The Alumni Influencers Who Help Drive Participation
Alumni participation rates nationwide are declining.
For more than two decades, colleges and universities across the country have confronted this growing challenge. Yet, at Babson College, the inverse is occurring.
Since 2014, the institution’s alumni participation rate has doubled from 16% to 32%, catapulting Babson up 100 spots on the Voluntary Support of Education rankings by the Council for Advancement and Support of Education (CASE).
The increased participation rate benefits the College’s reputation and other rankings and directly supports students, providing such critical things as scholarships and funds toward specific causes on campus.
And, so much of this success is because of a group of unofficial alumni ambassadors who, through the recollection of memories and the impact of their individual Babson experience and education, keep their fellow alumni connected to and engaged with the College—and one another.
The Day of Giving Founders
Milestone reunions often are a motivating factor for Babson College graduates.
For the Class of 2003, its 10-year reunion was the celebration of something old and the start of something new. That’s when Kathryn Shilling ’03 and Kevin Shane ’03 founded the Class Days of Giving, an annual tradition for a number of graduating classes established as a way to connect with peers and encourage greater participation.
“The entrepreneurial spirit, people go to Babson because they want to succeed in life,” Shane says. “It’s a worthy cause to give back to, to make sure you can continue to support the school’s effort to provide that same opportunity for future classes.”
Members of the class historically have kept in touch through a Facebook group, Instagram page, and other forms of social media. These platforms also offer a way for Shane and Shilling to promote the annual Class Day of Giving. “What people are doing, where they’re traveling, alumni we haven’t heard from in a few years,” Shilling says, “I’m always in awe.”
“People go to Babson because they want to succeed in life. It’s a worthy cause to give back to, to make sure you can continue to support the school’s effort to provide that same opportunity for future classes.”
Kevin Shane '03
Shane can’t get enough of the banter shared with classmates on social media. “I love reading the replies and posts,” Shane says. “It makes our job worthwhile knowing folks are having fun.”
“It brings you back to your college experience,” Shilling added.
The 2020 Class Day of Giving was planned for the end of March, scheduled, of course, before restrictions necessitated by the pandemic.
“We really were going back and forth on, ‘What are we going to do this year?’ ” Shilling says, reflecting on how she and Shane were preparing for the day.
They then considered and remembered why they created the initiative in the first place: to bring classmates together. “We took out the push for donating,” Shilling says. “We made it more about checking in. We wanted to know how everyone was doing.”
The closing figures of last year’s campaign were just about the same as years past. That approach sparked positive results leading into the 2021 event held April 29, when more than 50 donors contributed close to $40,000.
“Kevin and I spearhead it, but our classmates have taken it on as well. They have embraced it as much as we hoped they would,” Shilling said. “The Class of 2003 is very connected. We were connected as students, and now as alumni as well.”
The Connector and the Donor
More than 50 years later, hearing about the memory of a Babson classmate falling asleep in the middle of a lecture brings a smile to Roger Regnier ’63.
As the story goes, following the professor’s lead, everyone left the classroom. When the classmate woke up, he, too, left the room, and encountered the rest of the waiting class, which greeted him with friendly clapping and heckling.
“We’re getting older. We have fonder memories of a time when we were together for three years,” Regnier says, recalling when Babson was a three-year institution. “We had our own unique happenings.”
Regnier learned of the tale through a fellow classmate as part of a round of alumni communications. Those one-of-a-kind moments are brought up frequently during Regnier’s emails, phone calls, and notes to Babson classmates.
“We’re 55-plus years out. As a class, we have our unique characteristics,” Regnier says. “It’s fun to engage, to talk.”
Among the 120 or so remaining graduates, Regnier is well-known, and he works to keep connections active and classmates informed.
“Communication is so important, and being positive with what you’re saying,” he says. “We all stumbled through 2020. We try to make an effort to stay in touch, perhaps a little bit more regularly because of that.”
One person he never has had to motivate about giving? That would be Robert Brewster ’63, who has donated for 58 consecutive fiscal years, starting in November 1963, shortly after he graduated that June.
“Education in accounting, business law, humanities, everything—Babson helped me out when I needed it,” Brewster says.
He still vividly remembers the day he toured the Wellesley campus for the first time, and how he almost instantly made the decision to enroll.
“I’m so happy that I graduated from Babson,” Brewster says. “They’ve done so well since, and have gotten a reputation which certainly never hurt my career.”
The Class Agent
In the midst of planning for her own 10-year reunion, Kerry Liszka ’11, one of three class agents for the Class of 2011, was sifting through her emails when she came across a schedule for Senior Week 2011.
She is well aware of the value of adding an anecdotal flair to her communications, which she says can spark recollections of memories made as a student.
“We were able to put that in one of our outreach emails: ‘This week, 10 years ago, we were at Foxwoods for senior week!’” Liszka says. “Adding that personal touch creates a sense of nostalgia with your classmates.”
The results speak for themselves. The Class of 2011 ranks among the top classes in Roger’s Cup, an annual campaign started in 2017 that playfully pits classes against one another in a participation competition. The winning class is rewarded with access to a special VIP tent at Back to Babson.
“I’m so happy that I graduated from Babson. They’ve done so well since, and have gotten a reputation which certainly never hurt my career.”
Robert Brewster '63
“The most important thing I got out of Babson was the network of people I met,” Liszka says. “Being the reunion year, because everyone was quarantined, thinking about going to Back to Babson has been something very exciting.”
Even while she is working to engage her class, Liszka also has made sure she stays involved. While on campus, she was a member of Babson Players, so she has donated to the organization through the years since graduation. Those funds were critical in helping the group put on a remote show following the transition to remote learning in March 2020.
“Thinking these kids got to use that money, that was such a special thing to me,” Liszka says. “I’m able to help people have the same kind of experiences. It allows me to connect with the kids that go there now.”
It’s that connection between alumni and students that continues to drive the College’s increased participation rate—and enhance the prestige of their Babson education and degrees.
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