Alumni board presidents reflect on challenging, rewarding work

Leading Wheaton’s Alumni Association takes time, energy and talent, but when asked about their service, those who have done it talk mostly of everything they’ve gained.

Former president Zoe Hack Keller ’05, left, and current president Jane Martin ’74 (Photos by Keith Nordstrom, Nicki Pardo)

Jane Martin ’74 and Zoe Hack Keller ’05—current and former presidents of the board, respectively—are passionate advocates for the college, and both say they have benefited immensely by giving back: making new, lasting connections; building leadership skills and policy chops; and having fun.

“I loved being the president,” said Keller, a health and nutrition coach and longtime Wheaton volunteer who served as president from 2012 to 2015. “It really was one of the highlights of my life to date. It felt so good to give back tangibly to a place I really care about. I met the most wonderful people, and I found the work challenging, interesting and rewarding.”

Martin, whose three-year term will end in October 2018, said she is extremely honored to serve Wheaton as president and chair.

“Being a Wheaton alumna is, for me, a lifelong commitment. And one that I love,” said Martin, a business owner and photo editor.

The board president’s three-year term provides ample time to cultivate meaningful change at Wheaton while gaining personal and professional benefits.

During her tenure, Keller worked on
executing the Strategic Plan for 2014, which in part involved widening the circles of alumni engagement and support.

Alumni Board of Directors members gather at a reception on campus. First row: Emily Firment Fahey ’11, Elena Wong ’07, Erica McLean Helm ’91, Lindsay Nason Villone ’08; second row: Katie Leiby Schneider ’06, Pamela Reid Graham ’85, Makiyah Moody ’00, Jane Martin ’74, Shawn Blake ’98; third row: Chris Paquet ’03, Maya Ennis ’14, Amanda Gray Idema ’97; back row: Andy Lounder ’05, Marcia Coleman Williams ’72, Deborah Goddard ’78, Mario Suarez ’06, Patrick Summers ’94, Melissa Grove Beecher ’07 and Michelle Rhodd ’87 (Photo by Mark Stockwell)

“We far exceeded our goals in this area and re-engaged a tremendous number of alumni through these efforts,” she said.

Serving as president helped Keller develop leadership skills and foster new connections—and friendships.

“I gained experience with board management, governance and internal politics. I also became more comfortable with public speaking after speaking at Commencement, Homecoming and other various alumni events,” she said. “I’ve
enjoyed the camaraderie of other like-minded volunteers of all ages and backgrounds. It’s a thrill to find that I’ve made new and lasting friendships.”

Under Martin’s leadership, the board has succeeded in helping grow alumni engagement; restructuring to increase impact; improving transparency by publishing information on meetings and projects online (thanks to Deirdre Phillips ’78, the board’s vice president for strategic planning and governance); and developing a strong, working partnership with the Board of Trustees.

“Our five alumni trustees—who sit on both boards—offer skilled and respected advice and leadership in both arenas,” Martin said.

As president, Martin has made an effort to increase diversity on the board so it more closely mirrors the 18,000-plus members of the Alumni Association.

In tandem with this, she is working to improve Wheaton’s commitment to inclusivity. Under her leadership, in October 2017 the alumni board voted to update the organization’s name to the Wheaton College Alumni Association—a name that removes any gender-specific grouping and welcomes graduates of all gender identities into the college community.

“This is about inclusion and diversity, not about coeducation,” she said. “The term ‘alumni’ is overwhelmingly used and understood today by colleges all over the world as a gender-neutral term. While it undoubtedly referred to men in the original Latin, it is not understood in such restrictive gender terms today. Adherence to the original Latin (as represented by the term, alumnae/i) enforces a binary gender identity choice that is unwelcoming to many members of our community.”

Also, Martin oversaw an initiative to rebuild the structure of the board, so members with similar backgrounds can accomplish specific tasks with more efficiency.

“Our goal is to establish fluid and flexible committees in order to take on projects and initiatives with a beginning, middle and end, with tangible successes,” she said.

Martin currently is working on engagement to fit everyone’s different interests and lifestyles. “Instead of falling back on ‘one size fits all’ events, we are trying to find ways to engage new graduates” through Friday pub nights, parent groups, professional networking events and
ongoing opportunities for older alumni, she said.