Western Michigan University’s new Vice President of Development and Alumni Relations, began her work with the department last week on Jan. 2 when the University reopened following the winter break.
Kristen DeVries, who previously worked as the vice president for university advancement at Lawrence Technological University, will be filling the shoes of Renee Pearl, WMU’s director of engagement. Pearl served as the interim vice president after Tim Terrentine's resignation following a sexual harassment investigation.
“Our number one priority is to work with generous individuals. We help them to understand how their generosity can make an impact in the experience of students,” DeVries said of her responsibilities as the new vice president.
To that end, DeVries said that her immediate priority was to continue to learn about and understand Western’s community. “What I’ll be doing first is trying to understand Western, why students love it, why faculty members stick around and continue to invest their time and work into Western as an institution,” she said.
DeVries hopes that this insight will help her in launching WMU’s next major fundraising campaign. “It’s run very much like the political campaigns you’d see last year,” she said, describing the methods used to attract donors. She then went on to discuss how such fundraising efforts are important to the student body. “With fundraising not everything has to come out of student’s tuition. Whether it’s new lab equipment or facilities, these kinds of things can be a huge improvement in a student’s experience.”
It’s this betterment of service that attracted DeVries to a career in fundraising. “I’m not smart enough to cure cancer, and I’m not compassionate enough to treat someone with cancer, but what I do have is the ability to talk to people. I can talk to someone and show them how cutting a check can help with those things.” Her job isn’t exclusively about money though, DeVries said that the position also involves creating experiences that bring both WMU alumni and current students together.
“We want to keep Western a part of people’s lives even after they graduate,” DeVries said. “Alumni love networking – getting to know other alumni and current students.” Under DeVries, the department will be hosting a tour of various breweries owned by WMU alumni this November. “The idea is to encourage and enable alumni to help develop each other’s careers,” DeVries said.
Alumni relations also provides concierge services to WMU alumni. “A lot of what we do is helping to connect graduates with people and organizations that were important to them as students. For example, we might work to get them in contact with a favorite professor,” DeVries explained.
To help with the workload, more than 70 students currently work as ambassadors. “We have students who write every donor a thank you note. Before I started I made a gift and I got a thank you note from Grace, so before I even started I knew one of our students,” DeVries said.
Finally, DeVries talked about the relevance of alumni relations to current students.
“It’s about asking generous people to help make the experience here as beneficial to you as possible while fostering a community of alumni that can help you both as a student and in your life after,” she said.