With Zoom sessions, Alumni Relations keeps spirit of learning alive

A wise man once said, bumpy roads lead to beautiful places.

When the coronavirus began spreading throughout the United States and a national pandemic was declared, Radford University closed its campus and transitioned to online courses. The Radford community, joining people around the country, did their part in limiting the spread of the virus. In doing so, there were no face-to-face classes, no athletics, none of the usual spring events that brought so much life and energy to campus.

Many of the paths we normally travel were suddenly littered with bumps and barriers.

The shutdown touched every aspect of University life, including the Radford University Alumni Association, which works to foster connections between the alumni and the University as well as with each other.

After some brainstorming sessions, the Alumni Association team developed a brilliant plan to maintain and increase areas of alumni engagement.

“During the pandemic, we recognized it was important to keep our Radford alumni family engaged in a virtual way,” said Executive Director of Alumni Relations Laura Turk '87, M.S. '90. “Since we could not hold in-person events, we decided to transition to virtual events.”

That translation led to the creation of Highlander Wisdom, a weekly series of free virtual workshops presented by Radford alumni who drew from their wide-ranging knowledge and expertise.

“Our alumni are so generous with their time and their talents,” Turk said, “and so we reached out and had an overwhelming response from a lot of our alumni on many topics.”

After working out the logistics, the Alumni Relations team forged ahead with this project. Turk joined with Frank West ‘15 and Michelle Carlson '08 to launch the Highlander Wisdom series on Zoom and also streamed the content on Facebook, Twitter and YouTube. The videos are still present on those social media sites for on-demand viewing.

“We’ve had a wide variety of topics, and for us, it’s about keeping our alumni engaged,” Turk explained. “That’s our primary reason for doing this – keeping alumni engaged and informed.”

Seaside Yoga with Suzie was one of the first installments in the series. In it, Susan Wisman ’85, a health and physical education major at Radford, guided viewers for about 30 minutes through a relaxing sequence of asanas.  

“With all that’s going on in the world, we really need to take care of ourselves,” said Wisman, a fitness instructor and retired teacher. “I’m honored to do this.”

While Wisman taught lessons in caring for physical and mental health, Kim Tuttle ’96, M.S. ’98 tackled the topic of teaching teens through a pandemic.

“By talking with the Radford University community, it was my way of opening the door for many to see how to best meet the needs of teens who are struggling through this form of isolation,” said Tuttle, an English teacher who was named 2019 Charlotte-Mecklenburg (North Carolina) Schools Teacher of the Year.

Highlander Wisdom began in late March and continues to progress, with at least one new webinar each week. These instructional talks have met the original plan to engage alumni on a variety of topics. Renowned speaker and iSocialFanz founder Brian Fanzo ’03 spoke about digital empathy and how he helps companies tell their stories. Lynn Newberry ’91 spoke about healthcare choices, why they matter and how to choose what is right for you.   

And, since people all are spending more time in digital spaces, chiropractor Scott Hoar ’07 presented a webinar on creating or expanding business with YouTube, and Scott McDonald ’87 gave a timely talk on using video for engagement.

For those who could not wait to play a round of socially distanced golf, Radford University head women’s golf coach Jeff Beeler Zoomed into the sessions to offer tips for improving your short game.

“We are trying to present a lot of different topics,” Turk said, recalling one webinar in which alumna and artist Sarah Rodden ’12 gave a painting lesson.

“It was great,” Turk said. “She gave us a lesson that people would normally pay good money for; she did it for us for free.”

These virtual workshops are allowing Alumni Relations to reach alumni in new ways, and it has created a path for those who live and work far from campus a way to engage with their alma mater.

“We have had alumni from across the country and internationally participate in our sessions,” Turk said. “This has allowed us to continue to reach our alumni in new ways and engage alumni who haven’t been able to participate, because of physical distance, in new and different things.”

Given the rich content being provided, the series has proven to be a hit.

“They love it, “Turk said. “Our alumni have been thankful that they have been able to participate, not only by listening in, but they have engaged with each other through the chatbox. We have heard from alumni, and they are saying ‘thank you; this is great.’”

The webinar series is one of the newest tools of engagement Alumni Relations is using to rally together the Radford family. Another is the Highlander Digital Care package, which gives “our alumni and Highlander friends a place to find a little bit of your Radford home.”

The care package can be found on the Alumni Relations website. Its content includes cellphone wallpapers, Zoom backgrounds, a photo tour of campus, a Highlander word search and coloring pages, kids activity pages, an audio recording of the Highlander fight song and — no Radford care package would be complete without it —the original Chrusties recipe.

“We included a lot of things we thought our alumni would find interesting and fun,” Turk said. “In this difficult time, it will help them reflect and feel nostalgic for the beautiful place our campus is, as well as find opportunities to engage their Highlander Pride.”

Sep 7, 2020
Chad Osborne