As daily updates of COVID-19 left the future unpredictable in mid-March, Carroll’s alumni team started to look to upcoming events planned for Chicago, Milwaukee, and through the summer with a critical eye. The reality became that in-person events just weren’t going to happen with new restrictions of social distancing needed for the safety of all. Still, the university sought to stay engaged with its community of alumni and quickly transitioned to a series of virtual events that have involved classes and performances.
And, so far, they seem to be working with 265 attendees over the first month of offered events gathering via Zoom calls to participate in courses that have involved fitness, cooking, and nutrition tips and a community coming together each Friday night via Facebook Live to listen to the musical talents of alumni performers.
The launch of the virtual event engagement model started as a partnership with Carroll’s College of Arts and Sciences, where staff members gathered 75 alumni choir members to record an online performance of “Children of the Heavenly Father” that was shared with a live audience via Zoom on Easter Sunday. Between performers and viewers, the event drew 133 participants.
“Once we premiered that performance, it inspired us to think outside the box of how we can engage alumni in different ways,” said Senior Director of Alumni Engagement Dolores Ocampo Brown ’99, M.Ed. ’10. “We’ve been able to engage people from all over the country. With the virtual classes, it does support one of Carroll’s pillars of lifelong learning.”
The initial experience with this choir event helped the Office of Alumni Engagement to realize the possibility of real-time performances when people in lockdown craved connections and the team began to brainstorm its transition from in-person opportunities to online events for alumni.
Along with classes and performances, the university has also provided since the pandemic hit virtual experiences for alumni that included a virtual run, in which participants ran alone but shared photos via social media as well as their routes with each other; a book club, which now meets regularly; and a virtual event with Chicago-area alumni featuring a chat and visit with President Cindy Gnadinger. Those events draw another 93 participants. The office has also shared crossword puzzles and CU word searches as another virtual opportunity through emails to help alumni during lockdown.
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“It’s been fun working with the team to look at new possibilities and new ways to engage with alumni that we can continue until we get quote, unquote back to normal,” Ocampo Brown said. “People will be more out and about but our hopes are to continue to do virtual engagement on a monthly basis.”
The team couldn’t do this work, though, without the generosity of the alumni providing their knowledge for the classes offered and talents of live musical performances—and they have all given of their time at no cost to Carroll. Ocampo Brown said the university is grateful to alumni who have given of their time and hope others with talents might consider sharing their skills with their fellow Pioneers online.
Promise Bruce ’08, a DJ formerly with iHeart radio who is now working independently on gigs and projects, hosted a party-style atmosphere of music with friend and special guest DJ Heathen that the usual 7– 8 p.m. event stretched out to 9 p.m. after people online encouraged the duo to keep the music going.
“I was just like, ‘What's a way that I could try to bring the radio environment or club or party to people at home and to forget about what’s going on for a minute,” Bruce said. “That was the goal and I’m glad we were able to accomplish that. We had a lot of fun.”
Ian Ash ’08 (Abrahamson) of The Last Bees band, formerly Ian and the Dream, helped launch Carroll’s first-ever Facebook Live musical events in May. He said as a full-time musician with gigs cancelled during the quarantine that the Carroll experience provided an audience but also a chance to stay sharp with performance.
“It was a good opportunity to just be a storyteller,” he said. “In this setting you get to take a little more liberty to be personal with the people who are commenting.”
Alumna Kate Peterson ’12, a registered dietician, shared nutrition and recipe skills in a series of two virtual events. She said the experience provided her an opportunity to not only help Carroll but to make other connections with alumni and potential clients interested in working with her through her business Kate Peterson Nutrition. She encourages other alumni with skills to share to give it a go.
"With everything changing and being very upside down, people are offering a lot more grace and forgiveness for making it happen," she said. "The cool thing about doing these virtual events is you can let your personality shine through and you can show we're all making it happen."