How UCAA Engaged Alumni During COVID-19

When the COVID-19 pandemic upended the past year’s calendar of events and travel plans, the University of Cincinnati Alumni Association, led by Chief Alumni Officer Jennifer Heisey ’97, found itself with a set of plans and preparations for 2020-21 that had become completely obsolete overnight. But the unprecedented situation also had a silver lining, seeding creativity and innovation that fostered regrowth, and enabling UCAA to re-engineer its work to make it widely accessible while remaining valuable and compelling.

“Being ‘grounded,’ we needed to rapidly adapt to new ways of engaging our alumni, which led to a tremendous expansion of our virtual offerings,” Heisey says. “From the start of our current fiscal year last July through this May, we directly engaged more than 10,000 Bearcats around the world through 300-plus virtual events, reaching many who would not have been involved otherwise because of geography or scheduling. New relationships have developed, new channels have been opened, and lives have been changed for the better.”

Three success stories stand out:

  • Bearcats Connect was launched. The online platform that brings alumni together primarily to help further their career development was already set to debut in 2020; that timing turned out to be especially fortuitous, both for its virtual nature and alumni’s increased need for career-related engagement given COVID’s ripple effects.
  • A groundbreaking UC Alumni Celebration took shape, highlighted by the development of a new downtown mural depicting UCAA’s 19 alumni honorees for 2020-21. The experience led to a total reimagination of how to celebrate UC’s alumni excellence.
  • Planned philanthropic outreach was quickly converted into targeted, time-sensitive requests to assist struggling students and frontline workers whose lives had been disrupted almost in the blink of an eye.

Heisey found the response to requests for emergency donations especially moving. “Bearcats are empathetic, generous and committed to doing what they can to make a tough situation better and take care of their own,” she says. “I wasn’t surprised; crises tend to reveal character.”

As UC and much of the world evolve toward normalcy, UCAA will remain transformed.

“We’ll likely see a mix in the way we stage and deliver our engagement activities,” Heisey says. “We had dabbled in some virtual offerings prior to COVID, then went fully in that direction out of necessity. At the same time, we are social creatures who thrive on personal interaction. We’ll go forward recognizing that we have the mandate and the ability to do both of these things well. We look forward to resuming in-person activities by this fall as allowed by the guidelines set forth by the university, employing all necessary precautions to ensure the well-being of our constituents.”

The pandemic experience has made Heisey even more grateful for the privilege of serving UC and for the staff and volunteer leaders who answered the call during extraordinary times. “I think we have all seen a demonstration of the truth and wisdom in our university motto,” Heisey says. “Juncta Juvant — ‘Strength in Unity.’”

The UC Alumni Association exists to serve the University of Cincinnati and its 327,000+ alumni across the United States and throughout the world. Learn more about how to stay connected with your alma mater and get involved in more than 50 college-, interest- and location-based alumni networks

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