Sarah Brown Rothschild, She/Her/Hers
Executive Director, Wisconsin Medical Alumni Association
University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Medicine and Public Health
We caught up with Sarah Brown Rothschild to discover more about her, what she’s up to, and what we can learn from her.
Briefly describe your current role.
As the executive director of the Wisconsin Medical Alumni Association (WMAA), I am responsible for creating and implementing a comprehensive engagement strategy that fosters lasting relationships between the UW School of Medicine and Public Health (SMPH) and its medical alumni and students. In my first year in this role, no two days have been alike. Some days, I’m working with our incredibly passionate board members to develop SMART goals for the organization and on others, I’m scooping ice cream for our students.
Briefly describe your career journey and what led you to institutional advancement in academic medicine.
While working in athletic media relations, I learned about a new engagement department being established at my alma mater. With several years of professional experience under my belt and no shortage of bravado, I applied to be the assistant vice president overseeing this new shop. Mind you, at the time, I had never even heard the word advancement. Needless to say, I did not get that job, but I was offered a position that allowed me to learn and grow as we built the department from the ground up. If you’re still reading and don’t believe in “right place, right time,” keep reading. My family relocated to Seattle when I happened upon a posting for the director for alumni relations position at the University of Washington School of Medicine. It was there where I found my niche in academic medicine. We relocated to Virginia several years later and, again, I discovered that the director of constituent relations position had just been posted at the University of Virginia Medical Alumni Association and Medical School Foundation. It had been a difficult decision to leave Washington, and I was delighted to have the opportunity to remain in academic medicine advancement and work with such an incredible team. I spent seven years at UVA before accepting my current position. I have been privileged to work for three medical alumni associations and so grateful to have found this professional home in a field that allows me to do meaningful work.
What was a mistake you made and how did you learn from it?
I’ve made my share of mistakes, all of which have been valuable learning opportunities. Do I test online registrations systems more than necessary? Perhaps. Do I scan the salutation column in a merge for a solicitation once, twice, maybe three times more than necessary? Sure. Those lessons learned really stick with you.
What innovation or trend in the field inspires or motivates you?
Throughout the pandemic, I’ve been inspired by the resiliency and creativity of our alumni relations colleagues across GIA. We all developed new strategies and adapted to new technology to fulfill our missions. Many of our colleagues began conversations by saying, “we’re going to try.” This pioneering spirit has been a source of pride. Kudos for your continuing perseverance as we navigate the unchartered intersection of virtual engagement fatigue and persistent pandemic concerns.
What is the best career advice you were given and how have you used it?
I once heard an alumna say, “You’re always juggling, but some balls are rubber and some are glass, so it’s important to remember which are breakable.” I’ve reminded myself of that concept many times.
What advice do you have for other institutional advancement professionals in academic medicine?
I highly encourage you to get involved with GIA. If you haven’t attended a meeting yet, make plans to be in Phoenix. If you don’t know what a Discipline Advisory Group (DAG) is, reach out to Catherine Mello (Alumni Relations), Wal Ozello (Communications and Public Affairs), Tom White (Development), or Cynthia Manley (Marketing). I couldn’t be more grateful for the collaboration and supportive community that is our Alumni Relations DAG. If you want to dip your toe in the water, join the virtual community where you can share best practices from your institution, pose questions, and network with peers.
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