Reach Out and Touch Someone

Thursday, May. 8, 2014 2:58 pm

Among the 100 or so different student jobs on campus, Lizzy Steuber ’14 knew which one she wanted — phonathon caller.

The job could be intimidating to a phone-phobic person who would rather scrub pots and pans.  

But Boyd Monson ’16 offers reassurance. “Once you talk to a few alums, you realize how welcoming and nice the Grinnell community is, and it becomes really easy after that.”

And the callers enjoy the support and advice of those they contact, alumni who care deeply about Grinnell.

Student callers undergo a realistic training process, says Eric Rohn ’08, former assistant director of the Pioneer Fund. They have a script they can use, as well as information about the alum to help facilitate a good conversation.

About 35 student callers phone alumni and current students’ parents each year. From September through November and February through April, students work two-hour, evening shifts.

Monson says, “It’s a flexible job in terms of the hours you work. We don’t call during peak academic times, like during mid-sems or finals.”

“You get marketable skills out of it,” Steuber says. “I have statistics to demonstrate my success. But it’s the great stories — endearing, heartwarming, hysterical stories from alums — that make the job incredibly fun.”

Monson enjoys talking with alums who like being able to share their experiences at Grinnell. “Hearing their passion is a whole lot of fun,” he says.

Steuber loves hearing about alumni couples and how they met, whether on campus or during reunions.

Her most memorable call came during her second year and resulted in a $10,000 gift. “The alum asked me what was one thing I’d change about Grinnell College if I had the opportunity to,” Steuber says.

“I’m passionate about psychiatry and mental health,” Steuber says. So she talked about the quality mental health care on campus and how providing that program even more resources could be beneficial.

“The alum basically walked me through the steps of a proposal,” Steuber says. He kept asking questions that made her give more and more specific answers about what she’d spend the money on. “Having someone believe in me — through one conversation — made an impression,” she says.

Besides the practical job skills and the flexible schedule, working for the phonathon can have other benefits too. “Phonathon facilitates networking,” Steuber says.

Alums contacted through phonathon have offered callers internships and job shadowing experiences, for example.

“I learn so much from alums,” Monson says. “It makes me feel like a bigger part of the Grinnell community.”

Asking for money isn’t always easy, however. A difficult conversation can turn into the best conversation when you can change someone’s mind, Steuber says.

Those who pledge are supporting strong academics, the perfect note at a Grinnell Singers concert, and a whole range of other activities, Steuber says.

“I try to convince someone it’s a moment they’re contributing to,” Steuber continues. “When an alum had a great connection and wants someone else to feel that, too, that’s when people feel they’re contributing to something.”

Lizzy Steuber ’14 is a psychology major from Cedar Rapids, Iowa. Boyd Monson ’16 is a math major from Provo, Utah, who is training to become a student manager for the phonathon starting in fall 2014.