Good as Grand Gold

Thirteen Circle of Excellence Award winners presented bold, innovative work that rose to the top of the submissions and earned the Grand Gold designation

By Caitlin Lukacs

Good as Grand Gold



From questioning established beliefs and collaborating with local businesses and communities to leveraging natural planetary wonders and highlighting life-saving medical procedures, the 2018 Circle of Excellence Award winners exemplify best practices in advancement services, alumni relations, communications, fundraising, and marketing.

This year, 676 higher education institutions, independent schools, and affiliated organizations from around the world submitted their best products, programs, events, and campaigns to be judged by volunteer panels comprising professionals both inside and outside of education. From 3,204 entries, the judges awarded more than 190 institutions in 11 countries nearly 350 Grand Gold, gold, silver, bronze, and platinum prizes. The 13 Grand Gold winners are profiled here. A complete list of award recipients is available at the 2018 CASE Circle of Excellence page.

Public Relations and Community Relations Projects

2018 COE - Medical University of South Carolina

Medical University of South Carolina

Changing What's Possible: Harper's Story

"Harper's Story," a microsite within the Medical University of South Carolina's giving website, chronicles the story of a couple who came to MUSC when their unborn daughter was diagnosed with the most severe form of spina bifida. Featuring video and text components, the project narrates the story, in real time, as Harper is delivered and her spine is repaired.

Judges: "What sets this entry above the rest was the way the Medical University of South Carolina told the story, which connected completely with the institution's mission. ... The result provided supporters and the public a clear picture of the life-saving medical work being done at the institution."

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In-House Print Publications

2018 COE - Aalto University

Aalto University (Finland)


Aalto University boasts one of the most prestigious fashion programs in the world, as evidenced by its invitation, as a guest nation, to Italy's Pitti Uomo—a biannual trade show drawing retailers, editors, and fashion enthusiasts. To show off the students' work at the marquee international event, the university created Aito, a publication highlighting both the fashion design program and the work of it's alumni and students.

Judges: "We loved this piece! It has an industry insider feel; it's raw and authentic. The copy is edgy (more so than typically expected from a college communications piece), and Aalto University truly let the students speak."

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Design, Multipage Publications

2018 COE - Wake Forest University

Wake Forest University (North Carolina)

Forestry 101

Designed to walk new students through everything they need to know and do before the academic year starts, Wake Forest University's welcome guide, Forestry 101, provides incoming students with an early sense of their new home in a way that helps take the edge off such a big transition. The guide starts with: "You've arrived. Slap on that bumper sticker. Wear the T-shirt. Lose yourself in school spirit. You might not know them yet, but you're among friends."

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Design, Specialty Pieces

Johns Hopkins University Celebration Props

Johns Hopkins University (Maryland)

Johns Hopkins University Celebration Props

Johns Hopkins University is academically rigorous, but it's a fun place, too. The Office of Undergraduate Admissions wanted to reach out to students with something different, so the staff supplemented the traditional mailed acceptance package with a set of interactive props, including bow ties, beards, and signs reading "I'm going to Hopkins!" Students were encouraged to customize, wear, and share the props through social media.

Judges: This was an "out-of-the-box idea" with examples of how to use it. "The design is really genius to get all those pieces in the space with the folds ... and everything not overlapping on one another."

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Advertising Campaigns

University of Sydney (Australia)

How Unlearning Helped the University of Sydney Launch its New Undergraduate Education Model

As part of its new undergraduate education model, the University of Sydney developed a campaign targeting prospective students and focusing on the idea of "unlearning" by challenging the established and questioning the accepted. The campaign ran across online, print, and in-person platforms. The "Sydney Undergraduate Experience," which was unveiled as part of the campaign, is the first major curriculum change in a generation and centers on giving students the skills to question established beliefs and think critically to foster positive change in the world.

Judges: "They went beyond the school and did a campaign that was bigger and reshaped the way we think about learning. It challenged the status quo and consistently did so throughout all marketing pieces." 

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Case Statements and General Cultivation Publications

2018 COE - University of Minnesota

University of Minnesota

"Driven" Campaign Case Brochure

When the University of Minnesota launched its $4 billion comprehensive fundraising campaign, "Driven," it needed a case statement that conveyed the breadth and tone of the project. The brochure includes messages from campaign chairs and the university president; campaign data; descriptions of the five fundraising priorities; and a spread showcasing answers to the question "What drives you?" from researchers, faculty, and students.

