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Balancing thousands of relationships

Ryan Rodrigues, Associate Vice-Principal (Alumni Relations and Annual Giving).
Ryan Rodrigues, Associate Vice-Principal (Alumni Relations and Annual Giving), joined Queen's in July.

The Gazette sat down with Ryan Rodrigues, the newly appointed Associate Vice-Principal of Alumni Relations and Annual Giving, to learn about the experience he brings to the role, and his views on coming to Queen’s, educational fundraising, and our school’s alumni culture.

What is your first impression of Queen’s so far?

What’s struck me at Queen’s is the culture of the community, and the alumni body in particular. I just witnessed my first homecoming just over a month ago, and to see nearly 100 groups come back for reunions, and to learn about the traditions and the history of Queen’s, has been much more than I expected.

Both the Kingston and Queen’s communities have been very welcoming to me and my family.

What sort of background are you bringing to your new role?

In the past, a lot of the leaders of Alumni Relations at Queen’s have been products of Queen’s. To be in my role and not be an alumnus of the institution is rare, here.

I’ve worked at the University of Guelph, Ryerson University, Western University, the University of Toronto, and the University of Pennsylvania, so those experiences have given me great insights to bring to this role. I’ve worked in Advancement roles, including Annual Giving and Alumni Relations, as well as in Recruitment roles within the faculty in universities; at University of Toronto’s Rotman School of Management and at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School.

These experiences have helped me see how units like Advancement can support the faculties, but I’ve also had the advantage of being part of a faculty, and being supported by the university services I’m part of now. I understand the position of the faculty. That’s been extremely helpful, specifically to this role.

I’ve worked in most of the provinces in Canada, in over 20 countries, and I’ve worked in all of the Queen’s Innovation Nodes key global cities. That’s also helpful in furthering Queen’s business relationships.

What drives your passion for philanthropy and community?

My parents came to Canada from East Africa in 1972, and I was born in Toronto. They came here because they wanted to give me a better life, and they did.

I grew up in Guelph, Ontario, which is quite similar to Kingston, in that it’s a university town and both my parents were adjunct faculty at the University of Guelph and also business people in the community. That town and gown relationship is something I’m quite familiar with, albeit in Guelph.

I got to go to great schools, and I came to the realization that not everyone can go to great schools, many because of the lack of financial capacity. I’m driven to equal the playing field through fundraising. Educational fundraising has been my driving passion.

I do a lot of volunteer work in the local community as well because I feel I have been given so much, I want to give back.

Coming to Queen’s, seeing the principal’s commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion, is very important to me. I think it’s the right time for me to be at Queen’s and I hope I can contribute immeasurably to the community.

How does Alumni Relations and Annual Giving fit into Queen’s?

Our team deals with the full student lifecycle. We strive to engage our 140,000+ alumni, in over 140 countries, to support Queen’s priorities. We connect people with opportunities to volunteer and give back to the Queen’s community on local, national, and international levels. We also work with our alumni to assist with recruitment, because our alumni are our best brand ambassadors.

We also organize homecoming and reunions, so we’re trying to keep classes connected to the school. Also on the philanthropy side, we had approximately 100 groups come to homecoming. A large number of them did class giving campaigns, so they banded together and donated towards a specific cause or project, or to the school’s greatest need, or to a student need, like bursaries and scholarships.

We also have the Queen’s University Alumni Association (QUAA), a dedicate group of volunteers who help foster engagement of alumni in various parts of the world and in Canada. I like to say that these engaged alumni volunteers are valued and integral partners who are a catalyst to our work.

Can you talk a little more about the alumni body and philanthropy?

Many of our alumni are donors. During the last campaign, we saw this wonderful outpouring of support through people volunteering, and also through their philanthropic support to Queen’s. That’s where Annual Giving comes in. Our Queen’s Telefundraising Students call our alumni, update them on what’s happening at the university, and keep them connected to the university. People give back generously to the great causes at Queen’s. We see it as a paying it forward philosophy. Many of the great elements to Queen’s – the buildings, the facilities – will have wonderful donor names on them, and they’ve enhanced what Queen’s has been able to do over many years.

Philanthropy is nothing new at Queen’s, it started with our first principal, and it continues now. It’s my office’s privilege to serve the university and to continue that spirit of volunteerism and philanthropy to make Queen’s even better and keep us at the top of the pack.

What’s your next step to get involved with Queen’s?

It’s not hard for me to get involved with a lot and get excited. I’m curious in nature. I have not gone to Queen’s as a student yet, but that’s actually something I’m hoping to do. I want to formally register as a student and engage in academic life, whether that’s another master’s degree or specific course work.

I’m also excited to become a fan of Queen’s. I’m a varsity athlete, from Western University, so it’s easy for me to cheer for the teams that I’ve been part of. I’m excited to see our Gaels compete at every opportunity I can. Seeing the student-athletes of Queen’s, cheering, and bleeding tricolour for the teams is a really importance piece to me joining this community.       

What’s the number one priority for you and your team over the next year?

Continuing to support our volunteers and donors, while seizing new opportunities to move people to extraordinary levels of support for Queen’s. We’re continuously recognizing the outstanding volunteerism and donations to our institution. That work never ends, and it’s always the top priority.

By recognizing alumni engagement and philanthropic support we strengthen our alumni community culture and model the way for current students to follow.

What’s the biggest challenge coming up for Alumni Relations and Annual Giving?

The biggest challenge is engaging an exponentially growing group of alumni. We’re graduating more students now than we’ve ever had in the past – over 50 per cent of our alumni have graduated in the last 20 years. Reaching that many people, keeping good contact information, and engaging that many people is a challenge. This becomes a volume game, so we have to leverage things like technology, but technology can only build a certain type of relationship.

The human element is hugely important to the work that we do. We don’t want to whittle it down or dilute it, we work to maintain many valuable personal relationships. That’s the challenge: balancing thousands and thousands of relationships for Queen’s, and ensuring that we’re keeping in touch, and that we’re keeping up with the times as well.

What mark would you like to make in this role?

I like the adage of leaving a job better than you were given it. I’ve inherited a wonderful team and alumni body that is so passionate and loyal to Queen’s. My goal is to magnify that. It may be challenging because of scale, but that’s the nut that I need to crack.