Most alumni magazines celebrate the accomplishments of professors and top administrators. But sometimes, the people that alumni really want to hear about—the stories that will even lead to alumni pulling out their checkbooks—are the ones who are a little under the radar.
Alumni are often eager to hear about the people they worked with as students in work-study jobs, for example. The ones who taught them about pursuing excellence whether their work was in the classroom or the cafeteria. Alumni want to hear out about the cashier they chatted with every two weeks when they came to pick up their checks, or the technician who guided their work in an introductory art class.
When I pitched a story about “the people who make the college run” for Macalester, I wanted to tell those stories. I talked to six longtime college employees who worked in maintenance, custodial, food service, and other technical jobs. To a person, these were men and women who loved working with students—and have even helped students launch their careers. They believe that part of the work they do is to educate, motivate, and guide students, even if it doesn’t happen in a classroom or require essays and presentation.
And alumni loved it: one alum wrote that the story “brought back a flood of memories.” He said that the work he did on a maintenance crew—along with the mentorship he got along the way—gave him the crucial foundation for many of his future endeavors, from working as a scene designer in a professional theater and renovating his home. “I owe them all an invaluable debt,” he says.
Another alum took the praise one step further, writing a check to the college in gratitude for featuring a beloved cashier—as well as all the other unsung heroes on campus who’d finally gotten some of the recognition they deserved.
The point is not that alumni don’t want to hear about the great accomplishments of the college and its professors. It’s that they are eager to hear about so much more than just those things. They’re happy to be reminded of many parts of their college experiences, including—perhaps especially—the ones that happened outside a classroom.
Contact me to find out how to tell great stories about the quiet heroes on college campuses. Read the story I did for Macalester here, and the letters to the editor that followed here. (page 4 on the PDF).