As Gannon forges onward into the second half of the academic year, many of the offices on-campus are in full swing of connecting with alumni. In particular, the Office of Advancement has been busy contacting alumni about supporting the university. Britt Daehnke is a member of the Advancement Office, and we had a chance to sit down and talk with her about what kinds of things are going on at this time of year with the alumni.
Q: Just starting off: briefly talk about what you do in relations to the University.
A: Sure. I’m in the Advancement Office. We are on the third and fourth floors of Old Main. What I primarily do is meet and talk with alumni, parents, friends, and businesses that are related to the university, and have an interest in Gannon.
Officially, I’m the Coordinator of University Engagement, but really the Advancement Office’s goal is to keep the connection alive, primarily with alumni who went to Gannon of Villa Maria College. What I do secure funds for scholarships and capital projects, so I raise money that helps the students. Alumni for the most part came to Gannon and had some financial help. So what I do now is try to get financial help from them to help current students and all future students. So we raise scholarships, projects that are happening around the campus, the greatest needs of the University. So we help in any way we can.
Q: You are an alumna yourself, correct?
A: I am, I graduated from Gannon in 1998 with an English-Communications degree. I started working here at the university when they built the alumni staff. I went and received my master’s degree in 2005 in Public Administration.
Q: So then, for a while you’ve been looking to help Gannon, even while you were here.
A: Yes. Working in the Fundraising-Advancement office at a university is not something you go to college to do. When I was a student here, I helped with our Student Phone-A-Thon. So we called alumni regularly and asked for their donations over the phone. So I did that as a freshman, and they asked me to remain on as a volunteer. So I did, and eventually they started to pay students to do Phone-A-Thons, and I was one of those. I eventually became a student supervisor my senior year. So I knew all about the Advancement Office at Gannon, I had a lot of mentors here that worked in the office. And so I knew that was an area I wanted to pursue. When I was studying communications, I didn’t want to be a PA or anything like that. It was very open to what I wanted to do. Being at Gannon is being at home for me, I received financial support while I was here, and so it’s an honor to raise money for students that are coming through the school now.
Q: You had that experience of reaching out to alumni in your undergrad years, so did that give you an advantage of sorts when you graduated?
A: Absolutely. I feel like, as a student, learning so much about the scholarships and financial aid, and where it comes from. Not all students know that when they receive a financial aid package, it’s from alumni, parents, etc. who support the package they’re receiving. So I was able to make that connection and I felt that it was a great way to speak on behalf of students today. 95% of students receive financial aid at some level: whether that be scholarships, loans, it’s a mixed bag. I’m representing those 95% of students, and helping them to be able to afford Gannon. And in the same case, 44% of our students are first-generation in their family to go to college. I was a first-generation. My parents didn’t go to any higher education, so it’s still prevalent today, so I know the need is out there for our students.
Q: Are you solely focused on reaching out to the alumni for financial aid, or is there also work with reaching out to alumni for things like Homecoming Weekend where you honor the alumni for what they’ve done.
A: Our office is made up of 17 people, and the Alumni Office and services is included in that. So yes, we help in all different ways. We oftentimes see 500 to 700 alumni come back for Homecoming Weekend, so it takes all of us in our department to make sure that when they do come back, that they are welcomed, they have all the information they need, they have a good time, and they get to reminisce and live again their days. We feel that’s very important.
Going back to the fundraising part, it’s not just about the students. We have alumni that want to help faculty. So faculty development, letting them do more research. We fund those projects as well. So it’s the needs of the university all around, not just solely scholarships and students. We help in any way. And we also work with how the alumnus or parent wants to help as well. With service learning trips coming up, there’s different areas of interest people have.
Q: My last question is: If there’s one aspect that you or the office want students to know more about, what would that be?
A: I would say letting current students know that after they graduate, that doesn’t end their time or relationship at Gannon. The Alumni Services Office, the Advancement Office is here for them. Each year, we have a heritage society luncheon to celebrate anyone who graduated from Gannon or Villa Maria 50 years ago or longer. And we still get about thirty people to that. So these are retired people that come to this luncheon: they tell stories, they reminisce, and things like that. Just letting current students know that we are here for them after graduation. We try to stay in touch as much as possible. So if someone gets married, we send them a card. If someone has a baby, we send them a bib and hope that they share pictures with us. So we just hope to stay connected with them all through the stages of their life. And it’s important to give back. Whether it’s to your church, or whatever is important to you: to give up not only your time, but also any financial support you can give.