Global U: Spotlight on Learning, Discovery, and Engagement

Q & A: Audra Gerlach, Director of International Alumni and Travel

Audra GerlachAudra Gerlach became the Director of International Alumni and Travel for the University of Minnesota Alumni Association (UMAA) in June. After working in international recruitment for eight years (three while at the University of Minnesota and five at Lamar University in Texas), Audra has now transitioned to working with international alumni in her new job with the University of Minnesota Alumni Association. We recently sat down with her to talk about this new position and how it relates to her earlier work in recruitment.

What is your position with UMAA?

I spend half of my time working with international alumni and half of my time working with the Alumni Travel program. When I started in this position, they added the alumni relations piece to a part-time position that had been dedicated to the travel program.

Why was this position created?

There has long been a desire on campus for a more centralized effort for engaging with international alumni—to learn where they are, what they are doing, and how we can support them. This isn’t something that just one position (or in my case, half of a position) can handle fully, so I am working with departments and staff throughout the University to coordinate a campus-wide effort.

What are goals for your first year and some things you’ve already done?

I see this first year as more of a research year, and reaching out to the whole campus. I've been meeting with each college’s Alumni Relations staff and others who touch international alumni. I want to understand what has worked for different departments and other universities in the past and what we can do better to serve our international alumni. And, we have a series of focus groups planned for October where we’ll ask alumni and soon-to-be alumni how they’d like to be connected with the University and each other. I’ve also been reaching out to many of the International Alumni Chapters that were formed long ago to see which are still actively meeting and to offer resources to them. And, I’ve helped to connect alumni interested in starting new chapters in France, Singapore, and Ecuador to bring the total to 16 current international Alumni Chapters.

How is working with international alumni similar to working in recruitment?

Whether it is explaining to alumni the benefits of remaining connected to the University after graduation, or talking to an amazing international student about why they should attend our university, it is about outreach and spreading the word about the benefits of being connected to the U. I was always impressed and humbled by the quality of students we would meet when doing recruitment overseas. They are just amazing, and I’d get excited for all they would do as a student here, and what they’d do once they graduated. So now I’m excited to hear the stories of the accomplishments and accolades of our international alumni.

You said this position also coordinates UMAA’s Alumni Travel Program. What are some the aspects of that?

Audra Gerlach with a group of alumniThe Alumni Travel Program gives alumni the opportunity to travel the world while feeling the camaraderie of being with a group of fellow Gophers. We offer more than 70 events annually to destinations across the globe, and we partner with travel vendors who specialize in arranging a variety of travel options for alumni associations.

Do you hope to engage with international alumni as part of the travel program?

Whenever possible, alumni travelers or myself will meet with local alumni while on trips. For example, I just hosted my first trip for the Travel Program, which was a cruise on the Baltic Sea. During the trip, I had the opportunity to meet up with an alumna at one of the ports who now works in Berlin. I will also invite local alumni to our events, when possible. During an upcoming alumni trip to Vietnam with President and Mrs. Kaler, we will invite alumni living in Vietnam to join us for dinner in Ho Chi Minh City and Hanoi. It will be a great opportunity for the University to engage with the alumni living in Vietnam and for the alumni travelers living in the U.S. to meet with some fellow Gophers who are Vietnamese. This type of interaction is a great enrichment opportunity for the U.S. alumni travelers and a wonderful chance for the Vietnamese alumni to share their beautiful country and culture.

What can people do to help in this effort?

For alumni living internationally, the most important thing to do is to update their contact information, so we can tell them about local events and other news. Even if we have the correct email address, we can't tell what city or country they currently live in unless we have a mailing address. We also have an International Alumni LinkedIn group that they can join, and if someone would like to start a local Alumni Chapter, they can contact me. Alumni can also visit our website or request a brochure to learn about the Travel Program.

And as a last question, what was one of the strangest things that happened to you on a recruitment trip?

[Laughs] There are a lot of crazy stories! One time there was a flash flood while I was walking to a presentation at an Education USA Center in Brazil with some other recruiters. We had to climb a wall to escape the water rushing down the street. We decided we couldn't go around the water, so we had to go through it. Some of us took off our shoes so we wouldn't lose them while forging our way across the street to the building where our presentation was. Out of the four university representatives, none of us arrived looking even remotely professional, but we delivered our presentations to the students (who had also braved the storm!)...albeit barefoot and dripping wet.

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