Photo by Jo McCulty
On solid footing to move forward
Discovery is a key aspect of our first year in any job — getting to know the people, setting the priorities, acclimating to the processes. So when this past year saw everything in our workplaces and our lives turned upside down by a pandemic, the 40 years Molly Ranz Calhoun ’86 has spent learning and working at Ohio State proved an unfaltering foundation for her first one leading the alumni association.
Photo by Jo McCulty
By the time Molly Ranz Calhoun stepped into the role of president and CEO of the alumni association May 1, 2020, COVID-19 had changed Ohio State’s approach to nearly everything — classes, commencement, work, research, events.
What the pandemic couldn’t change, though, is what lies at the heart of being a Buckeye: the care we take of one another, our commitment to learning and growing, compassion for those in need, our devotion to both innovation and tradition. Those traits of our collective self got us through one of the hardest years imaginable.
“As Buckeyes, we leaned on each other, checked on each other, stood by each other,” Calhoun says. “I saw this day in and day out among our team, and I saw it constantly in the form of alumni reaching out to see how they could help students, frontline workers and one another.”
In her 35 years with the Office of Student Life, Calhoun often had seen faculty, staff and students rally together in times of campus and personal crises. This went further. Alumni heard of students unable to get home and offered housing. Or learned of lost internships and raised their hands with opportunities. Or realized some students’ tight budgets couldn’t cover groceries and filled the gap.
“Our team completely and immediately adapted to new ways to reach alumni and at the same time paid attention to each other in the midst of what was happening with our families and in the world,” Calhoun says. “Empathy and compassion showed up in our programming, our conversations and our interactions, knowing that everyone was dealing with something.”
In a typical year, the alumni association hosts or partners on about 125 in-person events — in Columbus, throughout Ohio, across the country and around the world. Suddenly, gathering in person wasn’t a thing. And just as suddenly, Zoom — a tool few of us had even heard of — was the thing. The alumni association transitioned quickly, and from spring 2020 to spring 2021 offered 183 virtual gatherings, an increase of nearly 50%.
Many events sprang from bridges built with other departments and groups, giving alumni the chance to hear from mental health professionals, history professors, artists, athletes and many more. Thanks to amped-up collaborations and new ways of connecting, Calhoun says alumni can continue to tap into the intellectual capital of Ohio State no matter where they’re based.
“Those are two things we have learned that won’t go away: The virtual world allows our reach to be even more impactful around the globe. And throughout our many colleges and units, we have a lot of resources that we can leverage and share. We will continue to do that.”
Where else will the association focus moving forward?
“There are four components,” Calhoun says. “Our people are most important. We have high expectations for the service we provide to alumni, and we will provide high support to our team to make that a reality. Secondly, we are committed to diversity, equity and inclusion and to our role as a land-grant institution and an alumni association to end racism. Third, we will support the journeys of our alumni and continue to bring value to our Buckeye family wherever they are or whatever they are doing. Lastly, we will be good stewards of our resources — effective, efficient, collaborative, nimble and accountable.”
Calhoun is asking something of alumni, too. It may take a shift in mindset. “Paying forward doesn’t need to literally mean paying, as in money. Time and talent are just as valuable. So maybe it’s mentoring. Talking with a student studying to be what you already are. Giving a student an experience you had, or maybe an experience you didn’t have, but would have benefited from. Volunteering in your community with other Buckeyes or as an alumni group leader. There are lots of ways to pay forward, and a ton of them don’t involve money.”
Parting thoughts? Calhoun thinks of all the nooks and crannies of Ohio State. The expertise, the learning and entertainment opportunities, the services. There are ways to tap in whether you’re near or far. “You chose us to come to school. Why stop there? No matter what you need, Ohio State likely has it. So choose us — again.”