Eyes on Excellence

The 2017 Circle of Excellence Awards Grand Gold winners exhibited strategy, savvy, creativity, and confidence to win the attention of their audiences

By Theresa Walker

Eyes on Excellence


From a university taking over U.K. Parliament for a day to a magazine issue inspired by space, the 2017 Circle of Excellence Awards Grand Gold winners exhibited strategy, savvy, creativity, and confidence to win the attention of their audiences.

Daring ideas, dazzling design, and detailed data characterized this year's CASE Circle of Excellence Awards Grand Gold winners, the highest prize bestowed by the awards program. Whether showing up in unexpected places to demonstrate how university research touches Australians' lives, leveraging the 2016 Rio Olympics to celebrate a U.K. institution's sporting tradition, or creating a student e-newsletter that undergraduates actually open and read, CASE member institutions focused on research, planning, and measurement to connect with their constituents and achieve their goals.

Dozens of volunteer judging panels made up of advancement practitioners and experts reviewed more than 3,360 entries in nearly 100 categories from 715 member institutions around the world. After submitting their best programs and products in advancement services, alumni relations, communications, marketing, and fundraising, more than 200 universities, colleges, independent schools, and nonprofit organizations from 11 countries earned 372 grand gold, gold, silver, bronze, and platinum awards. The 16 grand gold award winners—including one program that took top honors in two categories—are profiled here.

Friendly Government Takeover
Nottingham in Parliament Day

Nottingham in Parliament Day
University of Nottingham, U.K.
Grand Gold for Special Events (Single Day)

How does a university successfully capture the attention of busy elected officials? Descend on their doorstep. On Oct. 25, 2016, hundreds of University of Nottingham students, faculty, and community members traveled to the U.K. Parliament, flooding its buildings and the surrounding area with activities like live science experiments; sport demonstrations (including archery lessons with a man dressed as Robin Hood); cooking presentations; music performances; research showcases; and a quiz show-style challenge pitting university faculty against members of Parliament. More than 2,900 people attended the day's events, which occurred across 28 venues. Aimed at boosting the institution's profile and celebrating the Nottingham community's members and organizations, Nottingham in Parliament Day reached 8.8 million people across social media channels, and 15 million people saw, heard, or read a reference to NIPD in national or local media. One member of Parliament called the undertaking "one of the most audacious heists I've seen."

Judges' verdict: An "outstanding project" that integrated all facets of advancement and delivered "exceptional results" in a meaningful and strategic way. "Nottingham is a trailblazer."

CREDITS: Alex Miles, Leonie Mathers, Sam Longe-Thomas, Madalina Stalniceanu, Sheenagh Bloomfield, Kayleigh Renberg-Fawcett, Tetra Strategy

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Star Power

Eyes on Excellence - Pegasus Magazine

Pegasus magazine: “The Space Issue,” Summer 2016
University of Central Florida
Grand Gold for Special Issue Magazine

What started out as a four-page feature story blossomed into a 48-page magazine focused on the University of Central Florida's contributions to space exploration starting before Neil Armstrong stepped foot on the moon. The issue showcased articles on spaceflight and the future of space research, but its expansive take on the space theme included an interview with a creative writing alumnus tasked with discovering a new generation of sci-fi authors, a profile of a graduate who jumped from the stratosphere to break the world record for a high-altitude jump, and a debate on the pros and cons of space tourism by a pair of hospitality management faculty members. Readers called the issue "absolutely brilliant" and "clever and visually stunning."

Judges' verdict: "Thought-provoking and far-ranging content. A good mix of short, easily digestible stories and longer features all accompanied by stunning photography."

CREDITS: Patrick Burt, Laura J. Cole, Eric Michael, Roger Wolf, Jim Barnes, RJ Bruneel, Jo Dickson, Ron Boucher, Lauren Haar, Steve Webb, Mario Carrillo, Adam Smajstrla, Sandy Pouliot

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Activism Amplified

Oberlin College

Oberlin Alumni Magazine, Fall 2016
Oberlin College, Ohio
Grand Gold for Cover Design

"Simple, yet snappy, eye-catching" is how judges described Oberlin Alumni Magazine's fall 2016 cover. The illustration was commissioned for the article "Bubble or Laboratory?" which looks at student activism on campus and the impact of online and social media. Written by the dean of students, the article was in part a response to a spring 2016 New Yorker magazine piece exploring protests that "have been roiling" liberal arts institutions such as Oberlin.

