Campus / News / May 27, 2009

Phonathon and Ambassadors connect with alumni

Knox students share so many experiences that some call it the “Knox Bubble.” We all go see the same plays, talk about the same parties, and participate in the same campus events. However, there is a special group of students who discover that they also share a “Knox Bubble” with generations past. These students participate in phonathon and Knox Ambassadors, and connect with Knox alumni, helping to fundraise for the college by communicating their shared experiences.

The 45 students on the phonathon team have talked on the phone with almost half of Knox’s 15,000 alumni, and the 40 Knox Ambassadors have spoken in person with alumni at events across the country.

During an average night at phonathon, students talk to approximately 20 alumni. “Often, the alumni tell us stories about faculty and friends they loved at Knox,” said Brian Gawor, associate director of the Knox Fund. “The alums give the students advice, and of course there is plenty of intelligent conversation about books, world events, politics — what you would expect Knox people to talk about.”

When phonathon students ask alumni to support Knox, alumni respond, Gawor said. “The students on the phonathon team have received over $475,000 in pledges from alumni. That is a big part of the $2 million given by alumni and friends to the Knox Fund in 2008-09, and we have also had an increase in the number of alumni donors, Gawor said. Last year, Knox set a 10-year record for alumni participation in fund-raising.

This year, the phonathon students are helping communicate a special challenge to alumni offered by Duke Petrovich ’74, a Knox trustee and president of William Wrigley Company. If 5,000 alumni give to Knox by June 30, when the Knox Fund campaign year ends, Petrovich has pledged to write a check to Knox for an additional $100,000.

Alumni who give to the college are supporting current students, Gawor said. “Here’s one way to explain the impact of alumni generosity – Knox would cost every student $2,000 more each year if we didn’t have the support alumni show with gifts to the Knox Fund.”

Junior Liesl Pereira is both phonathon captain and president of Knox Ambassadors. Gawor was her admissions counselor and mentioned the idea of working for phonathon. As phonathon captain, Pereira helps create schedules for workers, trains new callers, and makes calls herself. In her three years on the phonathon, Pereira has received over $300,000, which makes her one of the most successful student fundraisers in the nation.

“I worked on phonathon first. It is easy to talk to people on the phone; it’s a pretty comfy relationship. Plus, I know where the money goes. It goes to students like me. Alums appreciate student outreach,” Pereira said.

Now in her third year with Knox Ambassadors, Pereira has travelled to Washington D.C. for the Trustee Tribute event, runs meetings, helps with several events such as Homecoming, and generally mingles with alums.

Knox Ambassadors is headed by Jennifer Gallas, associate director of alumni and constituent programs. Potential ambassadors go through an application process, which includes an interview with President Roger Taylor.

Gallas and Megan Clayton, coordinator of Fifty Year Club activities, have both traveled to events with Knox Ambassadors. They agree that alumni enjoy meeting current students.

“The alumni see that students are creative, driven, and intelligent and that Knox is worth their time and donations,” said Clayton.

“And any time you can put a face to the experience it becomes more real to them,” said Gallas.

Senior Amanda Look and sophomore Timothy Schmeling are among those faces. Look

recently traveled to Newport Beach, California to attend an event with the alumni in that area, while Schmeling greeted alumni at Commencement and Homecoming in 2008, and most recently went to Chicago to attend a Trustees Dinner.

“One of my favorite memories from a Knox alum has to be from the dinner in Chicago,” Schmeling said. “I was chatting with a new trustee, Dr. Denise M. Buntin, ’76, and we discovered that we both had hurt knees, so we rode the elevator together in the building we were in during the tour we took,” said Schmeling. “It was a lot of fun to just joke around and share stories with her. I also loved speaking a bit of Japanese with Sue Blew ’75.”

Knox students involved in these programs say that they are humbled and impressed by their conversations and interactions with alumni. “Besides offering financial support to the institution, being in touch with alumni helps Knox students in a number of ways. It keeps the connection alive between the school and previous students, helps current students find jobs, places to live, etc., and makes Knox a better place because students have such a rich history of previous Knox students,” said Look. She said she has learned that current Knox students and alumni are all connected through shared Knox experiences, like Flunk Day, Pumphandle, and the things that make Knox, Knox.

Rebecca Beno

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