Faculty & Guest Speakers
Colin Hennessy brings over 15 years of professional fundraising and management experience with expertise in annual giving, alumni engagement, segmentation strategy, data analysis, and more. He is recognized as an industry leader with a proven track record of developing philanthropic pipelines through thoughtful interventions informed by behavioral economics, data science, stewardship, and engagement.
Prior to joining GG+A, Colin served as the Executive Director of Alumni Engagement and Annual Giving and head of the University of Chicago's global Alumni Association. In this role, he led the overall strategy and direction for university-wide engagement and annual giving activities and directed the University's ambitious alumni participation efforts. In addition, he oversaw a staff of over 40 and a multi-million-dollar programmatic budget, including signature events such as Homecoming, Alumni Weekend, and a global faculty-led lecture series. He first joined the University of Chicago as Associate Dean of Alumni Relations and Development and Chief Development Officer for the Harris School of Public Policy. In this role, he guided all initiatives to engage Harris School alumni and deepen philanthropic commitments from alumni, parents, and friends to support the Dean's priorities.
Before joining the University of Chicago, Colin was the Executive Director of The Penn Fund at the University of Pennsylvania, where he oversaw the global undergraduate annual giving program and the largest of the University's annual funds. Under his leadership, The Penn Fund steadily increased alumni donor participation and both unrestricted and endowed scholarship revenue to the University and gained national praise for collaboration with faculty on experimental fundraising design and testing. Prior to Penn, Colin served as Associate Director of Annual Giving programs at the University of Iowa Center for Advancement, managing annual giving programs for Iowa's 11 Colleges.
He earned his B.A. in Communication and Media Studies from The University of Iowa, M.A. in Adult and Distance Education from the University of Phoenix, a Graduate Certificate in Public Management, M.P.A with concentrations in Public Policy and eGovernment from Iowa State University, and an Ed.D. in Higher Education Management from the University of Pennsylvania. He is the 2019 Diane Thompson Award Winner for Excellence in Annual Giving from the Northeast Annual Giving Conference Association and a CASE Crystal Apple Award-winning speaker in addition to numerous CASE Circle of Excellence Awards presented to his teams under his leadership.
Skylar Beaver is the Assistant Director of Advancement, Director of The Lawrenceville Fund, and Alumni and Family Engagement at The Lawrenceville School. In this role Skylar leads annual giving efforts while overseeing alumni and family engagement initiatives, donor relations and stewardship and advancement services. Previously, she led annual giving teams at The Spence School, Washington and Lee University and Hobart and William Smith Colleges.
She has nearly fifteen years of annual giving experience, is a frequent presenter with CASE, is a past chair of STAFF (Sharing the Annual Fund Fundamentals), and serves on the Northeast Annual Giving Conference (NEAGC) planning committee.
Skylar holds a bachelor's degree in sociology from Hobart and William Smith Colleges and a master's degree in nonprofit management from SUNY Brockport.
John began his career in philanthropy as a student foundation member at Kansas State University, serving within the K-State Proud Student Campaign. This experience jump-started his passion for higher education philanthropy.
Following graduation, he began his tenure in KSU Foundation’s Annual Giving department, focused on direct mail, phonathon, student philanthropy, and student life fundraising. In April of 2014, he accepted a role at the Oklahoma State University Foundation focused on next generation philanthropy focused on engaging students, young alumni, and donors in all seasons of life through crowdfunding, days of giving, and peer-to-peer strategies. Currently, John leads the University of Wisconsin-Madison annual giving team.
Astria L. Smith is the senior executive director for annual giving and alumni relations at Southern Methodist University. She provides strategic leadership and direction for efforts that engage, solicit and steward SMU alumni, parents, faculty, staff, students and friends. Her role allows her to integrate several areas of passion and expertise, including front-line fundraising, annual giving stewardship, multi-channel direct marketing, volunteer management and alumni engagement.
Smith holds a bachelor’s degree from Baylor University and master’s degrees from both Amberton University and SMU. She began her development career at Methodist Children’s Home in Waco, TX before joining SMU in 2007. As a compliment to her 17 years in the development field, Astria shares her fundraising knowledge by volunteering in the community and has served as a presenter for several networks including CASE and AGN. She also appreciates the opportunities she has to benchmark with colleagues through her participation in a variety of professional national consortiums, advisory councils and organizations.
