Fall 2012 | Article By Robert Morris
As the first-ever development officer for the newly-formed School of Science and Engineering, Kat Engleman faced the daunting task of building an alumni community out of a disparate group of graduates, some of whom were upset about the changes at their alma mater and others who were unfamiliar with what an integrated school encompassing all of Tulane’s science and engineering curricula was going to involve.
Over the past seven years -- while dramatically broadening the base of donors to the school and securing major gifts for new projects -- Engleman has also played a key role in building the school's new identity.
Engleman joined the School of Science and Engineering as its first senior development officer while the school was being formed in the rebuilding period following Hurricane Katrina. It was a critical time, recalls Dean Nick Altiero. Many engineering alumni were frustrated to see their majors dissolved, and the scientists were somewhat bewildered by the concept of a School -- their affiliations were with the Faculty of Arts and Sciences, Newcomb College, Tulane College, or the Graduate School.
"There was a lot of chaos with respect to alumni identity," Altiero said. "Her job for the school is to bring in major gifts, but that's a tough job when the people you're asking to invest in the school don't know why you're asking them."
Engleman accepted Altiero's challenge wholeheartedly, however, and found herself continually amazed by how willing both science and engineering alumni in New Orleans and around the country were to welcome her into their homes. After their first glance at the university's renewal plan, Engleman said, "some of our engineering family felt they didn't have a horse in the race." But as they individually sat down with Engleman and Altiero, they began to understand that the long-range realignment of engineering and comprehensive partnerships with the science faculty would ultimately expand Tulane's engineering options and result in a research powerhouse and a stronger university.
"After the first couple of trips Nick and I took, people realized that we were in a position where the future of Tulane was at stake," Engleman said. "Many people - who I'm incredibly grateful to - said, 'We want to be part of that future, we will stand behind your vision, and you can depend on our support."
In the school's first year of existence, it had about 400 donors, Altiero said. By last year, that number had tripled, and the school has received tens of millions of dollars in gifts -- including major projects, such as the creation of Flower Hall, new scholarships, faculty start-up packages and endowments. Engleman has been critical to all of that, Altiero said.
"The integration of science and engineering education is so important to where we are going, because it feeds innovation," Engleman said. "When you bring engineers and scientists together, it closes the gap between when discoveries are made and innovations are produced. That energizes our alumni because it represents the future."
Engleman does not have a science background -- she majored in philosophy in college -- but she has immersed herself in the school's work, Altiero said, educating herself on cutting-edge topics such as materials science and engineering, vaccine-delivery systems and designer proteins.
"She has made it her business to understand not only the school’s strategic vision but also, to a large extent, what we do," Altiero said. "When she talks about the school, it's not fluff. She has an air of authority. She's speaking for me, and the alumni get that. What she's talking about is substantive."
Another strong point of connection between Engleman and Tulane alumni is a strong bond to the city of New Orleans, and a conviction that Tulane is crucial to helping the city and the region grow.
"After Katrina, it became very apparent to me that I loved New Orleans, and this was my home. I knew that if New Orleans was going to be the city it had the potential to be, then Tulane needed to be a major player in that rebuilding process," Engleman said. "Our alumni are very attached to New Orleans. They're very motivated by wanting this region to succeed, and they see Tulane as a vehicle for doing that."
Guiding development at the school has become a natural fit for Engleman, who says she loves helping write "the next chapter" of Tulane's history. But the credit for her success, she says, belongs completely to the generous alumni she has met.
"We would not be here without the support of our alumni," Engleman said. "There are so many people who have energized Nick and I, been inspired by the integration of science and engineering, and subsequently supported SSE. Generosity has made it possible to create a lot of things at the school, and it's made the whole journey a lot of fun."
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