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Wendy Corn: Fundraising with flair
PHOTO: Owen Egan
Corn is just beginning her third year as the associate director of the McGill Annual Fund, and of the many projects and events she's organized or collaborated on, the Parents' Tent is her favourite.
"I wanted to give something to parents that they had never had before, to respond to their concerns," says Corn, who as the mother of 12-year-old Emily and nine-year-old Jonathan knows "the growing pains" of parents when children make their many separations from home.
Last year, Corn expanded on the tent's mandate as a place where parents could seek company, refreshment, reassurance and answers; she talked IKEA into setting up a model student's apartment, using the exact measurements of the average digs, to give parents an idea of their kids' future living conditions. The furnishings, all priced, were right there in the tent, an innovation that won her (along with communications officer Daniel Chonchol) a gold medal from the Canadian Council for the Advancement of Education for the best event. Participation by parents grew to 1,000 families from 500 in the first year.
"Throughout the year, I get calls from parents wanting to know where to find furniture or how to have a pizza or a birthday cake sent. That's where the concept for a parent orientation tent came from," says Corn, who says that a lot of her ideas come to her "during the morning drive to work."
Meeting with parents makes them feel connected to McGill, says Corn. "The more people are connected, the more they see a reason to associate with McGill," she says, explaining that the McGill Parents Fund is just one of the five non-alumni funds which form the focus of her work. The others are the Faculty & Staff Annual Fund, McGill Associates, Friends of McGill, and the In Honour and In Memory Fund.
Regarding this year's Parents' Tent, Corn is keeping mum on the details, but parents and passers-by can be sure to expect something different. In the short time she's occupied her cosy office in Martlet House, Corn has achieved a reputation for imagination.
Many will remember the zany "Giving Giveaway" FSAF campaign two years ago, where faculty and staff members were solicited — with campy and colourful American Clearinghouse Sweepstakes-style materials — to give to the fund.
Part of the pitch involved having a $5,000 student prize named after someone making a contribution to the fund. The campaign also included a "scratch 'n' share" card whereby a donor's contribution would be topped up by whatever amount was under the scratch tab.
That campaign, designed by Corn and communications officer Vivian Lewin, grabbed a silver medal in the category of program development from the CCAE.
Not everyone at McGill liked the campaign -- some thought it was a little crass. But just about everyone took notice.
For her part, Corn says she likes to take risks by doing things differently from time to time. "If you don't play at your job and it's not fun, then what's the point?" is her philosophy. With regard to the "scratch 'n' share" campaign, Corn says, "Being new at McGill, I didn't have any preconceptions and I thought that people needed to be moved. We all have another side of us and I wanted to giggle."
According to Lewin, "Wendy's the kind of fundraiser who stands in the mailroom to open the cheques. She wants to get a sense of who's giving, what their handwriting looks like... And she doesn't hide under her desk when there's a complaint; she tries to do something immediately."
Corn first understood that she had a talent for fundraising during her four years as director of development for Montreal's Golden Age Organization, her previous job. "The GAO empowered me, made me believe I had talent, and it's McGill that confirmed it."
Being a fundraiser was not Corn's original ambition in life. In fact, she started out following her father's path to law school, completing her undergraduate degree at McGill in political science in 1982.
But during the summer after receiving her BA, Corn got "a taste for retail." Her mother had just bought a cosmetics and costume jewellery store and Corn went to work for her, staying 10 years with Caprice Cosmetics.
Corn didn't know it at the time, but her passion for retail and her flair for detail, innovation and customer service were to serve her well in her future vocation. "I did everything from being the head shipper to dealing with the public," she says. "But the most important part of the job was seeing that the customer was happy.
"It's the same in fundraising. When someone makes a gift, you want them to be happy to be making one."
All through my career, robots were just a curiosity. Now they're coming. It's scary, it gives one pause. But it's unstoppable.
That'll do, Mig, that'll do
It's that time of the year -- when students are off-campus, donning the role of sales clerk, waitress or camp instructor, trying to put away a few bucks from their summer jobs to help pay for books and rent in September.
Animal biology student Sara Sutherland is busy at her summer job too. Contacted on her cell phone, Sutherland excuses herself for a few moments to issue some directives to her "co-worker," Mig.
"Yeah! Get up! That a girl! Right there! There, Mig, there! Steady there!"
Sutherland is a shepherd. She keeps watch over 530 sheep, using whistles and voice commands to tell her border collie, Mig, where to direct the flock.
She is part of a unique University of New Hampshire research project aimed at protecting power lines in that state from being toppled by big trees.
The sheep graze on certain species of trees that get particularly large — maple, birch, cherry and oak. Sutherland and the other shepherds lead the sheep to areas directly underneath power lines.
As a shepherd, Sutherland keeps a wary eye out for coyotes and looks for any signs of illness or injury among the sheep. She also answers a lot of questions about the animals — many of the areas she's working in are fairly urban and populated by curious residents "who don't know the front end of a sheep from the back."
Sutherland is an old hand at this — she grew up in Huntingdon and her family owns 600 sheep. "I like working with animals," she says. "It's a nice change being outdoors all the time. I get enough in the winter of sitting at a desk."
Sutherland can vouch for the fact that the sheep diligently chow down on the fledgling trees that might one day threaten power lines.
"We think it's working. [The sheep] kill the younger growth and they stop the growth of older trees. The big question is, is this more cost-effective [than more conventional plant control approaches]?"
Sutherland's best summer gig was probably tending sheep in Virginia in 1998. "Mig was my salary. I got the better of the deal."
Screening, including initial testing and followup necessary for surgery, could be done for less than $20 million. Compare that with the cost of funding the Office de la Langue Française, whose costs are now approaching $25 million a year.
Don't believe what you read
Letters of recommendation play a crucial role in the scholarly world, notesThe Chronicle of Higher Education. "They can derail a tenure bid, clinch a job, tip the scales for that Guggenheim grant."
Problem is, they can be woefully unreliable. Academics, for the most part, are reluctant to jeopardize the career prospects of colleagues and former students by pointing out their weaknesses in writing.
"People want their students to succeed. They want their departments to succeed," explains law and philosophy professor Brian Leiter from the University of Texas at Austin.
"It becomes like a nuclear arms race. If Michigan is using lots of adjectives, UCLA better, too. Someone who is candid risks damaging their students, because candour is uncommon."
Another reason why such letters don't always tell the whole truth is that, even if the tenure and hiring processes are supposed to be confidential, word often gets out if one scholar attacks the work of another.
Princeton history professor Nell Irvin Painter says, "I never speak ill of anybody." But she adds that there are ways to decode letters of recommendation in order to tell the difference between those that are heartfelt and those that are not.
"There's a pretty clear list of things you need to cover. When you don't talk about something, that speaks volumes."
The Chronicle put together its own tongue-in-cheek guide to what letters of recommendation "really mean." Examples: This student is always willing to engage in vigorous debate (This student is really obnoxious); Solid, competent, scoured the archives, good study habits (This student is a plodding dullard who will never produce anything of interest); Eclectic or synthetic scholarship (This academic is a flake).
Source: Alison Schneider,The Chronicle of Higher Education