July 21, 2016 | 9 a.m.
By Suzanne McInroy, director of communications
Bethel University’s alumni community is many thousands strong and scattered around the world, and recent changes to staffing in the alumni office show a commitment to serving that community well. In November 2014, Jim Bender began his new role as the director of alumni and parent relations. Since then, he has seen lots of changes in his area, but he’s excited about the team’s direction and the new initiatives that have begun.
Shortly after Bender started, his senior vice president retired and six months later he got a new boss: Mark Miles, senior vice president for university advancement. Then there was an office move when the whole advancement division moved to the Anderson Center to facilitate better collaboration with his development and church relations colleagues.
Last year, Bender got to experience his first Welcome Week and meet the families of new students as they moved onto campus. It was then that he began to think about changing his office’s name. He noticed how some students’ family members would ask him if they could attend this event or that one, and he couldn’t figure out why they were asking permission. Then he realized that the events were labeled for “parents” when some students’ grandparents, aunts, uncles, or siblings were more involved and interested in attending.
He started asking around campus how people would react if he changed the office name from “alumni and parent relations” to “alumni and family relations.” He was pleased to learn that leadership fully supported the change and his reasoning. “I wanted each member of a student’s family to know that they are important and special to us and to their child,” Bender says.
With a new boss, new office, new office name, and new academic year underway, Bender began to look at what the strategic needs were for his area. He settled on three main areas to concentrate on: engaging—or in some ways, re-engaging—alumni, focusing on families, and going to alumni wherever they are in the world.
Bender wants alumni and families to know that they are invited to all events on campus—from speakers to concerts to athletic events to Homecoming and Festival of Christmas. Plus, Bender’s team is ready to go to alumni where they are as well, whether that’s doing a “Royal Donut Drop,” hosting a “Bethel Connect” at their place of business, or organizing a “Royal Nation” in their hometown—even if that’s in Alaska. “These events are exploding,” Bender says excitedly. “In order for Bethel to go from here to there, we need to recognize that Bethel is not a regional university, but a national one. These events help our alumni to recognize that for sure.”
Jennifer Scott was recently hired as the assistant director of alumni and family relations, and her immediate task is to focus on a strategy for family relations. She will also help with networking and looking for external ambassadors to connect with alumni and students. Other members of the team include Erin Ekstrand, alumni and family relations specialist, who works on communications and internal partnerships. Danielle Harper, manager of university advancement events, and Amanda Thompson, event specialist, complete the team and handle major events alumni and families, plus all of advancement.
With all the changes he has made, Bender is quick to remember those who came before him in this office. “The people who came before us really did some amazing things that have paved the way to help us get new initiatives moving,” says Bender. “I hope the work we’re doing now honors the work they started.”