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Building relationships to support the School's mission: Alumni Relations & Development team

Tucked away in a corner in Westminster Hall on Western University’s main campus is a hardworking team building and maintaining relationships with people who have an interest in supporting the Schulich Medicine & Dentistry Community.

Susana Gajic-Bruyea, Kristen Lesko, Kayla Kalijarvi, Dean Sherk and Marta Kobrzynski research and engage with prospective donors to build relationships, and match the individuals and organizations with giving opportunities that fit with their interests.

Gajic-Bruyea, who is Associate Vice President of Alumni Relations & Development at Schulich Medicine & Dentistry, is serving as the acting Executive Director and provides the team with leadership. Lesko is the Senior Development Officer focused on raising gifts of $25,000 and greater. Kalijarvi and Sherk are Leadership Giving Development Officers, and they work with donors who are interested in making donations of $1,000 to $25,000. Kobrzynski, the newest member of the team, is the Development Associate, and provides the team with administrative support.

The team is passionate about their work and the fact that no two days look the same.

“I’m either on calls, trying to book calls, or doing follow-up on previous calls,” said Sherk.

Calls are really meetings with prospective donors or current donors and the more the better – according to the team.

Reflecting on what her days usually look like Kalijarvi said, “Some days we might have three calls in one day. Sometimes we’re meeting people outside of London, so we might be travelling. For example, I’ll do a Windsor day or a Hamilton day. Our job is to not be at our desks.”

Contrary to what some might think, working in Development is not all about the money; it’s about building lasting relationships with Schulich Medicine & Dentistry alumni, as well as individuals and organizations who have an interest in the School and want to support it.

“We are part of the team liaising with alumni and keeping them engaged with the School,” said Lesko.

When a prospective donor decides to take the next step toward giving a gift, the Development team crafts a proposal for them based on their area of interest.

“We really try to find the right fit for their interests instead of a standard request for a gift,” explained Kalijarvi. “If they are interested in Alzheimer’s research, for example, we can make sure that their gift is tailored to that interest.”

The team’s work is not without its challenges. Lesko, Sherk and Kalijarvi all cited rejection as a regular occurrence.

“It usually takes about 10 invites or emails to get one call on average. There’s a bit of a science and an art to it,” said Sherk.

“We get a lot of ‘no’s, but you can’t take it personally,” added Kalijarvi.

What keeps them motivated is the relationships they build and the lives they help change.

“I love connecting with our alumni. I love getting to know them from all different graduating years and understanding where their careers took them. I’ve connected with a few of the students here and it’s fun to follow them as they depart and become associates or set up their own practice,” said Lesko.

The Alumni Relations & Development team also connects their donors with the students their gift has helped.

“We always ask the students to write a thank you letter if they receive a named scholarship or bursary, and we invite them to a brunch with the donor. The donor gets to meet the students, and they often form a relationship of their own, which is really great,” said Lesko.

The team at Alumni Relations & Development has enjoyed success during the past year, and they are proud of their accomplishments.

“Our door is always open. We are always eager to learn more about different departments and create connections with them to discuss what awards and funds are existing in their department. If anyone has donors who are interested in anything let us know because we will be able to find the right fit for them,” said Kalijarvi.