In 2015, Development Guild partnered with Vassar College on their executive search for an Associate Vice President of Alumnae/i Engagement and Executive Director of the Alumnae/i Association of Vassar College (AAVC). We placed Lisa Tessler in the role, and recently caught up with Lisa to discuss the challenges and accomplishments of the past 7 years, and what is to come for Vassar.
What initially attracted you to the Associate Vice President for Alumnae/i Engagement and Executive Director of the AAVC at Vassar?
This position offered a wonderful opportunity for professional advancement that would enable me to leverage my experience in alumni engagement, donor relations, and career development in the service of the institution and its nearly 40,000 alumni. I was particularly excited by the prospect of leading the engagement effort at Vassar, a coeducational institution that had historically been a women’s college and which continues to champion women serving in leadership roles. In addition, I was drawn to Vassar’s reputation as a leading private institution that offered access to higher education for first generation and low-income students.
What do you enjoy most about Vassar now?
Vassar is an extraordinary place in which we are encouraged to take risks, grow professionally, and engage constructively across difference. It is a remarkably diverse community into which you can bring your whole self and easily become immersed. The colleagues with whom I partner work tirelessly to apply their talents to make Vassar an even better place. As a community, we also aspire, intentionally, to center diversity, equity and inclusion in every aspect of our work. As is true at any institution, there is still a great deal of work to be done.
In my role as Executive Director of the Alumnae/i Association of Vassar College (AAVC), I also have the pleasure of working closely with the Board of Directors, a highly dedicated and diverse group of alumni who inspire me every day by their commitment to and passion for the institution.
How has your role changed since you began?
With the onset of Covid-19, my role changed dramatically. I am proud to say that my team did an exemplary job pivoting to a model of virtual engagement, which includes all of our Board and committee meetings, volunteer training and conferences, reunions, club activities, affinity programs, and more. We have now migrated to a new model in which we offer a robust combination of in-person, virtual, and hybrid opportunities.
Additionally, I have had the opportunity to reorganize and grow the engagement team, creating a full-time Director of Multicultural and Affinity Engagement, for which we are now hiring. Recently, I also promoted our Senior Director of Alumnae/i Engagement to become an Assistant Vice President, which will enable me to focus my energies in new directions.
What have been your and Vassar’s greatest achievements over the past five years?
Shortly after my arrival, one of the first things I wanted to do was to launch an online mentoring and networking program that would benefit both students and alumni in their career development. Working in close tandem with the Career Development Office, we successfully launched VassarNet, hosted on a platform powered by PeopleGrove. VassarNet currently serves nearly 7,000 alumni, parent, and student users and has been well received by our constituency.
During the course of the pandemic, we were able to nearly triple our registration numbers for events through virtual programming, reaching alumni from all parts of the country and world who we had not previously been successful in engaging.
We marked 50 years of Coeducation at Vassar, and the 150th anniversary of the AAVC, tapping into creative communication channels to celebrate these milestones for the College and our alumni. In recent years, I have collaborated with the Board to expand and elevate the alumni recognition program, curating unique campus visit experiences that are meaningful for both the awardees and students.
Finally, I am particularly proud of my role within Advancement to help embark on a journey to articulate our vision, mission, and values. The process of engaging the entire division in this exercise with the help of a consultancy proved to be as valuable as the outcome itself.
What do you hope to achieve at Vassar in the future? What is on the horizon?
Vassar is about to launch its most ambitious comprehensive campaign to date this October. Fearlessly Consequential: A Campaign for Our Collective Future is centered around investing in the power of the liberal arts, campus community and culture, Vassar in the world, and a campaign for all. It is my hope that we can continue to create new avenues of engagement to galvanize the energy of Vassar’s alumni body in support of this important effort.