Judges' verdict: They loved the illustration's simplicity, bold use of bright colors, and stylized text treatment. Judges deemed the continuation of the illustration's theme on the back cover "equally as stunning."

CREDITS: Emily Crawford, Jeff Hagan, Kelly Viancourt, Oliver Munday (illustrator)

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Aiding the Next Generation of Doctors

Spotlight on Medical Education
Harvard Medical School, Harvard University, Massachusetts
Grand Gold for Fundraising Videos (Long)

 "Coming to Harvard opens doors," says a Harvard Medical School alumna. "And then getting the financial aid letter," a current student adds, "is like the key to the door that opens the lock and lets you actually come inside." A four-minute video for the final year of the school's The World Is Waiting campaign aimed to encourage donors to invest in a financial aid program that ensures a diverse community of students has access to a Harvard medical education. Interviews with the dean and a dozen students and alumni personalized the need for financial aid, appealed to emotions, and highlighted the limitations of the university's endowment, which allots a small percentage to financial aid. Created for a special event, the video was later repurposed for use on the school website, social media, donor visits, and more to deliver a key message: "Help us uphold our twin values of need-blind admission and need-based aid."

Judges' verdict: They had tears in their eyes and loved the message and delivery of this "emotional and meaningful" video.

CREDITS: Eliza Butts, Laura DeCoste, Katherine Harper, Kathryn Maus, Brandy Newlon, Hawkes Media (video production)

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Ethereal Essayists

Illustrated portraits of Phillip Lopate and six other essayists
Columbia Magazine, Spring 2016
Columbia University, New York
Grand Gold for Illustrations

The color-fueled illustrations that accompany the Columbia Magazine feature “Phillip Lopate Celebrates the Personal Essay” compel readers to keep turning the page to feast on artistic renderings of writers such as James Baldwin, Joan Didion, and George Orwell. The goal: to visually depict each author in a “recognizable yet surprising way.”

Judges' verdict: “Incredible uniqueness in style with a level of detail that is unsurpassed. The collage quality mixed with paint is striking and the use of color is amazing. The art makes you want to read the article.”

CREDITS: Demetrios Psillos (illustrator), Jeffrey Saks (art director)

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Medal-Worthy Content

Loughborough University

#LboroFamily’s Road to Rio 2016
Loughborough University, U.K.
Grand Gold for Multimedia Campaigns

If Loughborough University were a country, the haul of 12 medals its athletes won during the 2016 Rio Olympics would have ranked the institution 17th in the world among competing nations. During the Olympic and Paralympic Games, Loughborough used newsjacking and shareable content to enhance its reputation and promote its research, sporting history, and tradition of producing elite athletes. The university’s Rio 2016 website provided 24/7 coverage, including videos, athlete profiles, infographics, and an interactive medals table. The communications team member sent to Rio captured photo and video and leveraged interactions with Loughborough athletes. People in 169 countries engaged with the university’s online and social media content while news coverage of Loughborough’s academic research reached more than 54 million people. The Olympic effort also boosted the university’s reputation with more people in all age groups rating Loughborough as good or excellent in brand tracking surveys.

Judges' verdict: “The bespoke website and comprehensive media plan transformed a creative idea into a truly exceptional example of best practices in our industry.”

CREDITS: Emma Leech, Hannah Baldwin, Jonathan Walters, Judy Wing, Dane Vincent, Pete Matthews, Liam Ross, Jonathan Crannage, Ben Spencer, James Poole, Robert Whittaker

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Drawn to the Stage

BYU - Chariots of Fire

BYU - Travesties

BYU - Crucible

BYU Department of Theatre and Media Arts 2016–17 season posters
Brigham Young University, Utah
Grand Gold for Poster Design

With a small budget to promote the 2016–17 theater season, designers and marketers for BYU’s College of Fine Arts and Communications needed to be thrifty and savvy while attracting audiences to attend productions from The Crucible and Macbeth to Mary Poppins and Chariots of Fire. Employing a minimalistic brushstroke style, designers focused on a single striking image to embody the essence of each play. The images created a buzz on campus evidenced by ticket sales, which exceeded projected sales goals.

