By Kathleen Parrish

As the new president of the Alumni Association, Jonathan Ellis ’98 wants to enhance alumni engagement not only to foster deeper connections to the College, but to help reinforce awareness that Lafayette is a top-tier liberal arts school.     

“We want alumni to understand that this school is really making progress and is striving to achieve a certain stature that is analogous to elite institutions,” says Ellis, who officially replaced Lisa Kassel ’79 P ’13 as president at Reunion June 2. “Lafayette has always been a great institution no matter when you were a student on campus, but how the College achieves greatness is redefined with each generation. Secondly, it’s important to me that alumni understand what is being asked of them. Many say they want to be involved with the school, but don’t know how to do it.”

As his second order of business—lauding Kassel for her service was first—Ellis is putting into action a strategic plan called “Connecting Lafayette to You.” It seeks to connect alumni with the College in their local communities in recognition that the alumni base is becoming increasingly geographic and socioeconomically diverse.

His strategy for achieving this goal involves the implementation of three components:  

  1. Socially: Provide opportunities for alumni to attend chapter and College-sponsored events in their local communities to complement the already successful on-campus events that take place (e.g., Reunion and Homecoming), while supporting online platforms to enhance interaction.
  2. Professionally: Offer industry networking and career development for alumni to facilitate their own personal advancement as well as facilitate opportunities to mentor and employ other alumni and students.
  3. Reputationally: Using various communication tools available to the Alumni Association to articulate how the success and progress being achieved on campus enhances the reputation of the College and value of a Lafayette degree.

But the onus of growing engagement isn’t on the College alone, says Ellis, partner and vice president at Axiom Investors in Connecticut, where he and wife Melissa Carnahan Ellis ’98 live with their three children. Alumni also have a responsibility, he says, as outlined below in what he is calling the 3Ps.  

  1. Partake: Organize and attend events in your local chapter and on campus as well as volunteer for admissions, career services, and affinity groups.
  2. Participate: Be a consistent financial supporter of Lafayette each year.
  3. Promote: Serve as an educated ambassador for Lafayette in your local community and throughout your personal networks by speaking positively about the success of the College, wearing Lafayette-branded clothing, and displaying other Lafayette items (e.g., diploma, bumper stickers, coffee mugs) prominently.

Ellis says he was motivated to serve as president of the Alumni Association as a result of his time as president of the New York chapter in the early 2000s. “When I first got involved, the New York chapter was going through a transitional period,” he says. “We started hosting a number of activities and events that attempted to appeal to as many of the local alumni as possible. Because a handful of people were motivated to make something of it, the chapter was able to achieve some success. That experience resonated with me and underscored that small efforts by individuals can go a long way to furthering the goals of the College and engaging the alumni community.”

He and his wife are also loyal supporters of the College and have passed that allegiance on to their children. On his fourth birthday, his son asked if the Lafayette Leopard was coming to his party.  

By way of introducing Ellis to the College’s 29,000 living alumni, we asked him three questions about his time at Lafayette, where he played basketball, was a member of Kappa Delta Rho fraternity, and served on Student Government, among other activities.

Most memorable Lafayette moment: “When I came to visit campus, I was with my dad and he said, ‘This is the kind of place that you could fall in love with for totally different reasons than the ones that made you apply.’ I always remember him saying that because he didn’t say it about the other 15 schools we visited. As an 18-year-old I didn’t believe him, but he was spot on.”

Favorite class: “I really enjoyed Econometrics with Prof. Thomas Bruggink. It taught me how to turn concepts into a quantifiable framework and ultimately draw conclusions from the information. In terms of my personal intellectual development, I thought that class was particularly helpful. I completed my senior honors thesis on the relationship between college athletics and the academic quality of the student body by building an econometric model. The conclusion was that schools that have seen a lot of success in sports don’t necessarily attract higher-quality applicants because of it. However, smaller schools, like Bucknell and George Mason, that achieved some recognition by winning games in the NCAA Basketball Tournament did see a notable improvement in the application pool over the ensuing three to five years. Therefore, having a competitive Division I athletic program is critical to the success of Lafayette, not just from an athletic standpoint but an academic one.”

Biggest regret: “Not spending a semester abroad.  Lafayette offers a wide variety of international programs, and I was so involved in my activities on campus that I didn’t realize how unique an opportunity it would have been to immerse myself in another culture and language for four months.  Melissa and I love to travel and have committed to recreating the semester abroad experience for ourselves at some point down the road.”

 

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