Students connect with alumni through PhoneCenter even during coronavirus pandemic

Joshua Fine (center) poses for a picture at the the Kent State PhoneCenter in 2019.

Zoë Blank Reporter

Student callers are raising money and building relationships with alumni and student peers from home with the Kent State PhoneCenter.

The PhoneCenter is a branch of the Annual Fund which promotes the university and encourages philanthropy throughout the university community, according to the Annual Fund website

The money raised by the center, also known as the Engagement Center, is used for a variety of things including student merit and need-based scholarships, technology and facility updates and real-world and international programs such as research, internships and study abroad.

Student callers, called engagement ambassadors, make phone calls every evening to engage with alumni, students, parents, faculty and staff to establish relationships, share university updates and achievements and to encourage them to give back, said Andreus Sanchez, manager at the PhoneCenter

Since the start of the coronavirus pandemic, the process at the PhoneCenter has changed significantly, Sanchez said. He said that switching to remote work removed the social aspect for the student callers and forced the separation of a community that thrived on being and working together.

“One of the students’ favorite parts of the position was just coming in after a long day of classes to unwind and hang out with your friends while you work. I think that’s a really crucial aspect that’s missing now,” Sanchez said. 

The connections that the engagement ambassadors make help generate an additional half a million dollars each year for the Annual Fund, according to the PhoneCenter website.

“Philanthropy is the best unknown secret, and it’s so important because it’s an opportunity to give back and get involved, even if it’s not monetary,” senior anthropology major and PhoneCenter supervisor Joshua Fine said. 

The PhoneCenter allows student callers to get paid and develop interpersonal skills while gaining career and life advancement advice from alumni, Sanchez said. According to the PhoneCenter website, engagement ambassadors can gain experience in communication, marketing, networking, fundraising and sales negotiations.

“This job is so rewarding as a student. Not only are you getting paid for it, but you’re also gaining so many invaluable skills,” Fine said. “I know that when I graduate, I’ll be prepared for any job that may come my way because it’s given me the opportunity to gain interview skills and communication skills.”

Working at the PhoneCenter can help students expand their knowledge, opportunities and horizons to prepare them for their future jobs, said Paul Krouse, associate director of communications and annual giving. 

“If I talk to someone who graduated from my college, who is working in a field that I want to work in someday, how great is it that I can get this free source of direct information?” said Victoria Leya, a recent alumna and former PhoneCenter supervisor. “At the end of the call, I feel prouder to be a part of Kent State, because now I have talked to someone that I never knew in their time at Kent State, but we have this conversation now that will last forever.” 

The student callers want to encourage the university community to answer when the PhoneCenter calls, Krouse said. He also said engagement ambassadors are calling to connect alumni to the university, not just to ask for donations.

“Occasionally, we hear answering machine after answering machine, so when someone does pick up, it’s kind of like you spark up in your seat like, ‘Oh, I’m going to make this count,’” Leya said.

The PhoneCenter employs more than 50 student callers each semester. Students can apply online. Engagement ambassadors start at minimum wage and are required to work at least three shifts a week.

Zoë Blank covers alumni. Contact her at [email protected]