Just as it did the rest of the world, the COVID-19 pandemic forced the Texas Wesleyan Office of Alumni Relations to rethink its way of doing business. For an office whose sole purpose is to connect with TXWES alumni primarily through in-person events, the shutdown of society provided a major challenge. Plans that were already well in motion for the Alumni Reunion Weekend in the spring of 2020 were quickly canceled and fingers were crossed for only a brief hiatus. As the shutdowns persisted, the alumni office worked hard to stay in touch with alumni by sending relevant information such as mental health tips, home workouts and spotlights to help support alumni-owned businesses. But even the most well-planned email campaign can’t replace live, personal connection. The alumni office began to explore virtual events and how alumni could log on from home and stay connected to the university.
With the rise of platforms like Zoom, it was becoming easier to find ways to meet and gather virtually. Early events were done “webinar” style, where participants could watch a live presentation while interacting through the comments function. Several events have featured in-depth looks at departments and programs throughout TXWES. The permanent art collection, the theatre and music departments, as well as the university archives, have all been featured. These events allowed faculty and students to share their experiences at TXWES and highlight the unique and positive things that are happening on campus. In addition to alumni, parents, students and even prospective students joined these informative sessions.
More interactive events such as bingo nights and advice panels for recent graduates proved successful as well. The alumni office began to see that these virtual events were not just a stopgap, but that the unique format allowed a broad range of program options, and most importantly, alumni from across the globe were able to be more involved with their alma mater. The virtual programming culminated in the Alumni Reunion of 2021, a week that included 13 virtual event opportunities for alumni. From yoga to informational sessions to happy hours, there was truly something for everyone. Alumni from as far away as Geneva were a part of this unique reunion experience.
As the world has slowly returned to face-to-face interactions, alumni events have followed suit. But one thing is certain, virtual events are here to stay. The challenge presented by the pandemic has opened up a world of new possibilities for bringing alumni together — which is, after all, what alumni relations is all about.