New Director Denise Callahan Encourages the FSAA

When Denise Callahan joined The Ford Family Foundation as Director of Scholarship Programs in late November, she knew she could easily handle one aspect of her job description – the Ford Scholar Alumni Association.

That’s an area where she’s had a lot of experience, Denise said during an open house in her honor at the Scholarship Office in Eugene on Nov. 28.

Before coming to the Foundation, Denise was the Senior Director of Alumni and Parent Relations for Willamette University in Salem, where she was responsible for leading, managing, and directing the Office of Alumni and Parent Relations in encouraging the continued involvement and engagement of alumni with the university.  She also had oversight of the University’s alumni magazine, The Scene, and was responsible for the marketing and branding of the development and alumni relations division at Willamette.

“The challenges that befall alumni associations are the same,” Denise said. “The younger alumni are the hardest group to engage because they are smack in the middle of their busy lives with careers, families and other commitments… You have to be creative in figuring out ways to keep the connection strong without being disruptive.”

The FSAA began forming 10 years ago, and Denise said you often see it in alumni associations – every decade or so in the growth cycle, there’s a need to look closely at the structure and direction of the organization.

While Denise thinks the FSAA has done a wonderful job of getting the organization going, she offers a few suggestions.

Focus, she said, is key. “Where are we in our growth cycle? What are we hoping to achieve?” The FSAA must look to the next 10 years and ask where it wants to be.

“What are the benefits that you provide to your members?” Denise said, “You have an amazing network of people who have the same values. How do we leverage that?”

She recommends starting small. For example, invite alumni to post internship or job openings on the FSAA Facebook site. If your company has an opening, Denise said, you want to hire someone who is a strong leader, who has integrity – someone like a Ford Scholar.

Busy alumni who still want to contribute to the betterment of the association might also be able to review resumes of new graduating Scholars and offer interviewing advice.

She also noted that the Scholarship Office is beginning to involve alumni in the selection of new Scholars as well, providing a great mode of engagement and a succession strategy for the reviewers and interviewers.

“You have to start small with something that doesn’t take a lot of resources,” Denise said of getting more alumni involved in the FSAA.

Denise also recommended having a more comprehensive communication plan, and she was glad to see that the FSAA Facebook Group has a lot of traffic.

Denise has been pleased with her first three months as director of the Scholarship Programs. “It’s pretty much the best job ever,” she said, adding that she has felt welcomed and supported by those she works with at the Eugene Scholarship Office, the Foundation staff, Scholars and alumni.

Her new city is growing on her, too. “I love the energy that Eugene has!” Denise and her husband, John, moved to their home in Eugene, with their two cats, at the end of December. John retains his job as Director of Infrastructure Services at Willamette University, a position he has held for 20 years. Although he commutes to Salem, he is able to work from home a few days a week.

“John is the IT guy. I’m the sports nut,” Denise said, adding that she is excited to be in a town with an NCAA team. They have already attended two Duck men’s basketball games, checked out Spencer’s Butte and taken in a show at the Hult Center.

Denise, who turned 40 just after joining the Foundation, grew up in Baker City in Eastern Oregon and played basketball, volleyball and tennis for Baker High School, where she graduated in 1991. She earned bachelor degrees in English and Spanish in 1995 and a Master of Business Administration focused in organizational efficiency and design from Willamette University in 2000.

Denise looks forward to the selection process when about 250 new scholarship recipients are chosen for the four core scholarship programs.

She also looks forward to volunteering within the community, and although she has joined a local gym, she anticipates more time spent exploring the hiking and biking paths that Eugene offers.