Illinois State University greatly values its beloved alumni. The Alumni Engagement team prioritizes alumni engagement and keeps them aware of the news and events that take place within the university. Various programs and events are also developed for individual departments and schools, where alumni could participate and still feel connected to ISU and the people from whom they learned so much for their degrees and careers.
This year the ways of reaching out to our beloved alumni look a lot different than in previous years. Due to the protocols to prevent the spread of COVID-19, connecting with alumni made that reaching out challenging. One School of Communication alumna is at the heart of this important work. Thanks to Stephanie Duquenne and her team in ISU Alumni Engagement, alumni from the School of Communication still could stay in touch.
Duquenne is the director for Alumni Engagement at Illinois State University and has been with the university since 2009. She is an alumna of ISU herself, having received both her bachelor’s and master’s degrees through the School of Communication. In 2018 she received an Organizational Leadership Certificate through the College of Business at Illinois State University. Her role focuses on executing Illinois State University’s longest-standing tradition of Homecoming plus being Alumni Engagement’s liaison for government relations work as well as affinity-group and graduating-class reunions.
“Before the pandemic started, our alumni engagement team would usually hold events in-person; however, once the pandemic started, the university needed to shift to all virtual engagement events and adhere to the new protocols,” Duquenne explained. “Illinois State University puts its best efforts toward connecting and bonding with alumni, especially during this difficult time. Alumni Engagement develops events weekly and advertises them virtually. For example, one event that was developed recently is a reunion for preview guides, and another one is an online teaching training opportunity for alumni from the Education Department. One other recent event was a 5K virtual ‘Reggie Run,’ where, surprisingly, considering our the circumstances, plenty of alumni registered and participated.”
The Alumni Engagement team tries to find out how alumni would like to be reached and feel engaged. The most-prominent way to know these preferences is a survey, which also asks about what topics interest alumni. Through these surveys, alumni have shown interest in being a guest during ISU virtual events and knowing how some retired faculty members are doing. Some alumni showed interest in learning about more ways they could contribute beyond financial contributions, such as by participating in classes, projects, and other opportunities.
“The Alumni Engagement team receives a great deal of feedback from alumni, especially those from the School of Communication. There are plenty of alumni with a degree in journalism that expressed an interest in being a volunteer and doing coverage about how ISU current students and alumni are doing during this time,” Duquenne added. “There are plenty of alumni who have expressed interest in professional-development events to help students prepare for their careers. Other alumni would like to offer unique experiences to help students, such as a cook-at-home with alumni event or other programs that would create a bond.”
A significant change for this academic year, Duquenne explained, is that alumni relations events for ISU are 100 percent virtual, which allows for many more alumni to participate than in the past, especially those who live far from ISU. “The university has a wider reach to its alumni. The event-participation rate increased greatly for those who live in far-away places in comparison to the past,” Duquenne said. The schedule of alumni engagement events can be viewed online.
Duquenne explained that the most challenging aspect of alumni engagement during this academic year is developing a strategy that would keep alumni interested and involved in ISU. She said, “It is hard to keep their interest when we are all dealing with the pandemic and other issues that can be difficult right now. We try to balance being respectful of what they are going through yet keeping them engaged with the University.”
Plenty of ISU graduates noticed that they are receiving more emails from ISU Alumni Engagement since the pandemic started, and they have found this communication to have valuable updates about the university. Alumni are a vital part of Illinois State University, and the Alumni Engagement team plays a significant role in ensuring that alumni feel connected to and valued by the university. ISU will always be a home for alumni and ready to welcome them before, during, and even after the pandemic.
Visit the ISU alumni page for more alumni news and events at https://news.illinoisstate.edu/alumni/.