The Colgate Scene
March 2006

A working board

Cindy Dietzel '84
[Photos by Timothy D. Sofranko]

You may have heard these terms: alumni board, alumni directors, ACBOD. But just what is the Alumni Corporation Board of Directors? This group of 55 alumni serves in an advisory role to the university on a variety of Colgate issues of interest to alumni, oversees initiatives that cultivate alumni connectedness to Colgate, and promotes the general welfare of the university. The Scene recently discussed this important group with four former members and RuthAnn Loveless, secretary to the board and VP for alumni affairs.

Cindy Dietzel '84, health insurance consultant: Alumni board 2000-2004 (Admission and Student Aid Committee chair); class gift committee, Presidents' Club membership committee, admission volunteer, Real World

Phil Foussard '82, business owner/president: Alumni board 1997-2001 (Awards Committee chair) and 2001-2005 (treasurer); class gift committee, Real World, admission volunteer, reunion gift co-chair, Campaign for Colgate regional committee

Gordon Miller '56, strategic planner/consultant: Alumni board 2001-2005 (University Relations Committee chair); 50th Reunion gift chair; class gift, Annual Fund executive, and planned giving committees; Presidents' Club membership chair, Real World, career adviser

Regina Regazzi '92, executive recruiter: Alumni board 1998-2002 (asynchronous learning project coordinator); class gift committee, reunion gift, and Annual Fund executive committees; career adviser, Real World

For more about the board and the 2006 slate of board nominees, see the ballot.

Why did you decide to dedicate four years to the board?

Phil Foussard: It's a bait and switch. They say it's only four years and then you find you're still being asked to do things. . . [laughter]

Cindy Dietzel: At the bottom of it all, I love Colgate. It was an opportunity to learn more, and to get really connected.

Gordon Miller: I had reached a point in my life where I wasn't going to do anything unless I could make a difference. Because I love Colgate, I wanted to make sure that different voices were heard around the table.

Regina Regazzi: When I was asked, I had just won the Ann Yao Young Alumni Award. I said to myself, I won the service award, now I've got to keep giving back!

Describe your alumni board experience.

Phil: The first meeting you are trying to figure out, what am I doing here? In short order you are totally comfortable and absorbed. It is a consultative body that can have a great deal of impact. People are not always in concurrence, but everybody is trying to rise above their personal feelings and look at the bigger picture.

Gordon: This is a working board. We do not sit around and do show and tell. It's, what can we do as alumni to make things better?

Regina: I tended to focus my activities with the students. I also worked on Professor Karen Harpp's Advent of the Atomic Bomb asynchronous learning class. Alumni were interacting with students and faculty, and then we were able to tell the board about it, so we were tying a lot of different pieces together.

Name a significant change during your time.

Phil: I saw a shift in our role. The board has become more of an advisory group to the senior leadership of the school. Instead of talking to the board, the university began soliciting feedback. Nobody is kidding themselves; this is not a policy-making group, but as we interacted more with the president and the trustees, Colgate was getting real feedback on issues both positive and negative.

Cindy: That was very noticeable during the development of the strategic plan. Rebecca Chopp [and the planning committee] held conversations with groups of board members about our vision for Colgate. I really felt part of that process.

RuthAnn: The board is now in great demand on this campus. I can't tell you how many phone calls I get, from the dean of the college office or student groups, asking for a way for students to be connected with these alumni.

Regina: I see younger people having more influence on the board, and that is heartening, because when I first started, younger people did not have the leadership positions.

Phil Foussard '82

How did board membership change your relationship with Colgate?

Cindy: I had four good years as a student, but the board is where I really grew into Colgate. I didn't realize how much I got out of it until I served.

Regina: I became the person that people went to if they had a question when changes were announced. The first time it happened, I said, okay, I just got this e-mail in my box. How long will it take before someone calls me? Seventeen seconds.

Phil: Therein lies probably one of the largest values of the board. In a world where information -- good and bad -- can be spread so quickly, you have 55 current members and many recent members out in the broader community who are able to clarify issues. You are probably going to have every possible opinion represented, but in a context that is informed.

Gordon Miller '56

Gordon, you served on the nominations committee. What makes someone a good candidate?

Gordon: We look at four criteria: varied involvement with Colgate over time; personal and professional accomplishments and service; willingness to become more involved with Colgate; and a consistent giving record, according to one's means, of course. The criteria help to bring very different viewpoints to the board. We go from several hundred profiles down to just a few, and the debates are strong. There is no favorite rubber-stamp candidate.

RuthAnn: The bylaws also ensure that the board reflects the makeup of our alumni body in terms of age and geography.

Cindy: That was a surprise for me. I was concerned that I was walking into a homogeneous group and that I would stick out like a sore thumb, because I tend to take the branch as opposed to the trunk. I soon realized this was a group of people with different viewpoints who really talk about things.

What has been most fulfilling?

Gordon: By far, the level of learning. And having a president who is a constant inspiration taught me a couple of things. One, I would never be the president of the university [laughter]. I train corporate leaders, and this is a model for effective leadership.

Cindy: It knocked a chip off my shoulder. Coming in, I thought, I'm going to show them how they really should think. Now I'm much better at seeing issues, and not just Colgate issues, from a broad perspective.

Phil: We've been involved in an era when the school has started to distinguish itself. It has always been distinguished, but I'm out in the mid-West, and I can articulate much more clearly now what makes this place so special. Also, the friendships that you walk away with are lasting and invaluable.

Regina: Helping kids get jobs, and then having them turn around and give back. They are the first people I call now, and boy, they answer yes quite quickly. Being on this board also helped me figure out what I am good at, which helped me figure out a career that would be fulfilling for me.

Phil: You can interact with students on so many different levels. That has become a core theme for the alumni board, because there is great value going both ways.

Cindy: And the interactions continue. Joanne Spigner '76 and I used to get together for dinner with a student we met who took a job close to where I live, just to check in and let her know that there is this support. I have friends now that I would never have had the opportunity to become close to. It's absolutely phenomenal.

Gordon: The insight you get from mock interviews with kids, what's going on at Colgate, what kind of kids we recruit, it just blows you away.

Cindy: You realize the value of your Colgate diploma.

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