Linda Carter explains new alumni engagement model

Linda Carter, associate vice chancellor for alumni engagement at UMSL

(Photo by August Jennewein)

Linda Carter is a matchmaker. She devotes her career to helping alumni and students forge relationships with each other and the University of Missouri–St. Louis that last a lifetime. What makes those connections tried and true has everything to do with her unique take on how alumni engage with their university. It’s been a year since Carter stepped in as associate vice chancellor for alumni engagement, and with the help of her team, she is really changing UMSL’s perspective on alumni relationships versus relations.

In this past year, what ways have alumni and university relations positively progressed?

We’re shifting the culture from a transactional to a relational approach that focuses on celebrating and nurturing lifelong relationships between alumni and the campus community. It’s an exciting change. Our alumni earnestly want to be a part of making UMSL a better place for today’s student and an even better place for our future students.

You like to think of alumni engagement in terms of a life cycle. Why choose this paradigm?

The life cycle helps us consider alumni engagement as a continuum of involvement with the university, beginning well before a student enrolls, developing a meaningful and relevant relationship with that student and then nurturing that relationship over a lifetime. The opportunity to engage in a lifelong relationship begins the very first moment a person becomes aware of UMSL.

I could not have been more than 4 or 5 years old the first time I was exposed to a university campus. I remember holding my father’s hand and looking up at him, asking questions. Even at that young age, I was mesmerized by the energy, vibrancy and awesomeness of that place. Growing up, I would daydream about living in a dormitory, going to class and studying in a big library.

My childhood experience is not unique. UMSL begins developing relationships with people long before they pay that first tuition bill. When a young musician performs with his middle school ensemble at the Blanche M. Touhill Performing Arts Center, a relationship is born. When an alumnus brings his daughter to the library, a connection with UMSL is forged. When an alumni couple brings their children to a basketball game, future Tritons are in the making. These opportunities for connection are endless.

How does one meaningfully engage students at his or her alma mater?

Alumni can focus on recruitment, welcoming prospective and new students to campus, serving as career networkers, offering internships, speaking in the classroom and on alumni panels, mentoring, job shadowing and joining the UMSL Alumni LinkedIn group to connect with students and other alumni. All of this supports students during their educational journey.

What are other ways to engage UMSL beyond connecting with students?

The opportunity for engagement does not end at commencement. A strong alumni network offers benefits that transcend the continuum. New graduates can make value-added connections with established UMSL alumni who are willing to guide them professionally. Engagement occurs in many forms – advocating for new UMSL graduates, forming a network through professional and cultural affinities, reconnecting at class reunions and exploring the world through the alumni travel program.

Alumni should come back to campus for themselves, too. With more than 70 percent of our alumni remaining in the St. Louis area, our alumni can continue their lifelong learning through a variety of programs the university makes available to our community, including free lectures, professional and continual learning courses and cultural performances at the Touhill.

What do you see is the end reward for UMSL and its alumni with this new engagement model?

Meaningfully engaged alumni who are continuously investing in the present and future of the university will create a vibrant, growing and relevant place of higher learning. When they invest in their university with passion, generosity and care, they increase the value of the education they earned at UMSL.

This story was originally published in the spring 2014 issue of UMSL Magazine.


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