On May 11, Caitlin Tramel took over as Fordham’s new director of alumni relations. Tramel, a Minnesota native who has been working in higher education for more than a decade, will oversee the department that services the University’s 115,000 alumni. Tramel comes to Fordham after five years at Harvard University, most recently as the assistant director of alumni relations and of annual giving at Harvard University Medical School. She holds a master’s degree in higher education administration.
YOU ARRIVED JUST IN TIME FOR REUNION SEASON. WHAT WERE YOUR FIRST IMPRESSIONS?
In general, I was impressed at how Fordham pulled out all the stops; the level of attention to detail and service was extraordinary. It’s pretty amazing to see the whole campus come alive for an entire weekend for Jubilee and the number of things that happen simultaneously—from student greeters and golf carts running alumni around campus to the elegance of the gala under the tent. By attending Rose Hill’s Jubilee, the Fordham College Lincoln Center reunion and the Marymount reunion, I got to see a sophisticated alumni program already in place. I’ve inherited a talented staff.
YOU COME TO FORDHAM WITH A LOT OF EXPERIENCE.
My entire career has been in higher education, and that has included jobs in fundraising, technology management and alumni relations. Since I’ve worked in so many areas, I can honestly say I enjoy being in alumni relations the most, because it offers a huge variety of work: planning homecomings and reunions; organizing regional, national and international events, and working with alumni at an array of ages and stages.
I truly enjoy working with alumni, and Fordham alumni in particular are fiercely loyal. I’ve been in positions where you have to really work to gain that loyalty, and there is a culture at Fordham where that is just inherent. That is a very attractive thing about Fordham.
ON WHAT AREAS WILL YOU FOCUS?
Basically, I want to continue to offer wonderful engagement opportunities that strengthen the bond between Fordham and its alumni. We are trying to develop our program so that as Fordham is growing nationally, we are responding to that and encouraging that web. We have regional chapters in 18 states and in Puerto Rico, and we are developing more.
Beyond that, we are trying to get one step ahead in starting programs abroad. Fordham is building its international reputation, too, so we are developing a global alumni presence. We have a very successful chapter in London, and are going to Dublin in September. We’re in France, Germany and are laying the groundwork in Beijing. We have concentrations of alumni all over the world, including places like the Philippines and South America, and they’re all important—every single one of them. There’s no end to where we could be next.
ANY PARTICULAR CHALLENGES?
Well, I love that Fordham is embedded in the Bronx, Manhattan and Westchester. It makes for such an interesting balance. The University is in touch with many sides of urban life, and having its feet in all of those neighborhoods provides a real advantage for Fordham and its alumni, in terms of resources and diversity. The different kinds of students attracted to the varied campuses makes no two alumni alike. So it’s a challenge to figure out how to draw in specific groups, and yet still cast a wide net and present a whole identity.
We are strengthening our school-based programs by looking to work more closely with administrations in the four undergraduate schools and six graduate schools. We are customizing programming for alumni whenever we are able to and we are also formalizing our Young Alumni Committee. Our mentoring program, which works with Fordham’s career services, is a great example of a program where some small enhancements can make a big difference in engaging more alumni and students. It’s a challenge to keep track of Fordham recent graduates because life changes so rapidly, but volunteering as mentors at Fordham helps keep them engaged during that transient time in their life.
A final challenge is to recapture the attention of people who have severed their ties with the University for any reason. It could be personal, or because life and work keeps them busy, or because they live thousands of miles away. We want to make sure that we are reaching everyone.