In December Mark Breseman ’78, director of Björklunden, was named associate vice president of alumni and constituency engagement at Lawrence. Lawrence Today sat down with Breseman to talk about his new role on campus and the new vision for the office formerly known as alumni relations.
LT: Why was the name of the Office of Alumni Relations changed to the Office of Alumni and Constituency Engagement (ACE)?
MB: As we move toward the successful completion of the More Light! campaign, it’s important to have an engagement piece tethered to everything we do. We thought the alumni office could be expanded to include more than just alumni. It could also include parents, community members and Björklunden patrons. And so we thought about how this could be incorporated under one roof and realized that just calling it alumni relations didn’t make it clear as to what it would entail. For awhile we said, let’s just call it constituency engagement, and we thought, well, we can’t leave off the “alumni.” That’s going to cause people to be scratching their heads saying “Where did we go?” What happened to the alumni? So we’re still completely focused on the alumni of Lawrence and Milwaukee-Downer, but we also get to focus on different ways to
engage other parts of our constituency.
LT: Is Lawrence breaking new ground with these changes?
MB: I’d say we’re out on the cutting edge. In fact, based on the number of e-mails I got back after we announced the name of the new office, no one has ever even heard of this before — anywhere in the country. So I’ve had to explain what it really meant to engage constituents to a few of the alumni who were concerned about the name. If you go to different small college Web sites, there will still be an alumni relations office focused solely on alumni. I think there are so many different ways that we can engage folks and get them back to campus. Not only alumni, but parents of current or former students as well.
LT: Are there any new ACE endeavors underway that you would like to talk about?
MB: One of the things we now can do more of is return to the alumni events that occur across the country. We want to have those on a regular basis. There are 14 major alumni clubs, and it’s been a couple of years since we’ve been doing anything with them. So this spring we went to the Twin Cities, Denver and Seattle. Lawrence Scholars in Business has been very successful, and we’re using that model to take off and do Lawrence Scholars in Arts and Entertainment. We hope to do a Lawrence Scholars in Law and Lawrence Scholars in the Environment. We are putting together a program on athletic scouting in which our alums across the country can help us scout different high school athletic events and help our coaches learn more about the student athletes. Earlier, for Martin Luther King Day, we had volunteer events in Madison, Chicago and Appleton that we proposed and hosted. We’re still working on the More Light! Campaign. There are many community events taking place in the Warch Campus Center. We’re excited about our initiatives to engage more folks in the community and the Campus Center helps us in so many great ways.
LT: How will these changes affect LUAA?
MB: The big thing about doing this restructuring is that the Lawrence University Alumni Association Board of Directors can play a important role in focusing on the college’s mandates — the campaign and engagement. We are currently working on redefining a couple of the committees to get us in line and to really help us focus on those mandates and to think of all different ways to get creative in engaging the alumni across the country. They can come up with some really great ideas themselves, and away they go. Obviously the staff will collaborate with them on the committees and so forth, but I think they’ll be able to do great things for the college.
LT: Is there a real push to make new connections?
MB: Our philosophy in this is to come up with unique, innovative ways to get folks re-engaged with the college and different reasons to bring them back to campus. If it’s not enough to see the new academic buildings, they can come back and share their talents on a career day. They can let the current students know about their unique career and share their insights on how they got to that point in their career and how Lawrence helped them get there.
LT: Are you making any changes to Reunion Weekend?
MB: There’s one big change in Reunion Weekend. This is the first year we have the Richard and Margot Warch Campus Center completely at our disposal. It’s going to really make a great reunion headquarters for most of the social events. It’s making a lot of our planning and scheduling easier because we’ll have that building in use all weekend. We’re still having the dinners, just like always, but most of them will be in this beautiful building overlooking the river.
LT: How are you settling in?
MB: The whole thing for me, personally, has been a great revelation. If anybody would have asked me a year ago what I was going to be doing, forever, I would have said, I’m never leaving Björklunden: it’s the perfect thing for me, and this is where I’m going to be until I retire. As I thought more about this opportunity, however, I realized that I’ve been at Björklunden almost 13 years, and as much as I love the place and everything I did, the routine was pretty much the same every year. Apparently I was ready for a different challenge, because as I was presented with the opportunity to work with different things on the campus, I got to thinking that maybe a change in routine could be a good thing.
LT: Anything else you’d like to add?
MB: I’m just very excited about the new opportunities, the new challenges we have and the direction in which the college is going. I think it’s great. I graduated from here more than 30 years ago; I thought it was a great place then, it’s a fantastic place now.
CHANGES AT BJÖRKLUNDEN
Mark Breseman still maintains a presence at Björklunden. He spends at least one day a week on site.