An IR Perspective on Advancement and Alumni Relations

​Jerold (Raldy) Laguilles is the Coordinator of Institutional Research at Springfield College in Springfield, Mass. Raldy received the 2014 Council for Advancement and Support of Education (CASE) H.S. Warwick Research Award in Alumni Relations for Education Advancement. Raldy has been an AIR member for nine years and was awarded a Fellowship for Graduate Study in 2008 and participated in the National Data Institute in 2009. He talks about his recent research and his professional development experiences with AIR.
 
Interview by Elaine Cappellino
 
eAIR: What is the H.S. Warwick Research Award, and what do you research?
 
Raldy.jpgThe H.S. Warwick Research Award is one of several awards given by the Council for Advancement and Support of Education (CASE), the professional association that serves advancement professionals in educational institutions. Specifically, this award recognizes scholarly research that impacts educational advancement practitioners in alumni relations. Earlier in my professional career, I worked in alumni relations for several years. My dissertation, What Kind of Alumni Do Low-Income Students Become? An Investigation of the Relationship Between Income-Status and Future Alumni Involvement, was recognized with the H.S. Warwick award as an outstanding doctoral dissertation. With respect to alumni volunteer activity or donation behavior, I found that students who entered with low-income status were no different than students who entered with high-income status. However, low-income students were associated with lower donation amounts when compared to high-income students.
 
eAIR: How does your research experience impact your work as an IR professional?
 
Broadly speaking, conducting research means being organized and systematic in order to problem solve or answer questions. Many of the projects and tasks performed by IR offices are in effect small-scale (and sometimes large-scale) research activities. Whether I’m fulfilling external reporting requirements, analyzing a dataset, building a data file, creating a survey, or responding to ad-hoc data requests, I tend to break down the tasks into smaller, logical steps that are similar to the stages of the research process. Research involves many decisions along the way (e.g., what sample to use, what analytic technique to employ, etc.) and in IR, we have to make similar decisions (e.g., what definition to use, what visual display of data is best, etc.)
 
eAIR: How has your involvement with AIR – including your Fellowship for Graduate Study and participation in the National Data Institute – helped support your professional endeavors?
 
AIR has played an instrumental role in my professional development throughout my career, including when I was a graduate student. The AIR Fellowship for Graduate Study enabled me to present my research at various higher-education conferences, one of which ultimately led to a publication in Research in Higher Education. In addition, I was able to attend a statistical workshop and procure valuable resources (such as books and software), all of which supported me in the dissertation process. At the National Summer Data Policy Institute, I was introduced to "all things IPEDS." The experience paid dividends a year later when I started my IR career and was tasked with creating benchmarking reports of peer institutions. Overall, I find the AIR community to be a valuable, collegial, and professional network that provides myriad resources, from the Annual Forum to eAIR Tech Tips, which help me perform my job more effectively and efficiently.
 
eAIR: What do you find most enjoyable about your work in IR? What is most challenging?
 
I really like the fact that IR touches almost all aspects of a college or university. One of the reasons I chose my dissertation topic was to bring an IR perspective to advancement and alumni relations. In general, I enjoy learning more about the data and information used by particular offices and departments. For example, I am currently working to enhance my institution’s capacity to conduct more institutional research using data from our financial aid office. In doing so, I'm learning more about the specific types of financial aid awarded at our institution, probably more than I ever wanted to know! But, it is this opportunity to learn new nuggets of information about the institution that always keeps things interesting. On the flip side, one of the challenging aspects of the job is multi-tasking and prioritizing various projects, reporting needs, and data requests that always seem to converge at the same time each year.
 
eAIR: How did you celebrate when you learned of your award?
 
Of course, receiving this award was never the purpose for me writing my dissertation, so it was a nice surprise to be recognized. I shared the news of this award with my dissertation advisor and committee as well as all of the people who helped me through the process - family, friends, and colleagues. While I can’t say that I celebrated more than when I actually defended, my wife and I did share a nice toast over this because she, more than anyone, knows the long journey it has been.