Judges' verdict: “Excellent minimalistic interpretations of season shows. Consistent color palette added immense impact to the overall look and feel. Strong typographical treatment.”

CREDITS: Nick Mendoza, Andrew Galloway, Ken Crossley

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More Than a Pretty Place

Mind, Body, Spirit
Aiglon College, Switzerland
Grand Gold for Recruitment Videos (Short)

“Ever since I came to Aiglon, I think I became a better person.” The three-minute video aimed at prospective families of the independent boarding school in the Swiss Alps is chock-full of such thoughtful remarks from students and faculty. Unscripted interviews and two weeks of filming daily life (one week in summer and one in winter) on the picturesque campus injected authenticity into the project, which hit its mark with prospective audiences as well as alumni. The film’s grounding in the school’s guiding principles of mind, body, and spirit revitalized graduates and helped them reconnect with their alma mater, leading to an increase in word-of-mouth recommendations, which accounted for 41 percent of recent applications.

Judges' verdict: “This video was a visual feast! [It] appeals to a wide variety of audiences and aligns beautifully with the institutional mission. Professional, stunning, and streamlined, the video exceeded expectations.”

CREDITS: Richard McDonald, Valerie Scullion, Karen Sandri, Stephanie Heathfield, Seth Barker, Luke Steward, Affixxius Films

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Let the Tweets Speak for Themselves

Case Western - 2015-2016 Annual Report

As Mentioned: The 2015–16 Annual Report of Case Western Reserve University
Case Western Reserve University, Ohio
Grand Gold for Institutional Relations Publications: Presidents and Annual Reports (Digital)

Case Western Reserve University infused life into its annual report by curating the headlines and accolades that stakeholders and news outlets shared about the institution on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and other channels. A dynamic companion to the printed report, the website showcases social media posts, online news articles, photos, and videos that highlight CWRU’s achievements in research, science, the arts, and more. The report harnesses the pride and perspectives of the university’s audiences to tell the institution’s story and convey its reach in a way that energizes readers and embraces how people share news and information today.

Judges' verdict:“The design was fresh and the concept was imaginative—like nothing we had ever seen before. A tremendous way to get away from the ‘we did this, we did that’ way of giving information. Validates community members in a way that lists of names simply cannot. A great deal of work, thought, and creativity went into this project.”

CREDITS:  Jessica Becker, Anand Upadhyay, Emily Mayock, Emma Tomczak, Jimmie Corrigan, Bill Lubinger, Daniel Robison, Mary Gerity, Chris Sheridan

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Honoring History, Pushing for More Progress

Rice University - 50 Years of Black Undergraduate Life

Celebrating 50 Years of Undergraduate Black Life at Rice
Rice University, Texas
Grand Gold for Special Events (Yearlong)
Grand Gold for Diversity Programs (External Constituencies)

“What’s clear is that we’ve come a long way from the 1960s. What’s also clear is that we have a long way to go,” notes Rice University Provost Marie Lynn Miranda in a video commemorating the first black undergraduate students being admitted to the Texas institution in 1965–66. In partnership with the Association of Rice University Black Alumni, the university planned a series of events for the 2015–16 academic year that reflected on a half-century of progress and challenges as well as the continued push to build a diverse and inclusive campus community. The website included upcoming activities, photos, videos, and an interactive timeline charting the university’s integration, which was incorporated into a 16-page feature in Rice Magazine. The Blueprint for Excellence Gala Weekend honored alumni achievements and raised funds for an endowment to support diversity-related programs and activities. Photo banners adorned the campus, highlighting black alumni who paved the way for current students. More than 1,360 students, alumni, faculty, staff, and friends attended one of the year’s events. The result: greater student and alumni engagement, stronger relationships with Houston’s black community, and increased media coverage.

