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Behind every successful trip - there's a lot of hard work!

Louise (left) and Mellissa (right) on a world map background

Date: March 2023


An insight into the roles of two colleagues in the Alumni Relations team who were recently involved in the Vice-Chancellors trip to Asia. 

It’s always great to hear from our amazing alumni community at global events and the three inaugural receptions to Malaysia, Singapore and Tokyo recently were no exception. Months of planning ensured that the events went ahead smoothly and two colleagues from our Alumni Engagement team, Louise Strong (Events Manager) and Mellissa Abdu (Volunteering Engagement Manager) joined our Vice-Chancellor, our Pro-Vice-Chancellor and the Acting Director of Alumni Relations at the events, where they met some engaging alumni with inspirational stories.

Louise’s role is to plan and implement to events and co-ordinate all activity at the venues on behalf of the University, and Mellissa is the key contact for alumni who want to use their experiences, knowledge and networks to help other community members. Both colleagues are part of our Alumni Relations team and their work with the alumni community supports Durham’s global reputation as an outstanding centre of learning as well as supporting the recruitment of the next generation of students through example and advocacy.

Through the planning and delivery of the trip to Asia, we can shine a spotlight on their roles and understand some of the challenges and rewards that their roles bring.

We asked Louise and Mellissa to share their thoughts...

Could you explain a little about the areas and length of time you spent planning before the trip? What kinds of considerations were there to ensure smooth running and maximum benefit?

Louise - ‘planning started for the trip very early in the year to ensure all diaries were aligned. The plans needed to be flexible depending on covid restrictions in each country at the time. Unfortunately, these restrictions prevented us visiting our community in Hong Kong but we did manage to visit three destinations with nearly 200 alumni attending events and many individual meetings to build relationships. There were lots of areas to consider; the actual content of the event, the venue, travel and accessibility and of course, cost. Working with our alumni really helped as one alumnus helped us to secure reduced fees for the venues!’

Mellissa - ‘Once plans were finalised, our focus was to promote the events to our alumni and supporter community. We use multiple channels to advertise all events to ensure we get the best attendance possible. The pandemic had impacted activity levels across our global alumni chapter network, but the response was amazing!

Before the trip, lots of time went into researching the community and arranging meetings with key stakeholders. The trip provided a great opportunity to engage with key volunteers in-country, whilst identifying new volunteers to help develop chapters and work with me once back in Durham.  I met with all available existing volunteers to thank them and recognise their contribution to the University. I also gathered their feedback on their volunteering experience to date, on how they could better support Durham and how I could support them more effectively. I also met with potential volunteers to discuss their interest.’

How did you find the experience of engaging with alumni within different environments and from a number of different cultures?

Louise - ‘I have delivered events all over the world. One thing you can be sure of is that when you are finally able to lift your head, the planning is complete and all that’s left is the delivery, you can be sure you are going to meet a group of really interesting people, with fun stories to tell of their Durham days but also fascinating stories of their careers and current roles. Massively enjoyable and very much the best part of the job!’

Mellissa -’I absolutely love it. I have always been fascinated by different cultures and relish any opportunity to learn more. Alumni are always very happy and grateful to see us and provide such a warm and friendly welcome. I have been fortunate enough to experience things that I wouldn’t have had access to if it was not for this job. It’s such a rewarding feeling when you finally get the opportunity to meet alumni, especially alumni you have been in contact with for many years, in-person. We have more than 200,000 alumni and supporters on our database and meeting people at events around the world really brings the database to life. It reminds me just how inspiring and extraordinary our Durham alumni are!’

What was the most challenging aspect of the experience for you – and why?

Louise - ‘This was the first time I had planned and delivered events in Asia. The language barrier in Tokyo could have been an issue but luckily with the superb team at the Mandarin Oriental we delivered a great event. That and the lack of sleep when travelling on long haul flights and trips!’

Mellissa - ‘We visited three countries in ten days, as well as keeping on top of things in Durham, with an 8 hour time difference. However, the experience and outcomes from the trip far outweighed any tiredness!’

What was the most rewarding experience of the trip – and why?

Louise - ‘Meeting our objectives. Gathering alumni to meet our Vice-Chancellor, finding volunteers to help with our work and securing donations to help fund scholarships, research and buildings. Always very rewarding.’

Mellissa - ‘Feeling the energy and excitement at events and being asked when the next one is! Being kept busy by alumni offering their time, knowledge, and networks to support Durham University.  Alumni are fantastic ambassadors for the University and a great and willing resource. We brought back some great testimonials from alumni to promote Durham. In addition to helping us raise our global profile, alumni can really enrich the student experience and support employability.‘

How do you feel that the trip has impacted your everyday role?

Louise - ‘Through this trip I was able to share experience in development and volunteering. This has given a wider appreciation of the work we do as a team and the benefits for our students, staff and alumni. Feedback provides a platform for us to work from for our next events so the everyday impact is huge. Even with its success we can always learn and have already implemented that learning into our next trip.’

Mellissa - ‘Having the opportunity to meet graduates who are thousands of miles away from Durham and who maybe haven’t visited Durham for many years, helps to maintain a lifelong relationship and develop individual relationships and the global alumni network. Trips like this provide invaluable knowledge and insight that really helps enhance our understanding of alumni engagement.'  

Read the full story of the VC's Asia Trip