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The Mac Weekly

The Student News Site of Macalester College

The Mac Weekly

The Student News Site of Macalester College

The Mac Weekly

Macalester selects new VP for Advancement

Macalester selects new VP for Advancement

The process of bringing now Vice President for Advancement Joanna Curtis ’97 back to Macalester was a lengthy one, spanning over 6 months and involving a 13-member search committee consisting of Macalester alumni, faculty, parents, students and staff.

The role of Vice President for Advancement, according to Curtis, includes alumni engagement, fundraising and marketing/communications, including admissions outreach. Her goals coming into the position correlate strongly with the purposes she outlined.

“Three years from now, what I hope we have achieved is that we have increased philanthropic giving to the college, especially related to support for students,” Curtis said. “Second, I hope we have increased alumni engagement, whether that’s alumni volunteering or participating in events. [Thirdly, I want to] increase our visibility as a college in the Twin Cities … nationally and internationally.”

Two students served on the search committee for the role; Sophia Salinas ’24 said that she was contacted personally by Macalester College President Suzanne Rivera with an offer to serve on the committee. At the time, she didn’t quite know what this would entail. 

“I didn’t really know what Vice President for Advancement meant,” Salinas said. “I asked a couple of my professors what search committees usually entailed, because it was my first one.”

Co-chair of the search committee, and Chief of Staff to the President Sara Suelflow ’88, P’26, ’26 frequently works with and interacts with members of the senior leadership team and serves as the secretary to the Macalester Board of Trustees. She is involved with the strategic planning committee and brought a wealth of experience in administration to the search process. 

“Key characteristics and qualifications we were looking for were experience in senior leadership and in the development and execution of capital campaigns,” Suelflow wrote in an email to The Mac Weekly.

As a Macalester alumna, parent and employee, Suelflow is personally invested in the future of the college and what it will continue to look like in the future. 

“I’m personally thrilled that we are bringing a Macalester alumna back to the college to lead our advancement work,” Suelflow wrote. “Our advancement team keeps our alumni and others in the Macalester community connected and engaged to support the great work that happens here.”

Salinas presented a slightly different perspective on bringing an alumna back to the college, highlighting that at a 4-year college, ideologies and beliefs can change quickly. 

“I think it might take time to adjust to the goals of the college now,” Salinas said. “But I think being a student on that committee and establishing some of the things I care about — some of the big things students care about — maybe gave her more insight into what life at Mac is like now.”

After graduating from Macalester in 1997, Curtis enjoyed a fruitful career where she applied many of the skills she gained from her time here at Mac. Post-graduation, she, like many others, didn’t have a great idea of what she wanted her career to look like. From managing a bookstore to working as a temp, it took a few years for Curtis to settle on working in development. 

“I found that it was a really good match,” Curtis said of working in development. “I’ve been a development professional for over 20 years. I’ve worked at a couple of nonprofits … and then transferred to the University of Memphis. That’s when I realized that higher ed advancement was what I was most passionate about.”

Despite having been gone for over nearly 30 years, Curtis says that Macalester has mostly stayed the same. Though buildings have shifted to accommodate the needs of the growing student body, she says the values of Macalester have not.

“Students still seem to have a strong sense of individuality, social justice and the importance of community,” Curtis said. “[Those] felt like the kind of values that I really wanted in my college experience.”

These values are part of what makes Curtis excited to be back. 

“When I saw the opportunity for the open position as Vice President for Advancement, the idea that it could come full circle and I could bring those values and priorities that had shaped my professional life back around to someplace that means as much to me as Mac does was really irresistible,” she continued. “It’s a place [where] I can feel good about my responsibility for raising money for the college.”

During the hiring process, the search committee worked to establish a set of criteria for the candidates. Four candidates were flown to Macalester over the summer and the committee selected the top two for President Rivera to decide between. From those, Curtis stood out for a variety of reasons. 

“Joanna’s knowledge of Macalester and her experience here as a student give her a deeper understanding of the institution, and I think her personal connection to Macalester is a significant benefit for her in this role,” Suelflow wrote. “She is able to speak with authenticity about the impact of a Macalester education.” 

“We talked about how innovative she was,” Salinas said. “She had really unique approaches to donations. She stuck out as having a good heart, having big ideas and actually being someone who would execute those big ideas.” 

Upon her return to Macalester, Curtis has been making an effort to engage with campus life, attending student events and interfacing with the members of the Macalester community. In her interview, she reflected on the time she spent at the University of Memphis, where she made her way up through the ranks to hold the role of Vice President for Advancement there. 

“I really felt like I was making a difference not only for the students but for the larger community,” Curtis said. “It ties back to that sense [I had] when I left Mac, that if I’m going to have a job, I want it to mean something. I want to feel like I’m doing something to make my community and the world a better place.

Editor’s Note: A previous iteration of this article incorrectly stated that Joanna Curtis ’97 graduated from Macalester College in 1988. Her true year of graduation is 1997.

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Lucy Diaz
Lucy Diaz, Managing Editor
Lucy Diaz '24 is a Managing Editor, from Montclair, NJ. She is a biology major with a horrifying combination of minors/concentrations that includes psychology, biochemistry and community & global health. She owns earrings that say "Be Gay do Crimes," a tiny chemistry beaker filled with d20 dice, and knows a lot about medieval european monarchy.

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