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MCAA Board Alumni Engagement Committee

Adam Kopp ’88
Brian Ashton ’08
Tim Byers ’06
Bret Allphin ’01
Christine Zernick Suter ’84

Alumni Attitude Survey:

  • 15.76% response rate in 2020 was up from 10.68% in 2013

  • 93% of respondents promote the College to others

Recent Alumni Attitude Study helps strengthen College’s ties to Long Blue Line

What is alumni engagement? What does it mean, and how do we achieve it?

These questions form a regular topic of discussion for one special group of members of the Marietta College Alumni Association (MCAA) Board of Directors. The MCAA Board’s Alumni Engagement (AE) Committee — Adam Kopp ’88, Brian Ashton ’08, Tim Byers ’06, Bret Allphin ’01 and Chris Suter ’84 — have tasked themselves with strategizing ways to connect the many, many members of The Long Blue Line with the College, current students and each other.

“This is the driving idea behind our 2020 Alumni Survey,” says Kopp, who chairs the AE Committee. “The survey gives a voice to our alumni, and asks, ‘How do you want to be engaged? What do you think is important?’ Is it more regional social events? Is it having a connection to students or academic departments? Is it creating networking opportunities, so that our newest alumni can hit the ground running in their careers?”

Led by the AE Committee, the MCAA and Marietta College’s Office of Alumni Relations conducted an exhaustive survey in 2020 that garnered a total of 1,324 respondents representing a full spectrum of classes from the pre-Vietnam era to the present day. Of particular note was the 15.76 percent response rate — up from 10.68 percent in the 2013 study, and twice the national average for surveys by similarly sized institutions.

According to the new study, alumni satisfaction has also increased since 2013 — 96 percent of respondents have a good to excellent overall current opinion of the College. There is also increased interest in volunteering, connecting with current students and attending events.

For Kopp, being engaged is about giving back to the institution that prepared him for the professional world.

“I had a great four years at Marietta,” he says. “It felt like home to me. It provided a wide, even unexpected range of learning opportunities. I still apply the skills I learned today. Even as a freshman, I made friends with sophomores, juniors and seniors who are still my friends. AE to me is about deepening these connections over time and connecting with current students to pay it forward.”

Paying it forward usually means giving of one’s time, talent and treasure to advance the mission of the College.

“But this means different things to different people,” Kopp says. “And it changes based on where you are in life. I have kids in college now, so I may not be able to give as much financially at this stage in my life, but I’m very happy to come to campus to talk with students and help them in any way I can.”

Case in point: A young alumna recently reached out on a Marietta College Alumni social media group page to ask for advice on a career change.

“She must’ve gotten 40 responses to that post,” Kopp says. “I think Betsy Knott in Career Services replied to her as well. In the end, we got connected and I had a very productive phone call with her.”

Rate your decision to attend Marietta College

Decision to Attend Graphic

Which of the following best describes your experience as a student?

Experience at Marietta College graphic

I learned about commitment and sacrifice in the name of team accomplishments. Coach Bancheri was a tremendous influence.

— 1997 Graduate

According to Kopp, the AE Committee meets monthly and has two major pillars, or active work streams: a social agenda, spearheaded by Suter and Byers, and a networking/career advancement side, headed up by Ashton and Allphin.

“Engagement has to be more than asking for money to support the College,” Suter says. “I want our alumni to know that we’re here, not to take something from you, but to give something to you.”

Suter was drawn to Marietta College by its small-school atmosphere, which offered something most small schools do not.

“I wanted an engineering degree,” she says. “Marietta was the only school of its kind that had a program in Petroleum Engineering.”

Like Kopp, through her academic program and other activities like Greek life, Suter made lifelong friends across the different classes, some older, some younger. When she graduated, she and her husband, Pioneer Navy alumnus Kevin Suter ’85, stayed connected by helping to host Marietta’s alumni presence at the annual Dad Vail Regatta in Philadelphia.

“This was before the Dad Vail became as commercialized as it is today,” she says. “We’d borrow a big funeral tent from an alum who was a funeral director and pitch it right there along the Schuylkill River. It was one of the biggest alumni reunion events for the East Coast outside of returning to Marietta.”

But as life progressed, she found it easy to get disconnected. “Cell phones, email, the internet, we didn’t have these things that make it easy today,” she says. “We were in each other’s weddings and talked when we could, but as we raised families and people moved around or changed their phone numbers, it was harder and harder to stay connected.”

When the couple moved to Texas, they found one of the most active of Marietta’s 10 Regional Associations, and Suter found herself waxing nostalgic about the old Dad Vail days.

“That’s when I joined the MCAA Board,” she says. “The kids were grown and I found I had a real appetite for reengaging with Marietta. I was reconnecting with so many people through social media that I hadn’t talked to in years, and it was like we picked up right where we left off. These lifelong relationships absolutely make a big difference. There’s something about Marietta that makes it easy to make these types of connections, even across the generations.”

When she joined the MCAA board, Suter was originally a member of the Development Committee, the group of alumni that drives the Day of Giving among other fundraising initiatives. She moved to the Alumni Engagement Committee because she saw an opportunity to reinvigorate the Regional Associations.

“Some of our Regional Associations are more active than others,” she says. “Tim and I are working to reengage the alumni who want to participate, but are lacking the organization and leadership in their locations.”

