The School of Natural Resources is in the midst of an institutional evolution. A reassessment of the school’s’ potential that is being led by the provost hopes to restructure the institution to dramatically increase the environmental advocacy, impact and practices at the University of Michigan. My role was to collect the stories and experiences of alumni of the School of Natural Resources and Environment, an institution with its own social climate, priorities, and academic emphasis. The alumni of this institution have gone forward to pave the way in industry, research, academia, and policy. By commemorating these feats both great and small, I hoped to pay homage to the impact that this institution, throughout its dynamic past, has had on the Wolverines who have called it hoMe. As I connected and interacted with the living history of this institution, I also dived deep into its legacy to amass a collection of impactful alumni stories and experiences and SNRE’s 20 Greatest Contributions to Society, looking not only at the impact of the institution itself through program formation, and faculty distinctions, but also the influence that alumni have had on the field of environmental related studies and through their professional careers. By collecting this information, I generated engaging content that will be shared with the wider alumni community through SNRE Connect, a monthly e-newsletter, and Stewards, a biannual alumni magazine. By archiving the information about different alumni, their connections to the University, their fondest memories, their thoughts and concerns with the current suggested institutional changes for the school and the trajectory of their career paths, the School of Natural Resources was provided with a wealth of information for alumni relations, mentorship opportunities, engagement opportunities, information for strategic communication regarding the school’s changes, and donor cultivation
Through my project, I have learned that there is power in stories. There is power in creating a space to facilitate stories. There is power in emphasizing the importance of stories. Stories give us history in context. They breathe life into the words we read in books, the names engraved in statues. Stories give meaning to the spaces we inhabit, and add value to the legacies of which we are a part. My experiences with hearing the stories of so many people who have found pride and profound connection with this institution have given me a look first hand at what an SNRE education can do, despite never taking a class, or interacting with this emeritus faculty.
Lesson #1: School of Natural Resources and Environment has taught me the complex, nuance and strategic process of representing an organization with constituents. It was challenging to both authentically represent alumni voices, while also being strategic with the money, resources, and content space of SNRE.
Lesson #2: Strategy does not come without sacrifice. However, there is an art to balances the two needs that I was able to develop over the course of the project.
Through these stories, I have heard decades of impact, decades of sentimentality, and lifetimes of reflection, experiences, and wisdom. I am so thankful for the willingness of the those who have shared their stories with, given me access to a very precious, dear piece of their personal histories, to help me communicate its value, its meaning to others. Storytelling is central to developing and establishing meaning to place and giving substance to missions.