In our recurring Spotlight blog feature, we chat with CASE members from around the globe their advancement careers.
Masooma Zeeshan’s favorite place on the Lahore University of Management Sciences campus is outside of the business school, an area she says rivals London’s Hyde Park or New York City’s Central Park.
“The school is all glass and has a stock exchange ticker and hands-down the best café on campus, while the grounds outside are still untainted, with squirrels running here and there, and birds chirping,” says Zeeshan. She’s the senior manager of alumni relations and lifetime learning at LUMS in Lahore, Pakistan.
Here, Zeeshan shares what she’s learned on her advancement journey so far.
How did you find your way to advancement?
I worked for multinational corporations for the first seven years of my career—high-stress, high-performance and technical jobs. When I had twins eight years ago, I was unable to return to my job at Metro Cash and Carry (Pakistan) despite being very fond of the organization.
I met Adil Najam, then vice chancellor at LUMS, and mentioned how I would like to volunteer at my alma mater. I was hired by the career services office, where my task was to open employment channels for the new engineering school’s students (along with the other schools, totaling 800 graduates at that time). I dived right into it, making and reviving industry linkages in collaboration with the amazing faculty, which resulted in local and international placements of the entire batch in as little as three months post graduating.
From there I transitioned to the head of alumni relations and was asked to do what I loved: meet people and manage events, and there has been no looking back since!
What’s one work achievement that you’re particularly proud of?
Spearheading the actualization of the community learning program, Lifetime Learning @LUMS, in which more than 1,500 individuals have participated since its inception a little over a year ago. It’s allowed LUMS to welcome individuals of all ages and backgrounds to pursue their passions and interests through short courses in a variety of fields. Also, organizing the biggest homecoming (3,000 out of 11,000 alumni) in 30 years. Chapter heads from around the world attended to be a part of the annual flagship reunion.
What’s a lesson you’d pass along to professionals just starting out in advancement?
Personalizing everything is the key. [This entails] making phone calls to the alumni invited to a reunion, being responsive and involved in their personal and professional highs and lows, sending birthday and holiday greetings, or meeting with coffee when you visit their hometown. It never goes unnoticed.
Dare to be different and don’t be discouraged. [We have to] have a constant hunger for innovation. We have to listen to the needs of our alumni and what would make them engaged, brainstorm, survey and not just review but internalize the results—that’s the key! It’s fine for an event to have a super low turnout: you just learn, pick yourself up and move on. The individuals who have courage and flexibility are the ones who will shine.
What do you see as a key challenge facing educational institutions today?
There are many. One is that the educational system may no longer be relevant in the era where skills are increasingly more valuable than degrees. Our curriculum (albeit becoming experiential) may not be comprehensive enough to equip the graduate with life and professional skills.
More generally, what are some ideas you’ve learned from a CASE conference?
One idea [from a CASE conference] that I’ve incorporated has been elevating and expanding the entire scope of our communications with alumni. By understanding the impact of balanced and consistent communications practices, we were able to incorporate them into our short- and long-term practices, from shaping communications for specific communities (e-cards for events in regional chapters, affinity-based messaging, etc.) and including international content in our annual magazine, to tailoring emails and messages for a personalized touch and using social media to cultivate a culture of collaborative engagement.
Fostering a culture of two-way communication has allowed us to not just provide alumni with countless methods of reaching out and making connections, but also give them the opportunity to make a visible space of their own in a global alumni network.