“What we are trying to do is make the MCAA a more active and visible organization for both students and alumni,” Byers says. “Pre-COVID-19, our focus was mainly on the Regional Associations and in-person events. In the past year, we’ve had to ask ourselves what we can do to continue to foster a sense of community, and that has led to new ideas from the entire MCAA Board, like the recent Connect Four Series and the Virtual Trivia Night event.”

How often do you promote Marietta to others?

How often do you promote MC graphic

Which of the following describes your overall current opinion of Marietta College?

Overall current opinion graphic

Byers was recently recruited to the MCAA board by fellow members and friends Michael Joliat ’06 and Anna Bock Mullins ’04. Also a member of the East Texas Regional Association, he has been involved with Marietta since he graduated.

“I met my wife (Valerie Tharp Byers ’04) at Marietta. I met my friends there. The Petroleum Engineering program fosters a great community by way of being a very demanding major and requiring us to work together,” Byers says. “As I branched out, I became involved all across campus in organizations like Student Senate, the RA program and Lambda Chi Alpha. … All of our personal and professional lives have roots at Marietta, and the College is very dear to our hearts.”

When the pandemic is under control, Byers hopes to duplicate the success of the East Texas Regional Association for others across the country.

“We have a strong core group of active alumni here in Houston,” Byers says. “And we have well-attended annual events that we all look forward to here. We hope to identify anchor groups and establish anchor events in each of our regions that we can build upon over time.

“My perspective and takeaway from the alumni survey is that alumni want more interaction from the College and with other alumni. It is our job to find the ways to broaden that interaction and the Marietta experience for the greater alumni population.”

Allphin concurs, and adds that one of the coolest things about Marietta is that alumni are very engaged.

“And even if they are not engaged, it’s clear from the alumni survey that they care,” Allphin says. “In AE we are working to create new opportunities for these alumni to connect with current students and recent graduates.”

The Alumni Attitude Study shows that Marietta alumni want to know that other alumni and the MCAA are playing an important role in improving the student experience. The survey results also indicated that identifying job opportunities for graduates, and recruiting and mentoring students, were the areas of highest motivation for MC alums.

Accordingly, Allphin and Ashton are focusing their efforts on bringing together alumni and students to give the newest members of The Long Blue Line an edge in their careers.

“The job market is especially tough right now, and any advantage we can give our students is critical,” Allphin says.

Their current work involves connecting alumni and students through the Career Center.

“The Career Center is a hidden gem that is very underutilized by students,” Allphin says. “Brian and I joke that when we were at Marietta, you would have had to take us by the hand and drag us there to get us to use it. So how do we change that perception and get today’s students to see it has real value?”

Keep the emphasis on growing Greek Life. It is my fraternity connections that really keep me loyal to MC and reminds me of what it meant to me over the years. I think that loyalty would exist for years to come for today’s brothers and sisters.

— 1962 Graduate

Opportunities for improvement:

  • More social media, invitations to events and solicitations are needed

  • Increased interest in volunteering and peer connections 

  • Desire to hear more about alumni successes, student success and next steps of the College

Things Most Appreciated

About Marietta

  • Value of Degree

  • Accomplishments of current students

  • Traditions

Alumni Attitude Study:

  • 15.76% response rate in 2020 was up from 10.68% in 2013

  • 93% of respondents promote the College to others

If on campus, what would you like to do?

  • 37% meet with faculty

  • 34% meet with student groups

  • 23% meet with individual students

  • 65% attend special events

  • 24% give a lecture or talk

He thinks one of the ways might be to break away from traditional models.

“Betsy [Knott, Director of the Career Center] is generating a great deal of energy around new programming,” he says. “A lot of it is a departure from the traditional mold of holding mock interviews and workshopping résumés and cover letters. You can go from Russell Hall to London and find hundreds of successful alumni stories. We are working to connect students — and even the academic departments that can use them — with these stories in a meaningful way.”

Hailing from a much smaller town, Allphin says his time at Marietta was the most transformational period of his life.

“I found the direction I was seeking in an environment that would help at the pace I needed,” Allphin says. “When I graduated, I felt prepared for anything I wanted to do. The experience I had at Marietta still resonates for me. The friends I made are still present. I stay involved because I want other students to have the same life-changing opportunities.”

Allphin says his experience with the MCAA board continues to be a positive one.

“We’re all busy and we can’t meet often, but when we do get together, I can really feel the care that is expressed by each of us,” he says. “I also feel like the members of College administration — President Ruud, Josh Jacobs in Advancement and the Board of Trustees — take our feedback, our perspectives and suggestions, very seriously. It gives us a solid ground and an agency to help the place we care about, knowing that they are behind us.”

In the light of the survey data and his own personal experience, Kopp believes the way forward is to connect students with alumni earlier in their academic careers.

“Students need to know that there are alumni across every discipline who are ready and willing to help,” Kopp says. “They need to know that when they graduate, the College, the Career Center and the MCAA are a lifelong resource.

“Ideally, we should have alumni engaging students during their sophomore and junior years, and communicating that there is real value in these relationships over time. It all comes back to The Long Blue Line. It really is a Long Blue Line — we live it — and it’s up to us to keep it going.”

Chris Rynd