Alumni Relations Finds Virtual Success Amid Pandemic


Mike Gombita

Senior Sean Gorman (left) assisting with filming of the Alumni Memorial Mass for Homecoming Weekend. Raymond Podskoch ’90 on piano playing hymns.

Shawn Wolfe, Reporter

Alumni Relations staff is adapting to COVID-19 using virtual outreach, and staffers are receiving support from alumni.

Lailani Augustine, Director of Alumni Relations  and Mike Gombita, Assistant Director of Alumni Engagement, are ensuring the smooth operation of Alumni Relations despite cuts to the team of five that left them the only two at work.

“I have been taking on the events, advising our student-philanthropy organization, work-studies, and my normal duties of engagement. Lailani has taken on Fundraising for Annual Fund and running our Cougar Contact, formerly phone-a-thon, Program,” said Gombita.

While they traditionally host local and regional events to keep alumni connected, operations have switched to remote to ensure safety.

“The health and safety of our alumni and friends continues to be our number one priority,” Gombita said. “Our team has taken the precautions by postponing in-person events until it is appropriate to host them once again.”

He added that these events are successful despite the switch to virtual outreach methods.

“We have had success in hosting our monthly virtual events. We have had alumni volunteer to host their own virtual sessions. It has been amazing to engage with some of our alumni who usually cannot attend in-person events because of the distance,” Gombita said.

He said these virtual events, as well as the continuing operation of Alumni Relations, have been made possible by support from current alumni.

“Alumni care about their alma mater. Many of our colleagues have spent hours on the phone checking in with some of our alumni and the main question we always got was, ‘How can I help?’ Alumni and friends have financially supported our McAuley Emergency Fund as well as the newly established COVID-19 Emergency Fund. Students have benefited greatly from this fund and are continuing their quality education at Misericordia. We continue to fundraise to sustain current and future initiatives of students, as we don’t know what challenges students may face in

Alison Counterman ’16 leads a virtual POUND workout. (Mike Gombita)

the days and months ahead and we want to be ready to help when they may need it most,” he said.

Gombita said Alumni Relations staff are not only concerned with graduates. They also work with current students through advising programs.

“During their academic journey we have the pleasure of watching our students become strong, confident, young professionals who will be leaders in their communities. Students are educated on the importance of giving back as well as understanding the need to be loyal alumni to Misericordia,” Gombita said. “We engage with the campus community on a variety of collaborative events for incoming students, such as Welcome Week. And host several events, such as 50 Nights to Commencement or our virtual Cheers to Alumni Forever, as students prepare to become Alumni Forever.”

Alumni Relations staff is also responsible for bigger events like Homecoming Weekend, and Gombita said while this was the first time they were held virtually, they were still a hit with alumni.

“Homecoming has become a phenomenal weekend and exponentially grows every year. It seems as though no matter how much we plan, we can never plan for the growing number of alumni that visit campus every year. We had some phenomenal presentations that reached alumni who usually cannot make it campus during a traditional homecoming. We held an athletics recap, a tour of the Frank M. and Dorothea Henry Science Center, held an Alumni Mass, a game show, a caricature artist and reunion rooms,” he said.

Staff also took on the task of dealing with the first virtual commencement in spring 2020.

“We quickly had to pivot in the spring 2020 semester because of the pandemic with our celebration for the graduates of that semester. Working remotely, we came up with our live virtual celebration, which included video and written messages from our alumni, faculty, staff and friends of Misericordia. We had over 200 people watch our celebration with over 1,000 comments during the celebration. The messages were so positive and the feeling of that Misericordia Community we all know and love emulated in this virtual celebration,” Gombita said.