Photo Courtesy of Sheraton Erie Bayfront
On Sept. 9, 21 and 30, Allegheny College President Hilary Link will be visiting Erie, Buffalo and Cleveland, respectively. According to the Allegheny College website, the events are a chance for alumni, parents and friends of the college to, “socialize and learn more about President Hilary L. Link’s strategic vision for the College.”
Matthew Stinson, vice president for institutional advancement, said that the events were designed to reintroduce Link to the greater Allegheny Community.
“The world has, quite frankly, changed since she’s become the president,” Stinson said. “She’s announced her strategic priorities, her initiatives, and alumni are interested in learning what those are about.”
Link’s previous introduction as President was cut short by the COVID-19 pandemic, which arrived in March of 2020: less than a year into Link’s term. Stinson noted that internally the events are called “Meet the President 2.0,” in reference to the restarted required in the first year of Link’s administration.
The pandemic still weighed heavily on the events’ planners, and a key part of setting up the events is near-constant consultation with the Allegheny College Health Agency.
“We’re in a really helpful place to have people who are guiding these events,” said Ellen Johnson, vice president for enrollment management. “They’re working with us really closely on any events that are happening on or off campus to ensure that we’re following every protocol and keeping people as safe as possible in this time.”
Stinson, whose schedule of alumni events has already begun, has been tested so many times he’s lost count. Johnson said that this is all part of the larger effort to preserve alumni events and protect the campus.
“The whole campus community will be getting tested at least every two weeks, and those that are traveling out-of-state will be getting tested upon returning as well,” Johnson said. “(We’re) not just following general protocols, but enhancing that testing for people who are traveling off-campus or out-of-state for these types of events or other recruitment or alumni travel.”
Restrictions for the events themselves are still unconfirmed, with Stinson citing the fluidity of COVID-19 conditions in all three counties that Link will be heading to. Erie County in Pennsylvania, where Link will be visiting Sept. 9, recently mandated masks for all students and staff at all schools, overriding individual schools’ decisions on masking.
“Each event, as we get closer to the event, we will check in with the local regulations again, and part of our last-minute communication with attendees will be to give them that up-to-date information,” Stinson said.
Institutional Advancement specifically chose not to include any COVID-19 protocols for the event in their invites.
“It is very typical for alumni events to have a last-minute email with details about the event, and in that email we will be sharing the protocols that, A: adhere to our ACHA guidelines, but B: also to the local guidelines,” Stinson said.
The college also deliberately booked larger spaces than they would need for all three events. For example, the Erie event will be held in the Harlequin Ballroom of the Sheraton Erie Bayfront Hotel, a space with a maximum capacity of almost 350 guests in a reception setting. As of Monday, only 34 guests had publicly RSVP’d for the Erie event (guests have an option when RSVPing to keep their reservation private).
At these three events, Stinson expects less than 100 attendees each, and possibly less than 50 attendees in some cases. He also said the college intentionally chose not to travel to larger markets like Boston, New York or Washington D.C. this fall.
“The more local we can do (these events), the safer it is,” Stinson said.
The largest local market is undoubtedly Pittsburgh, a strong enclave of Allegheny alumni and the second-largest city in Pennsylvania by population.
“We haven’t finalized the date or the location for that, but we have made it clear to the folks on my team who are planning that it has to be an outdoors event because Pittsburgh has historically always drawn a lot of alumni,” Stinson said.
Virtual events were also raised as a possible alternative to in-person events, and Stinson said that the college would continue to use virtual spaces even once the COVID-19 pandemic was no longer a factor in event planning.
“(Virtual events) allow our alumni from all over the country to participate in things they wouldn’t normally otherwise,” Stinson said. “You’ll see a blend of on-campus and virtual events continue from Institutional Advancement this year.”
Stinson also said that most development and alumni relation teams at other schools are also planning similar programming.
“Every single peer that I’ve talked to is also doing the same, so what we’re doing is not unique,” Stinson said. “It’s based on facts.”