College chooses new vice president for Development and Alumni Relations

By Ariana Portalatin, Campus Editor

Courtesy SHAWN WAX
Shawn Wax assumed the role of vice president for Development and Alumni Relations on March 15, according to an email from the Office of the President.

Shawn Wax was appointed vice president for Development and Alumni Relations, according to a March 13 email sent to faculty and staff from President and CEO Kwang-Wu Kim.

According to the email, Wax comes from the University of Iowa where he served as  vice president for Main Campus Development, overseeing fundraising for the entire academic enterprise, the arts campus and athletics. Prior to that, he worked with the University of Illinois athletic development for 15 years.

Wax said he is excited to have the position and wanted to join the college because Columbia’s mission and Kim’s ideas.

“From the very first time we talked, I knew there was something special about Columbia and Dr. Kim,” Wax said.

Kim was not available for comment as of press time.

Wax’s appointment comes at a time of low alumni donations and a high turnover rate for the position since 2013, as reported May 19, 2016, by The Chronicle. Wax will replace Jon Stern, who left the college in May 2016 after less than two years. Stern succeeded Warren Chapman, who held the position on an interim basis for seven months following the departure of Patrick Sheahan, who was vice president of Development from September 2013 to January 2014.

The college’s donation revenues have also continued to fall over the past few years, according to several of the college’s fiscal year budgets. For the 2014–2015 fiscal year, the college reported $7.7 million in gifts, contracts and other income—which includes donations. That number later fell to $1.4 million for 2015–2016 and further down to $1.2 million for 2016–2017.

Wax said he has several goals for himself in his new position, starting with the improvement of alumni engagement and building on contributors and stakeholders to hopefully set the college up for a potential capital campaign and other possible future projects.

Wax’s has had assisted and oversaw capital campaigns during his time at the University of Iowa, where he helped develop a $1.93 billion capital campaign, and the University of Illinois, where he planned and completed a $100 million campaign for the institution, according to the emailed announcement.

“Our largest base is here in Chicago, but we’ve got alums from L.A. to New York and beyond,” Wax said. “How do we empower them to help make a difference? Alums are raising their hands [asking], ‘What is the institution able to do for me?’ ‘What can I do for the college?’ and ‘Can the college help us connect with other alums?’ If we can do those three things consistently, I feel we can empower our alumni base.”

Wax added the career and financial situations of alumni do not have large effects on the number of donors or donations a college receives, as long as they can participate on some level.

“The importance of participation rate is regardless of a person’s capacity or where they’re at in their career or lifetime,” Wax said. “A worthy goal is, ‘Can we just get as many alumni on board at some level?’”

Although transitioning from public universities to a private college will require the help of the entire Columbia community, Wax said he will still be able to apply his skill sets successfully to the college. Despite the position’s recent turnover, he also said he intends to stay at the college long-term to accomplish the goals he has set.

“I’ve been at two institutions and my promise to both was the same I made to Dr. Kim: I want to finish whatever we get started,” Wax said. “I’ve never left an institution without accomplishing exactly what I set out to accomplish.”

Wax said he is also aware of future projects the college has planned that may need the support of alumni donations in order to accomplish, including the planned  student center announced during the Fall 2015 Semester.

“If it’s of significant importance to the college, it’s of significant importance to the Office of Development and Alumni Relations,” Wax said.

Bill Wolf, chairman of the board of trustees, said he is excited for Wax’s appointment and hopes to see him build an effective team to improve relations with alumni, the Chicago community and current students. He also hopes to have Wax at the college long term.

“It’s a multi-targeted effort and we’re really starting from ground zero right now,” Wolf said.

Executive Director of Alumni Relations and Annual Giving Miriam Smith, who filled Wax’s position on an interim level before his appointment, said he brings a wealth of knowledge to the role.

“[Wax] is a strategic thinker and planner and those are great qualities that we will benefit from when it comes to our fundraising efforts,” Smith said.

The accomplishment of Wax’s goals entails the involvement of the entire Columbia community, he said.

“Fundraising is a team sport, so we need everyone to be involved in our program,” Wax said. “When it’s done right, everyone will feel as if they have an ownership stake in our development program.”

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