Judges' verdict: We were blown away. Rice’s events shined above all others in their incredible thoughtfulness and planning. Rice left no stone unturned during this mission-driven year of community-building.”

CREDITS: Jeremy Miller, Jan West, Marie Lynn Miranda, John Hutchinson, David Leebron, Akilah Mance, Monique Shankle, Donald Bowers, Angela Berry Roberson, Teddy Adams, Raymond Johnson, Teveia Rose Barnes, Jeff Rose, Terrence Gee, Alex Byrd, Roland Smith, Kevin Kirby, Linda Thrane, Darrow Zeidenstein, Angela Ravin Anderson, Courtney Hall, David Bailiff, Carlin Hartmann, Kevin Bailey, Brandy Hays, Jim Bevan, ND Kalu, Pamela Scott Carrington, Tina Langley, Catherine Clack, Mike Rhoades, Chandler Davidson, Brent Scott, Bobby Dixon, Tamara Siler, Barry Donovan, Gloria Tarpley, Julian Duncan, Stahle Vincent, Greg Gatlin, Willis Wilson, Stacy Bene Gilstrap, Kate Abad, Joe Karlgaard, Lina Bell, Sue Oldham, Jana Callan, Johnny Whitehead, Lauren Cavallaro, Theodore Williams, Lynn Fahey, Blessing Falade, Rebecca Isaac, Kaelyn Mack, Brandi Ransom, Samuel Soyebo, Michael Warren, Association of Rice University Black Alumni, Office of Development and Alumni Relations, Office of Public Affairs, Office of Multicultural Affairs

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News Students Choose to Use

Temple University - Nutshell

Nutshell student e-newsletter
Temple University, Pennsylvania
Grand Gold for Internal Audience Publications (Digital)

Enticing undergraduates to open a university email can seem as challenging as coaxing a squirrel to cooperate for a photo. The strategic marketing and communications team at Temple University accomplishes both feats with Nutshell, a succinct and pithy weekly e-newsletter designed to help students navigate campus life and build connections with the Pennsylvania institution. Written in an informal and irreverent voice, the e-newsletter speaks to students as peers while delivering campus news, timely tips, information on upcoming events and opportunities, and original content such as in-the-know listicles and entertaining videos. Nutshell’s average open rate is 40 percent, making it a place where campus partners are eager to be seen. The “Temple Survival Guide” edition, which targeted incoming freshmen and transfer students, briefed newcomers on campus lingo, local eateries, and getting around Philadelphia—and earned an 85 percent open rate.

See Also:

Judges' verdict: “The strong and creative writing of this humorous publication foster[s] a sense of community among the student readership. Simple but effective design makes Nutshell a breeze to read.”

CREDITS: Angelo Fichera, Robert Frawley, Andrew Collette, David Bonomo, Rose Caporaletti

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Take the University’s Work to the People

“Made Possible by Melbourne”
The University of Melbourne, Australia
Grand Gold for Advertising Campaigns

Being an institution that’s globally respected is great. But when the people in your community don’t understand what the university does that’s so special, there is a disconnect. To combat this reputational challenge, the University of Melbourne launched a free interactive exhibition in November 2016 to show how 14 of the university’s research projects enrich Australia and the world. Whether standing in a pop-up cafeteria space, waiting at a public transportation shelter, or riding on a tram, community members could learn about efforts to end avoidable blindness in indigenous Australians and build greener cities. In each location, visitors could access an audio tour that featured a short story about the research and the people behind it. People were directed to learn more at, a digital content hub with more than 300 research stories.

Judges' verdict: “The campaign excelled in all aspects. The visual elements were beautiful and creative, and the content was engaging and succinct.”

CREDITS: Lara McKay, Kim Howells, Caroline Strong

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Triumphant Turnaround

Eyes on Excellence - TCNJ Magazine

TCNJ Magazine
The College of New Jersey
Robert F. Sibley Magazine of the Year

In 2012, The College of New Jersey’s board president questioned TCNJ Magazine’s reason for existence. It was a catalyzing moment for the staff, which embraced the challenge of reimagining and rejuvenating the triannual publication. The result: a dynamic magazine with a lively and warm design aesthetic that welcomes readers. A person need not know anything about the college or the state to feel at home in the periodical’s pages, which take a clean approach to alumni magazine standbys like class notes and wedding and baby photos.

