In June 2020, theater students at California State University, San Bernardino had a unique opportunity to connect with a successful screenwriter—one who got his start right on the CSUSB campus.
For the U.S. university’s Alumni Professor for a Day Program, Danny Bilson joined a class of theater arts majors the same week his film, Da 5 Bloods (directed by Spike Lee), premiered on Netflix. In his discussion with students, Bilson offered his advice from decades in the film industry. He encouraged them to “write the movie you want to see most,” and to be persistent.
“Nothing lasts forever. You’ve got to keep going,” he said.
In some ways, that’s the attitude that helped CSUSB reimagine its Alumni Professor for a Day Program amid COVID-19.
The project matches alumni who volunteer to share expertise in their fields with faculty members who are looking for expert speakers for their classes—and since the program’s 2017 inception, connections between speakers and faculty have grown threefold. The program earned CSUSB a gold 2020 Circle of Excellence Award for Alumni Relations Improvement. When CSUSB shifted from face-to-face to virtual classes because of the pandemic, the alumni relations team transitioned the program online so alumni could deliver their lectures via Zoom.
“There are actually a lot of benefits to taking it online,” says Crystal Wymer-Lucero, director of alumni relations. She and her team already managed alumni sign-ups and matching online, but the switch to Zoom classes “broadens our alumni from other countries who now have the ability to come and talk, because everybody’s online.”
Alumni relations teams like Wymer-Lucero’s that executed innovative, CASE award-winning programs in 2019 faced a big question in 2020: How could they continue those projects amid new challenges, including the pandemic? Here’s an inside look at how five teams grappled with that—and the key lessons their experiences reveal about creatively and strategically problem-solving when contexts change.