, and if you don't fail once in a while you can never learn from your mistakes.'"
Yet the volunteer network is something of an undiscovered gem. Karen Curesky McCusker '86 has a joint degree in political science and international affairs from UNH and a degree in law with a master's in foreign service from Georgetown University. She works at IAE International Aero Engines AG, a leading aerospace joint venture of companies from the U.S., England, Germany and Japan, as the chief legal officer. She's puzzled why she hasn't been contacted. "I just can't help but think that when I was a student or a recent graduate, how I would have loved to have had a contact with someone in the field who would have wanted to be my mentor," she says.
As a result of feedback from alumni like McCusker, the Alumni Association and the University Advising and Career Center plan an initiative this year to increase both awareness of the network and the number of volunteers. "How better to learn about a job or career than from someone who does it every day?" asks Judy Spiller, associate provost and interim director of UACC. ~Return to UNH Magazine Alumni News