“Small gifts add up to big impacts for Cornell,” said Chelsea Ghent, Cornell’s student phoning manager. But that’s not the only reason for alumni, parents, and friends to pick up the phone when students call.
“The calls put students and alumni and others in touch with one another to share experiences, talk about events on campus, and keep the Cornell spirit alive—all in ways that can never happen by mail or online,” Ghent noted. “Plus, students develop skills transferable to almost any career.”
This year, Cornell’s student phoning program marks its 20-year anniversary.
Jennifer Kwiatkowski, associate director of Cornell Annual Giving Programs, said that since 1997, close to 200 students every year have helped Cornell raise more than $800,000 annually, with gifts averaging about $150 in size. Collectively, these funds pack a punch, supporting scholarships, fellowships, positions, annual funds—which can be used immediately and wherever the need is greatest—and more.
Student participants, who are paid for their work, together make calls six nights a week from late August to December and from January until May.
“Their primary mission,” said Kwiatkowski, “truly is to have a good conversation.”
One enthusiastic caller is Efe Airewele ’20, who talked with dozens of Cornellians over the past year.
“I’ve realized, in my short time here, that there is something special that connects us all as Cornellians. Whether or not someone has the financial means to support Cornell, they should always feel that connection.” –Efe Airewele ’20
Students like Airewele also hone strong communication skills that strengthen their resumes.
“The opportunities and skills you get from being a caller are incredible,” said Ghent, who worked as a caller for her own alma mater.
She and Kwiatkowski together inventory a range of student impacts from boosting confidence and developing interview techniques to setting goals and gaining management experience and more. Some establish hometown ties and, for a few Cornell callers, connections first established through the program’s phone calls have even led to internships and jobs.
And for Airewele, the experience has also brought her closer to a diverse group of fellow students.
“I love working for the Cornell Annual Funds (CAF) because not only am I able to talk and connect with alumni, I am able to connect with the other callers,” she said. “CAF was the first thing I joined when I got to Cornell as a freshman and I am so glad I did because the people I work with really epitomize the ideology of ‘any person, any study’.
“Through them I can experience every part of Cornell, even if it’s not firsthand,” she said. “I think CAF allows me to recognize all the ways Cornell is amazing, as well as all the ways it could improve, because everyone who is a part of the phoning program experiences such different parts of Cornell.”