Leaders of the RISD Alumni Club of Boston work as a team to engage alumni throughout the greater Boston area and beyond.
Finding creative ways to engage alumni is a gratifying labor of love for Becky Fong 05 GD, Sarah Guerin BArch 99, Mindy Home 99 IL and Diana Wagner MID 14. They have become close friends and work together in a dynamic, nonhierarchical way that plays to each of their strengths.
Fong helped lead four other RISD alumni clubs before Boston and works as creative director for a design-build manufacturer of recognition objects and installations. “We think about why someone would want to give their time or energy to attend one of our events. It should be worth their while. Because we have such a large and active club, we hope we inspire other clubs to do events based on ones that were successful for us,” she says. “Listening is key. If nobody is asking for a beer night, we won’t do a beer night. By varying our offerings, we draw in new people.”
“Greater Boston has lots of alumni all over the area,” says Wagner who works in biologically inspired engineering. We can’t just have events in downtown Boston. We try to host programs in different parts of the region. Our events run the gamut from the very popular hands-on making events to volunteer service like helping the National Braille Press assemble books for blind children. We develop the concept and think about how to make it appealing, but the Office of Alumni + Family Relations does the administration, which is a big help.”
As a founder of an event-planning company, Home likes to get into the strategy and details. “We brainstorm together, thinking about who we want to reach and where. This allows us to plan into the future and consider different types of programs like studio tours and networking events,” she says. “Once COVID hit, we began offering virtual tours of studios, something we had already been considering. We’ve found we are drawing new people with the virtual events—some who might not come to something in person, but are still looking for a RISD connection.”
Artist and western boot maker Guerin advocates for events that are experiences. “People are desperate to touch things and be hands-on and in person. We are planning hybrid events with part of the audience joining online and others in person to help meet that demand. Alumni loved our remote art exchange, where we sent each other works of art in the mail. We try to offer events that fall into four categories: making, social, service and learning experiences. We are all enriched by keeping alumni connections alive.”
These connections have a special resonance for Guerin and Wagner. The Massachusetts Cultural Council recently awarded them with a Traditional Arts Apprenticeship for Wagner to study boot making with Guerin. Training and the transfer of knowledge are core, but they are weaving together the heritage of western boots and the rich history of footwear of Massachusetts by re-creating a pair of boots based on a pair in a historical collection.