September 7, 2010

New Alumni Affairs Directors Will Use Social Media to Connect Graduates

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A trio of new directors in alumni affairs say they hope to bolster University efforts to drastically improve alumni involvement in campus affairs, especially in the years following graduation.

The University expressed particular excitement about the hiring of Andrew Gossen, who will serve as the alumni affairs office’s first-ever senior director of social media strategy. This will be only the second such position anywhere in the country — Stanford having instituted the first position.

“The fact that we got [Gossen] here is a coup. He’s a wonder-kid,” Associate Director of Alumni Affairs Chris Marshall told the Cornell Chronicle last week.

The three specialists have various backgrounds and levels of experience. Tim Mahar, the new senior director of affinity programs, is a former comedian who spent more than ten years working at Syracuse. Laura Denbow, named senior director of volunteer programs, has worked in alumni affairs at universities around the country.

Gossen, a Princeton graduate who has worked for his alma mater for the past eight years, said he was encouraged to come to Cornell when Marshall presented him with the opportunity of exploring and experimenting with ways social media can connect alumni to the school and to each other.

“It was an opportunity I really couldn’t say no to,” Gossen said, noting the attraction of Marshall’s “vision of making social media integral” to alumni affairs strategy.

Gossen’s best-known project to date has been a pioneering iPhone application to help Princeton alumni keep track of everything from shuttle bus schedules to hotel reservations. He described aspirations for similar “mobile strategy” for Cornellians’ smartphones.

“Imagine walking off an airplane in San Francisco or Chicago and being able to know what Cornell alumni events will be happening there in the next few hours, the next few days,” he said.

Other goals include increasing use of Facebook and LinkedIn to “catalyze and sustain connections” with an ever-growing pool of alumni. After all, Gossen said, the larger the network, the more powerful it is.

Since first arriving at Cornell in January, Gossen said he has been increasingly impressed with the professorial community, which he hopes to involve in upcoming projects in order to form his strategies specifically through what he called “the Big Red lens.”

“I think the upcoming year’s going to be pretty experimental,” he said. “We need to figure out what works and what doesn’t in the Cornell context.”

Also integral to this process will be the alumni themselves, Gossen said. He described the community as “high-powered and engaged,” in which many members are already experts in digital media.

Gossen said the vast array of resources available to him makes the upcoming year in Ithaca an especially exciting prospect.

“I feel like a kid in a candy store,” he said. “It’s awesome; it’s totally awesome.”

Original Author: Eliza LaJoie