Judges: "A clear standout, this piece included all the components that make a case statement successful—compelling images, insightful copy, and content that provided prospects and donors the information they need."

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President’s Reports and Annual Reports (Print)

COE 2018 - Weber State University

Weber State University (Utah)

Dreams Happen Here: Weber State University 2016-17 Annual Report

While Weber State University creates an annual report each year, 2016-17's Dreams Happen Here was special in that it focused on one concept at the university's core: opportunity. With stories about engaging faculty and staff, spotlights on hardworking students, highlights of partnerships that benefit the community, and features on campus upgrades and athletic successes, this annual report showcases everything that is important to Weber State University as an institution. 

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Special Events, Multiday

COE 2018 - Southern Illinois University Carbondale

Southern Illinois University Carbondale

SIU Carbondale, The Eclipse Crossroads of America

Carbondale, Illinois, was just north of the point of longest duration for the total solar eclipse on August 21, 2017. Southern Illinois University Carbondale took advantage of its proximity to this celestial occurrence by hosting several events on campus, including a science and technology expo, a comic con with gaming competitions and panel discussions, a live broadcast of Planetary Radio airing on PBS stations, and a range of activities at Saluki Stadium, culminating in a viewing of the eclipse.

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Recruitment Videos, Short Videos

Renbrook School (Connecticut)

What if Your Child's School Day Looked Like This?

When the Renbrook School set out to create a recruitment video, the staff wanted to capture the daily life of students, showcase classroom spaces and the outdoor campus, and highlight the curriculum. Not only does the video serve as a visual introduction to Renbrook for prospective parents and their children, but it also encourages alumni giving.

Judges: "The Renbrook School created a recruitment video that is everything a recruitment video should be. ... Hearing from students who enrolled at Renbrook in varying years underscores the warm, welcoming community that is evidenced by the students' words and bright smiles."

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Design, Invitations

University of Michigan - Co-Investors in the Future,  “Victors for Michigan” Campaign Reception Invitation

University of Michigan

Co-Investors in the Future, "Victors for Michigan" Campaign Reception Invitation

To celebrate the University of Michigan's bicentennial, the university created an invitation set for three exclusive "Victors for Michigan" campaign receptions across the United States. Reception guests included some of UM's most committed volunteers as well as UM President Mark Schlissel, who invited guests to join in the conversation to explore collaborative opportunities between the university, communities, and business.

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Special Events, Single Day

COE - Clemson University

Clemson University (South Carolina)

Eclipse Over Clemson

Clemson University was almost dead center within the path of totality for the solar eclipse on August 21, 2017. Because of its location, the university hosted 50,000 people to view the eclipse and hear a diverse lineup of speakers, including Clemson President James P. Clements, astronomy and physics professors and lecturers, and eclipse chasers.

Judges: "Wow! We were so impressed with every detail of this mega-event. They brought together the university community and the surrounding area. They made it easy and fun for people to participate."

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Special Issues

COE 2018 - Marquette University

Marquette University (Wisconsin)

100 Years of Hoopla, Marquette Magazine Commemorative Edition

After the Marquette University men's basketball team finished among the top 25 teams in the nation in average attendance--the only non-football institution to do so--for the 16th-straight year, the university created a commemorative edition of Marquette Magazine to celebrate "100 Years of Hoopla." The Golden Eagles have drawn more than 6 million fans since the 1988-89 season.

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Robert Sibley Magazine of the Year

COE 2018 - Harvard Business School

Harvard Business School (Massachusetts)

HBS Alumni Bulletin

According to judges, Harvard Business School's HBS Alumni Bulletin goes above and beyond a typical alumni magazine in all areas, including writing, design, photography and illustration, and overall pacing and navigation. Packed with service journalism, the HBS Alumni Bulletin also features two elements that caught the judges' eyes: a table of contents blurb called "7 Things You'll Learn in This Issue" and a "3-Minute Briefing" alumni profile.

Judges: "If you want to see the best an alumni magazine can do, take a look at this one."

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Thank You, 2018 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 2019 host coordinator? Contact the awards department.