Familiar Face Heads Alumni Engagement

Familiar Face Heads Alumni Engagement

03/06/2018 

Erin Boylan could easily pass as a SUNY Cortland graduate.

Boylan, promoted to the position of the College’s executive director for alumni engagement Jan. 1, has spent the last 15 years boosting both the College and its 73,279 living alumni for all she’s worth. Few know the campus and alumni community better than she does.

“I absolutely love this college so it’s a pleasure for me to be able to continue my career here,” she said. “I love the alumni and I love how we help them give access to our students through a lot of different educational experiences.”

SUNY Cortland infused her childhood, according to Boylan, the daughter of two graduates, Edward Hotchkin ’72 and Ann Devery Hotchkin ’75 of Cortland.

“I grew up with a P.E. dad who still remembers the names of all the ligaments and all his days of training here at Cortland,” she said.

“I grew up with SUNY Cortland stories.”

One was of a tree in their backyard, named after the late and legendary nationally recognized soccer coach T. Fred “Prof” Holloway, who was their neighbor on McLean Road in Cortlandville.

“As I became an adult I realized the significance of these stories a little bit more,” Boylan said.

A 2001 SUNY Fredonia alumna with her bachelor’s degree in business marketing, she was a Dean’s List student who won the National Collegiate Business Award. She was the Business Club president, a member of the regional champion Students In Free Enterprise team, and a top student fundraising caller for the Fredonia Foundation Phonathon.

Before joining SUNY Cortland, Boylan also spent a semester as an intern at the Rockefeller Arts Center and also interned with Paul Bunyan Products, Inc., of Preble, N.Y.

Since then Boylan has enthusiastically spent her life in the shade of Old Main.

She has moved ably between the College’s Alumni Engagement and Cortland College Foundation offices within the Division of Institutional Advancement for her entire professional career. Employed by the College, she also reports to the SUNY Cortland Alumni Association Board of Directors.

“I look upon myself as a recruiter of alumni much like admissions may recruit students: finding out ways people can contribute,” Boylan said. “We call this the three ‘T’s: time, talent and treasure.”

In 2003, she first arrived on campus to oversee student fundraising callers (Dragon Dialers), in what is now the Professional Studies Building, while conducting annual appeal writing campaigns to alumni and writing general letters on behalf of the Cortland College Foundation.

In 2005, she made the jump from fundraising to alumni engagement within her own division.

“In my core, I’m drawn to the mission of alumni engagement,” Boylan said. “I really believe in the power of people helping other people. In this case, it’s alumni coming together to help our students and our alumni to give them more opportunities. I’ve seen it play out time and time again, whether it’s giving them access to a really interesting career-shadowing opportunity, or a panel of alumni, or an internship or financial contributions. There just is so much power between people who are willing to help others.”

Appointed assistant director of alumni affairs, as the department was then named, she relocated in 2006 with her division to Brockway Hall, and was promoted to associate director in 2008.

Boylan then served the first of several interim manager positions, starting in 2012 as executive director of alumni engagement. In late 2016, Boylan was tapped to fill another key vacancy as interim director of The Cortland Fund, which she fulfilled for six months. Last summer, she once again came forward to oversee alumni engagement temporarily. Boylan was named permanently to the post in early 2018.

She credits Douglas DeRancy ’75, M ’86 for her career in fostering close alumni ties and cultivating future institutional supporters. DeRancy balanced fundraising with “friend-raising” in his role as the executive director of the alumni operation for 26 years until his retirement in 2012. He later served the College as an executive-level fundraiser.

“I’ve always considered Doug my mentor and feel so fortunate I was able to spend so many years learning from him,” Boylan said. “He always kept developing our core of lifelong relationships with our alumni. And he was never afraid to try something new and exciting.”

She now supervises a staff of nine highly trained outreach associates who organize dozens of alumni events on campus and around the country as well as numerous alumni-student networking and mentoring programs aimed at helping recent graduates develop as professionals and secure their dream careers. They also work diligently to recruit young alumni and to increase the diversity of alumni represented on the board and as participants in events and programs.

“I have the best staff in the world,” Boylan said. “I think having Robin Wheeler Baroni and Nabila Khazzaka, who both have a long history here, has been very helpful to my learning here, coupled with young graduates from the College who have such enthusiasm.”

Boylan’s job also involves overseeing the Lynne Parks ’68 SUNY Cortland Alumni House, an historic local mansion that serves as a working bed and breakfast and a key venue for both alumni and community events, notably weddings, alumni reunion gatherings and major College events like Senior Send-off.