Feature articles entertain, challenge, and inform, tackling topics from Trenton’s place in the music landscape to a psychology student’s account of working with Syrian refugee children. Investing in the reader experience has paid off. The board president is now one of the magazine’s fans, and the admissions office increased the number of copies it orders for recruitment purposes.

Judges' verdict: “An approachable and fun publication that serves its audience well. Offers great variety with lots of entry points. The college seems like a great place to be!”

CREDITS: John P. Donahue, David Muha, Renée Olson, Kelly Andrews, Kara Pothier

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Getting Real

Penn State - All In

All In at Penn State: A Commitment to Diversity and Inclusion (All In)
Penn State University
Grand Gold for Diversity Programs: Internal Constituency

What does “We are Penn State” signify? The October 2016 launch of All In at Penn State: A Commitment to Diversity and Inclusion challenged the campus community to exemplify the Pennsylvania university’s longtime rallying cry. Prompted by a student-driven project that encouraged people to speak openly about their experiences with diversity on campus, the universitywide initiative sought to promote inclusion, nurture civil discourse, and urge people to view issues from differing perspectives. A highlight of the evening kickoff on the University Park campus was a five-minute multimedia presentation—displayed on a landmark building and livestreamed on the system’s 23 other campuses—that charted the institution’s path to diversity and issued a call to work together to cultivate an inclusive environment. The resource hub offered discussion guides, a calendar of events and activities, shareable logos and social media graphics, and videos offering people’s perspectives on diversity and inclusion.

Judges' verdict: “An innovative way to address the issues of diversity. Liked that this started as a grassroots initiative and was allowed to flourish with the support of the school.”

CREDITS:  Lawrence Lokman, Tracy Powell, Rachel Pell, Christie Clancy, Anne Danahy, Cyndee Graves, Lisa Powers, Caroline Skinner, Jennifer Quick, Office of the President, Office of Student Affairs, Office of the Vice Provost for Educational Equity, Penn State Outreach and Online Education, Student Affairs/Student Leaders, Office of Strategic Communications, WPSU/Penn State Public Broadcasting, Pearl Media (video), Rowland Creative (visual identity)

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Melding Data, Delivery, Design, and Dignity

University of Washington - Seeds of Hope

“Seeds of Hope”
University of Washington
Grand Gold for Writing for the Web

In 2016, the UW communications team had high hopes for its latest “immersive story”—a multimedia feature about recent graduate Chris Brown, who served three combat tours as a U.S. Marine in Iraq and Afghanistan and founded an organization to support fellow veterans. The project exceeded expectations. In addition to honoring an alumnus, the interactive feature demonstrated how Brown’s UW education contributed to his effort to help other veterans heal from war’s invisible wounds. The story surpassed the digital reach of previous multimedia features, increased audience engagement online and via social media, validated a strategy for sponsored content and paid social media, and developed a production process for future immersive stories.

Judges' verdict: “Top-shelf feature writing complemented by thoughtful, unobtrusive design elements that help to flesh out the story and draw readers’ attention. Quality photography, infographics, and multiple audio interviews give the story impressive and compelling depth. An exemplar of how winning magazine story design can and should be adapted for a satisfying online experience.”

CREDITS:  Nick Bolton, Nick Crocco, Kilian Frey, Tory Hernandez, Sasha Im, Julie Lauderbaugh, Lauren Lee, Jack Martin, Meg Matthews, Gerald McRobbie, Elise Perachio, Lisa Robbins, Jamie Swenson, Dennis Wise

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Thank You, 2017 Host Coordinators!

The Circle of Excellence Awards program would not be possible without the dedication of hundreds of CASE volunteers and their institutions. CASE is thankful for their support, especially the 60 host coordinators who contributed their time, talent, and expertise by recruiting judges, managing the review process, and writing judges' reports for their assigned award categories and subcategories.

Interested in being a 2018 host coordinator? Contact the awards department.