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A busy mind

Susan Mitchell Jackson

Susan Mitchell Jackson,
executive director
of advancement,
communications and
alumni relations

Photo by Steven Doll

Whether she’s overseeing fundraising initiatives, brand management, publications, or — as of recently — alumni activities, Jackson is constantly considering how her office can best serve the college. Usually, she’s the one coming up with the questions. Now she answers ours.

This month BDRO is taking a “behind-the-scenes look” at Susan Mitchell Jackson, who wears many hats in her ever-expanding work in communications, development and now alumni. It’s just as likely to find Jackson, executive director of advancement, communications and alumni relations, bounding off to a meeting or off-campus evening function as it is to see her tucked away in her fifth-floor office, strategizing on a fundraising initiative or faculty recognition project.

When the opportunity arose to integrate alumni activities with the existing advancement office, Jackson responded with her typical can-do attitude and careful discernment. In addition to alumni relations, her office is responsible for the college’s media relations, fundraising management, web services, social media, marketing/brand management, governmental affairs/community relations, special events, internal communications and publications.

Now, this longtime TAMHSC-BCD staff member takes a step out from behind the scenes to discuss what drew her to a career in higher education communications/advancement — a field she’s been in since she was fresh out of college — and what’s kept her here.

BDRO: Susan, you’ve been in higher education for more than 25 years now, with two-thirds of that time spent right here at TAMHSC-BCD. What intrigued you about working in higher education advancement, and why have you stayed in this field?

Jackson: I grew up with a large extended family full of educators, who considered education — at all levels — a privilege not to be taken lightly. My grandparents, despite their meager means, made sending their children to college a priority because they believed higher education was the gateway to limitless opportunities. I’m a believer, too.

As I was completing my undergraduate degree at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, I interned on campus and solicited alumni to become members of the university’s Memorial Union. I guess that’s where it all began. Soon after I graduated I began working in the public relations office of the college where my mom taught nursing. I thoroughly enjoyed the environment and the work we did to promote the college and its faculty and programs, with the goal of encouraging young people and lifelong learners to launch the pursuit of their dreams through higher education. I’ve spent my entire career promoting this field. Higher education is such a rewarding product to peddle. I absolutely love what I do.

BDRO: Why have you stayed at TAMHSC-BCD?

Jackson: As many other ‘longtimers’ can attest, with all of the changes that have occurred at the college during the last two decades, we didn’t need to leave the institution to find new challenges or additional responsibilities. They’ve come to us. When I joined the college my current office was called the “Alumni Office,” although Carolyn Cox and I were primarily responsible for public relations. Over the years, our office’s responsibilities have been expanded, restructured and then re-restructured. We’ve been centralized, decentralized and “semi-centralized.” With so many years in the field, I’ve developed this great cadre of seasoned advancement colleagues from across the nation who have served as invaluable resources for “best practices” as the changes have come.

Bottom line: I have a great job, and I work in an office with amazing people who are kind-hearted, smart, highly capable and committed to advancing the college’s mission.

BDRO: It seems that alumni relations should fit in well with your office’s current activities. What changes can alumni expect as a result of the administrative reorganization into the newly formed Office of Advancement, Communications & Alumni Relations?

Jackson: I don’t anticipate making a lot of immediate changes. We are acquiring an area that has thrived under Dr. Charles Arcoria’s management and Janea Woosley’s coordination. Lori Dees — stewardship and alumni relations manager — and I will lead the alumni relations activities, and we’re blessed to have the support and assistance of the college’s communications staff. Alums can expect to see and hear from us often. Our dean, Dr. Larry Wolinsky, is excited about getting out and about and meeting our alums and welcoming them “back home to TAMHSC-BCD.” 

As we work through the transition during the next few months, we will be asking our alums and current students how we can better serve them to ensure we are providing useful information and services. We will continue working closely with continuing education and partner with the office’s new director, Dr. Amerian Sones, to provide some unique alumni/professional development events and programs. And we’ll rely on our faculty, staff and students to help encourage reluctant alums to reconnect. The possibilities seem endless.

BDRO: What keeps you up at night?

Jackson: I guess you mean besides my two little girls and, occasionally, our dog, Sam? Actually, I am a night owl and an early morning runner, so my mind is always racing. I’d say I spend a lot of time thinking about how we can effectively reach our constituents. What do the students (our future alumni) and current alumni want? How do we keep current donors engaged and attract new ones? How about our faculty and staff? How can we provide them with better customer service? What about our current and prospective patients? What messages should we be sending them? How can I get our dean before as many of our constituents as possible so that he can tell our story and so that he can hear their perspectives? Obviously, I don’t sleep much.