A new leader of Longwood’s alumni office brings a surge of energy and a bridge to career services
BY KENT BOOTY
Whether it’s brushing up on your painting skills at an event in your neighborhood, letting your kids loose in a “bouncy house” on campus or clicking on a career-advice video online—if you’re an alum, student or friend of Longwood, Ryan Catherwood is determined to get you involved. “Whether alums have five minutes to spare or a few hours a month, whether they adore Longwood or might have to be convinced to fall in love again, we hope to provide opportunities for them to connect, contribute and celebrate,” said Catherwood, Longwood’s new assistant vice president for alumni and career services. “Ultimately, we’re looking to provide programming that alumni enjoy and find valuable both personally and professionally.”
From Catherwood’s first day at Longwood last July, his office in the Maugans Alumni Center has been buzzing with energy.
In the eight or so months since then, he has overseen the merger of Alumni Relations and Career Services; added two new staff positions; fired up a new online alumni network (see story online); implemented a raft of new alumni and career-focused programs that are drawing record numbers of participants; and started to chip away at his long-term goal of making current students “alums from Day 1.”
One of the biggest changes is the merger of the two departments, which is intended to build a culture among current students and alumni based on three central themes: lifelong learning; help and advice within the Longwood Network; and programming that includes both online and in-person events.
Lifelong learning includes “continuing education-type courses that are not academic or professional development but casual,” said Catherwood.
For example, two “Wine & Design” events held recently involved sipping wine, taking a brief group lesson from an artist and painting a picture of the Rotunda. The first event, held in Richmond in November 2015, was a sellout, attracting more than 40 alums. A second event was held in January in Newport News.
“Other possibilities are classes in cooking, painting, creating a LinkedIn profile or even salsa dancing. We want to experiment with different types of events outside the normal array of alumni events,” Catherwood said.
More family-focused activities also are a priority. One of the most successful in this category was the first Alumni Family Day, held in January. More than 500 people poured into Longwood’s Health and Fitness Center for moon bounces, games, a cheerleading camp and lunch, and then headed to Willett Hall for men’s and women’s basketball games. Ambassadors conducted legacy tours, and an admissions counselor answered parents’ questions.
“We were hoping to get to 200 people, and we figured 250 was a home run, so it was amazing to get over 500 for a new event where people didn’t know what they were in for,” said Nicole Perkins ’05, associate director of campus events in Alumni and Career Services.
Why so successful? “Alumni are hungry to come back to campus—some were back here for the first time—and the family-friendly atmosphere was a huge reason,” Perkins said.
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Athletics has been the rallying point for several regional events organized by Parks Smith ’08, director of alumni relations.
Pre-game parties for men’s basketball games at the University at Richmond and George Mason in December each drew about 250 people. Another pre-game party was held in late November at Columbia University in New York City. Watch parties for the nationally broadcast game against Oklahoma State were held in sports bars in Virginia Beach and near Richmond.
Catherwood emphasized that reunions will continue to be an important part of the lineup and that his team has been “tossing around lots of ideas” for building on the foundation laid by longtime head of alumni relations Nancy Britton Shelton ’68.
Efforts also are in high gear on the career help and advice front, where alumni and current students alike benefit from the merger of the alumni and career services offices.
Video interviews with successful alumni willing to share their experiences have been conducted by alumni staff and are accessible online. There is a strong mentorship and career advice component to the new Longwood Network, and campus talks by career experts as part of the new RealWorld Chronicles program were also broadcast online.
The LancerViews interviews (click on the Alumni Updates & Advice tab under magazine.longwood.edu) are conducted by Paige Rollins ’15, assistant director of live digital events and a self-described “computer nerd” who was hired to work with young alums and expand the alumni staff ’s social media and digital presence.
“Ultimately, we’re looking to provide programming that alumni enjoy and find valuable both personally and professionally.”
Ryan Catherwood, assistant vice president for alumni and career services
“The goal of LancerViews is to hear the stories of average alumni doing awesome things,” she said. “All of this, including the Longwood Network and the RealWorld Chronicles, is tied to career-oriented advice for alumni and is part of our overall effort to be more forward-thinking.”
This approach is both global and grass roots. We want students to dream big and to explore opportunities far and wide,” said Catherwood. We also want to teach them how to develop career guides—people who can help them learn more about the work world so they can make those second- and third-level connections with alumni that can help open doors. Alumni want to help students, so there is great synergy there.
“And we want to create opportunities for students to connect with career services on the grass roots level. For example, we want the office to be more visible on campus. We plan to provide all of the same services but add some new approaches. We’ll take the good stuff, such as career fairs, which have been done really well, and build on areas for improvement. Mary Meade [Saunders ’78, former career center director] and Nancy [Shelton] did a tremendous job.”
Catherwood, whose own career trajectory was far from linear, could no doubt provide some career tips himself on how to think outside the box in seeking opportunities and making connections.
His first salaried job after graduating from the University of Richmond was as a banquet manager, which segued into jobs as a hotel convention services manager and then a business travel sales manager.
“I loved the branding and advertising aspects of those jobs but not the hotel business,” said Catherwood. “I’ve always been interested in how human beings persuade each other.”
The next stop was Australia for a graduate business degree at the University of Queensland in Brisbane, where he picked up experience conducting marketing research for the business school.
Then it was back to the U.S. and a decisive turn toward applying his marketing and communications skills in the field of education— first at the Fishburne Military School in Waynesboro; then at Washington and Lee University in Lexington; and finally at the University of Virginia, where he was director of engagement strategy in the annual giving and engagement office when the opportunity at Longwood came to his attention.
“We want students to dream big and to explore
opportunities far and wide.”
Ryan Catherwood, assistant vice president for alumni and career services
Catherwood’s job at Longwood combines many of the areas he relishes. “The opportunity here was special. Plus, it’s a really warm place where everyone is so friendly. I can’t express how welcome people have made me feel here,” he said. “The challenge is to both honor the past and build for the future, but I feel we’ve been moving forward at just the right speed.”
Catherwood and his wife, Kathryn Catherwood, have two children: Reid, 4, and Liv, 1. In his spare time, Ryan enjoys cooking, attending concerts and taking Reid and Liv to the park.