Shawn Wax leaves the college, President Kim to take over alumni relations and fundraising

By Anna Busalacchi, Co-Editor-in-Chief

Courtesy of Phil Dembinski via Columbia College Chicago.

The former vice president of Development and Alumni Relations, Shawn Wax, had his last day at the college on Friday.

An email to faculty, staff and students from President and CEO Kwang-Wu Kim on July 11 announced Wax was leaving for a new position at St. Jude Children’s Research hospital as the vice president of the Midwest region.

Wax first came to the college in March 2017, after previously holding the vice president of Main Campus Development position at the University of Iowa Foundation. He received his bachelor’s degree in political science from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, where he was also a wide receiver for the Fighting Illini football team.

“In his five years at Columbia, Shawn significantly grew the college’s capacity to engage in successful fundraising and relationship-building,” Kim said in the email to the college. “In 2019-20, the college raised the largest amount of money ever in a single year (around $12 million).”

Kim said Wax’s achievements included broadening relations with donors, enhancing the National Alumni Board and the Columbia alumni network, and creating the Family Advisory Council.

Kim also said during Wax’s tenure, Columbia received the largest gift in the college’s history, but also acknowledged COVID-19’s negative impact on large donations from organizations.

Kim said he will take over Wax’s responsibilities in development and alumni relations while the college searches for new leadership.

“We feel positive about fundraising moving forward, given the structure and connections that have been established the last few years, and the continued involvement of President Kim and the Board [of Trustees],” said Chief of Staff Laurent Pernot in an email to the Chronicle on July 19. “Efforts are under way to bring new leadership and expertise to the development office to help the team build on recent achievements.”

Pernot added that part of the efforts will be cultivated through “outreach by various college employees depending on the specifics of the relationship and situation.”

In an email to the Chronicle on July 21, Wax said part of the transition process of his leave involved preparing his staff to work toward the office’s goals, finishing outstanding initiatives and personally contacting as many constituents as possible to inform them of the change and Columbia’s plans moving forward.

“The first priority is to Dr. Kim and making sure we have a plan in place that allows for a smooth transition of operations, puts a high premium on transparent communication and is forward-looking to maintain momentum,” Wax said in the email.

Moving forward toward success, Wax said he envisions two key factors: fundraising as a team and having face-to-face relations with supporters. He also said the college should host more special events for alumni and donors.

“Fundraising is a team sport, every single person at the college must be engaged in our development efforts in order for the college to achieve its aspirations. We made progress on that front, but there is much more work to be done,” Wax said.

In an email to the Chronicle on May 5 for reporting about the college’s 990 tax forms, Wax said Columbia is on track to surpass a 20-year record for alumni giving.

“We are so well-positioned for explosive growth, and for certain, we have the talent in place to execute our ambitious plans,” Wax said.

Reflecting on his entire time at the college, Wax said he will not forget the people he met at Columbia.

“Nothing has been more memorable or rewarding to me than the amazing people I’ve met while at Columbia,” Wax said in the email. “I firmly believe that in all things, people make the biggest difference, and whoa, were there some amazing people. Far too many to mention here.”