Jake Strang is the Assistant Vice Chancellor for Alumni Annual Giving at the University of Pittsburgh. In this role, he leads a central annual giving team that engages alumni constituents and secures sustainable funds for Pitt’s highest priorities. Jake is a resource and convener for annual giving staff at Pitt’s regional campuses and has primary responsibility for the operations and staff of Panthers Forward, a signature student debt relief program.
Prior to joining Pitt, Jake was the director of annual giving and alumni engagement at the Tepper School of Business at Carnegie Mellon University. While there, he led a comprehensive annual giving program including reunions, volunteers, graduating class gift campaigns, and the school’s leadership society. In addition to annual giving responsibilities, he also was responsible for alumni marketing including newsletters, social media, alumni webinars, and the semi-annual Tepper Magazine. Jake also worked at Columbia University, where he was the senior associate director for annual fund programs. At Columbia, he served on the core team for the first five Columbia Giving Days and led the direct marketing for multiple annual funds across the university. Before joining Columbia University, he was a program center manager with Ruffalo Noel Levitz. While with RNL, he managed the on-site telefunds for Columbia University and the University of South Carolina.
Jake holds a bachelor’s degree from the University of South Carolina in Marketing and Management and a master’s degree from Columbia University in non-profit management.
James grew up in England and earned a degree in Theatre Studies from Lancaster University. He got a job in the Phonathon and was one of the worst-performing callers ever hired. So eventually they made him a manager, and he made it a career. After graduation, James moved to the US where he worked in annual giving and marketing roles at Centre College and the University of Louisville. In 2014, James moved to the University of Cincinnati Foundation where he serves as the Executive Director of Annual Giving and Marketing, working with both the university and its academic healthcare system.
Mitchell Bates is the Director of The Stanford Fund, the undergraduate annual fund for Stanford University. He started in development as a student caller for Ruffalo Cody at UC Santa Cruz (go banana slugs!) where he earned a bachelor’s degree in political science. After leaving Santa Cruz he worked as a National Account Manager for Yelp, before joining Stanford development in 2014. Mitchell also earned a Master’s of Science in Information Systems from the University of San Francisco, but he considers himself more of a banana slug than a Don, much to the frustration of USF development.
Connie L. Cochran
Ms. Connie L. Cochran is Assistant Vice President of Alumni Relations & Special Events at Texas Southern University; prior she was Executive Director of Alumni Relations at the University of Illinois, College of Medicine. She has more than 30 years of experience creating and implementing activities to support alumni relations programs and alumni giving. She oversees outreach and communications to graduates and former students and works to increase membership. Her goals are to engage, educate and reconnect alumni to the University through involvement and financial support. Ms. Cochran also serves as an advisor to several student organizations.
Kevin Morgenstein Fuerst
Kevin F. Morgenstein Fuerst is the Executive Director of Annual Giving at the University of Vermont Foundation. Kevin is responsible for the multi-channel solicitation strategies to UVM alumni, parents, donors, and students, which includes direct mail, phonathon, texting, email marketing, crowdfunding, and leadership level giving. Kevin holds a B.A. from Colgate University and a M.Ed. from the Harvard University Graduate School of Education.
Paul Muite is the executive director of annual giving at Stony Brook University where he oversees annual programs for the campus, Stony Brook Hospital, and the Long Island State Veterans Home. Prior to Stony Brook, he was the Director for annual giving at Florida International University and Barry University and the Associate Director for Annual Giving at Georgetown University. He began his career in development at UCLA in 2003.
Paul has been a speaker at various conferences throughout his career and led multiple CASE award winning annual giving initiatives. Paul earned his bachelor's degree in political science from UCLA.
Sarishni P. Patel
What started out as a student fundraiser job in the Foundation’s phone center blossomed into a successful, and fulfilling, advancement career. During her tenure at the FSU Foundation, Patel has held roles in donor relations and stewardship, board management, and major gift fundraising.
Patel is a two-time graduate of Florida State University. She received her Bachelor of Arts in Public Relations and a Master of Science in Higher Education with a specialty in Administration & Finance
With a passion for HBCUs, Mr. Shaw has held leadership roles and led numerous successful fundraising campaigns at Florida A&M University, The United Negro College Fund, Inc. (UNCF), and Texas Southern University. Mr. Shaw’s career includes hands-on and strategic-level experience in every component of development and advancement operations, from annual giving and major gift programs to donor engagement and board development. Within each of these, Shaw has demonstrated an extraordinary ability to bring people together in support of higher education.