Meet Columbia's New VP of Development and Alumni Relations

"Our aim is to secure resources to support the aspirational work and unrelenting ambition of our faculty, staff and students," says Shawn Wax, new VP of Development and Alumni Relations. Photo: Phil Dembinski '08
Shawn Wax, Columbia's new VP of Development and Alumni Relations, discusses what he's most looking forward to at the college and why he admires Chicagoans.

Shawn Wax comes to Columbia with more than 20 years of experience in Development and Alumni Relations. Since he started on March 15, Wax has been busy meeting with Columbia leadership and getting to know his new team.

But we interrupted his busy schedule to let him introduce himself. Here, Wax discusses how faculty and staff can get involved in Development and Alumni Relations, who makes the best sweet potato pie and his unapologetic use of Chicago’s sacrilegious condiment.

What are eight things we should know about you?
My pride and joy are my three daughters Courtney (20), Ashley (19) and Macy (7). The favorite places I’ve visited are Rio de Janeiro and Monte Carlo. I am uber-competitive in all things. I like great wine. I am unafraid of risk. The best part of my day always involves laughter. I believe people are what make an organization excellent. And, despite what anyone may tell you, my mom makes the world’s greatest sweet potato pie.

What about working with a creative community like Columbia are you most excited about?
In many ways, my colleagues and I in Development and Alumni Relations are the dream merchants of the institution. Our aim is to secure resources to support the aspirational work and unrelenting ambition of our faculty, staff and students. Equally important, we are motivated to fully engage our alumni network in the life of the college and build meaningful programs that support our alumni professionally, personally and socially. I’m most looking forward to many, many new relationships and partnerships.

How can faculty and staff get involved with Development and Alumni Relations at Columbia?
The first way is simply a mindset: Development and Alumni Relations are team sports that require all of us working together. In my opinion, everyone at Columbia is a fundraiser or alumni relations officer, we all share that responsibility. Secondly, share your story with us. Whether you are a student or faculty member, we want to know what’s on your wish list as it helps us when we are meeting with prospective donors and key constituents. Third, help us keep accurate records. We recognize that many of our alumni maintain lifelong relationships with various faculty and staff members. Let us know of changing addresses, emails or phone numbers as well as other key life changes such as job or family. And although I saved this one for last, it is one of the most important…find something here at Columbia that you are passionate about and make a financial gift to support it. I promise you will be proud you did.

For those who work outside of Development and Alumni Relations, what’s something that might surprise them about what the department does?
Perhaps the biggest misconception is that we direct or decide what a donor’s gift supports. To be clear, we don’t decide, the donor chooses what projects or programs they wish to support. We simply help facilitate those wishes.

What do you love about Chicago? What do you not love so much?
Chicagoans are so passionate, whether it’s the arts, sports, food, music or even politics. And, due in large part to that passion, Chicagoans tend to take care of their own. It will be important for us to continue making the case of why Columbia is so vital to Chicago, especially if we intend to pursue support from the well-respected Chicago philanthropic community. As for what I don’t like or any complaints, I can only think of one. I know this is sacrilegious, you have to promise not to tell anyone, but I really do like ketchup on my hot dogs!