Student Ade Guobadia ’16 believes working with Tele-Pony offers a priceless fringe benefit: As a caller with SMU’s telemarketing outreach program, she has the opportunity to meet and talk to alumni across the country.
“I’ve had some really good conversations,” says Guobadia, a first-year student from Dallas majoring in business with a minor in creative computation. “I recently spoke to an alumnus who majored in physics and electrical engineering and is now involved in physics research. He offered me some great advice about graduate school.”
On any given night, Guobadia and other student “voices” of Tele-Pony gather in a call center on campus for an experience that allows alumni to share personal stories and offer advice to today’s students, while helping their alma mater thrive in its second century.
Tele-Pony employs about 35 student fundraisers each semester. Working in groups of up to 15, students clock nine to 12 hours each week. The call center operates 6-9 p.m., Mondays through Thursdays, and 1-7 p.m. on Sundays from August through May.
From August 2012 to May 2013, students talked with nearly 23,000 alumni and parents in all 50 states and spent a total of 6,056 hours on the phones.
Each call is intended as a genuine two-way conversation, says Emily Kavy ’11, who worked for Tele-Pony as an undergraduate and has managed the call center for the last two years.
“Most of our students are outgoing, involved in University life and passionate about SMU,” she says. “They truly enjoy swapping stories with our alumni. And, as students, they are directly affected by the generosity of our constituents.”
From contributing to scholarships and financial aid to funding research projects and campus technology upgrades, annual gifts from alumni ensure that SMU will continue to attract high-caliber students.
“I have a scholarship, and whenever possible, I let our alumni know that their gifts really do make a difference in students’ lives,” Guobadia says.
Alumni annual giving also influences national university rankings. Publications such as U.S. News & World Report, which publishes its Best Colleges guide each September, factor in the percentage of yearly donations by alumni in determining ratings.
“A gift to the University is so much more than a dollar amount. It is a statement of pride in SMU and a vote of confidence in our future,” says Marc Bullard ’15, a sophomore majoring in communications studies with minors in business and psychology.
Over the past year and a half, Bullard estimates he has spoken to “hundreds, if not thousands, of alumni. I’ve talked to graduates ranging from the class of 1932 to the class of 2012.”
Bullard’s favorite conversations are with those who recount stories from their student days. “One alumnus in particular, who graduated in 1961, told me the story of how he met his wife here at SMU – they are still married today. We probably spent 20 minutes talking about how SMU has changed and what things were like for him over 50 years ago.”
When Tele-Pony gears up again in August, student callers will be ready to listen. All alumni have to do is answer the phone.