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Member Profile: Jessica Dunning

Jessica DunningJessica Dunning is director of alumni relations at Rosslyn Academy in Nairobi, Kenya.

What led you to work in alumni relations?

I have worked at Rosslyn for many years and was excited to step into this new role in alumni relations. We felt a need to grow our alumni office and increase communication with and engagement of our alumni. This position is a learning experience for me, as I have never directly worked in this field, but I am truly enjoying it.

What programmes or activities have you found successful in engaging alumni and students?

Our focus has initially been engaging our current students, especially our seniors. We want to instill in them before they even leave Rosslyn that they will remain a valuable part of our community even after they graduate. One new tradition that we began this year was an alumni induction ceremony at the conclusion of our Senior Transition Week. This was a special time for me to address our senior class and present them with a gift from our alumni association.

Another long-standing tradition at Rosslyn has been our annual Boxing Day event. Our alumni are spread across the globe, which makes reunions difficult to coordinate. But many of our alumni still have family in Kenya, so Christmas is a time that many come to visit. With this in mind, we host an alumni event the day after Christmas every year. Every year the group changes, but it always provides an opportunity for students to see former teachers or classmates. They can visit campus and see how it has changed since they left.

What do you like most about your role?

I love the interactions with our students, both present and past. I love keeping in touch with students and hearing about all of the wonderful things that they have accomplished since leaving Rosslyn and hearing how Rosslyn played a role in shaping their future. I also love that the alumni office has the opportunity to continue serving our amazing students even after they graduate.

What are some challenges you've faced?

We are just beginning to put together a more proper structure for our alumni office, so we are faced with the challenge of finding what truly works for our alumni. We are a Christian, international K-12 school with a fairly small alumni base that is spread around the world. Given that, some of the traditional methods of alumni engagement do not work as easily for us. Reunions are difficult because our alumni are so spread out. Where, for instance, should we host events? Travel to Kenya is often prohibitive due to cost and travel time required. It is also hard for us to keep track of our alumni after they leave Rosslyn because we live in such a transient community. Email addresses quickly change or become invalid as a student transitions from high school to college and then into a career.

In an effort to combat these challenges, we are starting small. We recognize that we will not be able to engage our alumni in the same way as major universities. We are trying to find what works for our school and do that well. We currently send out quarterly e-mail newsletters keeping alumni informed with what is going on at Rosslyn Academy and with their fellow alumni. We also manage a closed Facebook group for alumni only, where we post updates about school events and news that we receive from alumni that they would like to make available to fellow alumni.

How has CASE membership influenced your career?

From CASE, I have learned how to speak the language of the alumni and development world. I attended a CASE conference in Chicago last year and it was so beneficial to sit with other K-12 schools to hear what programs have been successful for them, the struggles that they have faced and to brainstorm new ideas together. I also benefit immensely from the online communities, where questions are posed and fellow members respond. The broad range of topics covered within these communities are extremely helpful.

CASE has helped me realize that there are a lot of great ideas out there regarding alumni engagement, but you have to find what works well for you and the school you work for. What works for large universities isn't necessarily going to work for a K-12 school. It is important to start small, build a strong foundation for our department and focus our efforts on doing what we do well. Then, as we grow, we can build upon the solid foundation we have laid.

This article is from the BriefCASE 2017 issue.