Who's on the other end of those Michigan Tech phone calls? The answer may surprise you. (Hint: it's not just about updating records and collecting money.)
A phone call might seem kind of old-school in this click-here-now world. The rigmarole of daily life seldom permits time for an unplanned call from a stranger. And yet, Michigan Tech's student development officers are hardly strangers. For student Tech Line callers, phoning home to Michigan Tech alumni and friends is their after-school job. Except unlike foaming lattes or slinging pizza, Tech Line connects them to a great big world—past and present.
"We tell alumni about campus news, and they tell us about themselves," says student caller Alissa Alexander. "Their really cool jobs, majors no longer offered, Greek stories, or pranks in Fisher Hall—those are the best stories." She has worked for Tech Line since 2011, while studying English and integrated sciences for secondary education. She also serves as a student supervisor for the group.
There are about twenty-five student callers who make between 400 and 1,500 total calls per week. Tech Line callers begin their evening shifts about suppertime, or 6 p.m. They kick off their shoes (or snow boots, depending on the outside conditions), slide into slippers, and climb up the old wooden staircase of the Alumni House. Then comes coffee—"at least two pots."
"Hello, this is Chris from Michigan Tech, how are you this evening?"
"We all have our 'phone voices," says Tech Line caller and environmental engineering student Colleen Carbary. " The guys' voices go up an octave or two—it's funny." The caller-curated stories, both funny and poignant, get logged into a book. While they're at it, student development officers also update alumni contact information, keeping Michigan Tech's database of more than 34,000 parents and alumni in tip-top form.
Student callers also ask for donations, which the callers say add up to make a significant impact— more than $240,000 in 2015, with an average gift amount of about $50. "Sometimes we meet donors in person," Alexander says. "It's kind of crazy showing them the newest equipment in the ME-EM and being able to say, 'yep, we did that.'" The extensive campus gardens and recent library updates are a couple of tangible ways Tech Line callers and their donors have made their marks.
It all comes full circle. Student callers have even received on-the-spot job offers. "If I ever have a phone interview, I'll rock it," Carbary says. With the advent of caller-ID and cell phones, Tech Line is experiencing a downward trend. These days, calls often go to voicemail.
"Every night, I leave my job knowing exactly what kind of alumna I want to be."
So, the next time the 906 comes calling, let dinner wait. Ignore the emails that just won't stop. Pick up the phone. Head back in time. Give five minutes or a whole hour. Give a few bucks, if you want to. Your callers will thank you.
Michigan Technological University is a public research university, home to more than 7,000 students from 54 countries. Founded in 1885, the University offers more than 120 undergraduate and graduate degree programs in science and technology, engineering, forestry, business and economics, health professions, humanities, mathematics, and social sciences. Our campus in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula overlooks the Keweenaw Waterway and is just a few miles from Lake Superior.