“It’s a phenomenal facility that serves as a home for our alumni,” Boylan said. “It’s a nice mix of modern amenities and technologies with just some beautiful historic elements. It’s filled with College memorabilia so it’s really a showcase of our history. And you couldn’t find more dedicated people than the ones who work there now.”

Programming for alumni around the country continues non-stop with her staff working closely with alumni association volunteers to plan and execute dozens of gatherings both on campus and in key cities.

“With our programming, it’s fun to see that evolve and see what gets people interested,” Boylan said. “Our Cortaca Nation has really grown exponentially from what it started as.”

Boylan refers to a multi-location “event” that tops even Alumni Reunion in participation. Her office helps coordinate and bring off the annual Cortaca Jug game viewing parties in a dozen locations across the nation. In 2017, some 2,500 graduates of all ages gathered to watch the “Best Little Football Game in America” with one another.

“I think regardless of what decade you graduated in there is a strong sense of pride at this college,” Boylan said. “People are really proud to be Red Dragons. They are just so willing to support each other and our current students. I think that a lot of it is attached to our history: education, academic excellence and athletics certainly are a source of pride for us. And that teamwork mentality is really prevalent throughout the decades.”

In her early years, communication with alumni took the form of mailed and electronic invitations, phone calls and the print magazine Columns. However, maintaining a connection with alumni becomes more and more complex. In recent years, alumni have communicated with their classmates directly by various Alumni Engagement-linked social media platforms and by updating their “class notes” and other information directly into the office’s multipurpose information management tool, the Red Dragon Network. Once a month, the online newsletter Moments now attracts a more wired, interactive and overall younger group of graduates. Boylan and a highly trained staff must keep up with constant change and plan the best next move.

“That core of who we are hasn’t changed, but definitely the development of our communication has, as technology rolls out,” Boylan said. “We’re doing more with electronic communications, more with social media, with being in someone’s pocket to be able to spread the good news of the College. That’s definitely grown and evolved over the course of time.”

Alumni Engagement reached out to graduates near Parkland, Fla., following the shooting Feb. 14, and last year to alumni affected by hurricanes in Puerto Rico and Houston, Texas, as well as graduates impacted by wildfires in California. Electronic communication makes it easier to contact alumni who might be affected by a crisis or national tragedy in their locality. According to Boylan, that hasn’t changed her office’s mission.

“We have always at our core believed in developing lifelong relationships with alumni,” Boylan explained. “So within that context, we try to respect alumni wherever they are at in their lives. In a lot of ways, we get to celebrate, and that’s really fun and a joy to be a part of. But we also try to do what we can to be there in their time of need. It can be just reaching out letting them know that there is this large group of Red Dragons that always stand behind each other.”

Boylan often hits the road to make alumni events happen.

“It’s really in big waves,” she said. “This month, it’s in New York City and then in Florida. Then I may not travel for a while and it’s more about holding campus events. It really just depends on what’s going on at the time.”

When she and her staff aren’t arranging July’s annual Alumni Reunion, or athletic events, or what she calls “mini-reunions” of special groups, they work on supporting current students in various ways, including career development.

“We have the alumni speaker panels we organize on campus in different disciplines,” Boylan said. “We have a program we’re doing in March called “Doing Business in New York City,” where our students can develop their connections before they look for work. We’ve done this before, but we will have six sites this year.”

Thanks to generous alumni association volunteers, some 90 current students will split up to visit a site of their choice, including Bank of America Merrill Lynch, Foresters Financial Services, Inc., Viacom Media Networks, New York Mets and The Moviri Group. Another 40 or so students will take part in a networking reception that night in New York.

“Any way that we can connect and share the good news about the College and alums,” Boylan observed.

She married Jeremy Boylan 13 years ago and the couple are raising two young children together in Homer, N.Y.

“It’s funny because I went to a sorority meeting about a reunion one time and one of the sisters said, ‘Hey, do you have relatives in the Corning area?’” Boylan said. “I said, ‘My husband does.’ She had actually taught in Corning under Jeremy’s great-grandmother, who was a 1920s Cortland grad, and talked about how she was inspired by her teaching. She actually shared this with me in letters. It was such a neat connection.

“I feel so very blessed to be part of the campus community,” Boylan said. “It does so much for other people and it means so much to me. To be able to continue my career here is truly wonderful.”


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