Alumni affairs goes virtual

Despite the challenges of connecting in a remote environment, the Freeman School hasn’t let the pandemic impact its alumni engagement.

The 2020-2021 academic year was a school year like no other. But, in characteristic fashion, the A. B. Freeman School of Business responded by addressing those challenges head on — discovering new avenues to connect with alumni and further extend its thriving network.

Early on, members of the Freeman administration assessed how the pandemic was likely to impact the community. With COVID-19, people in our community and around the world were finding themselves disconnected — from family, from work, from the everyday routines that had been taken for granted.

Freeman Webinar Series screen capture

As part of the Freeman Webinar Series, the Tulane Energy Institute hosted a discussion on how the events of 2020 impacted the growth of clean energy featuring, clockwise from top right, Casey Herman (BSM ’86), partner and US Power and Utilities Leader with Pricewaterhouse Coopers, and Freeman Professors of Practice Pierre Moses, Josh Herlands and Megan Guy.

Recognizing this disconnect, the Freeman School rapidly developed a series of initiatives to keep the Freeman community connected with the school — and with each other. Though the idea sprang from a moment of international crisis, the results were extraordinary, with Freeman connecting with more members of our community during the pandemic than ever before, particularly those members of our community who live outside New Orleans.

“Despite the challenges we faced, we were able to offer several virtual engagement opportunities to our alumni for the first time ever,” said Caitlin Gottstine, director of business school alumni relations. “It was wonderful to see alumni from all over the country share their time and talents with current students, by guest lecturing or mentoring via Zoom.”

She added, “I’m so proud of the Freeman community for coming together and succeeding in exciting new ways, and I look forward to continuing to offer these new programs.”

The Tulane Business Forum is one of the highlights of the academic year at Freeman, and early on it may have seemed that the networking opportunity offered by the in-person experience of the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center couldn’t be matched. Typically, about 400 Freeman students, alumni and business people gather together at the annual event, which features local and national speakers.

“When we were faced with the choice of canceling the 2020 Tulane Business Forum or reformatting the delivery mechanism, the TABA Board agreed unanimously that canceling was not an option,” said Stephanie Kleehammer, 2020 TABA board president and executive director of the Louisiana Veterans Research and Education Corp. “Instead, we decided to hold a virtual forum. Luckily, TABA was able to draw on the expertise of our longstanding media partner to make that happen.

“And while the value of face-to-face networking can never be replaced,” she added, “the virtual format allowed Tulane alumni from around the world to take part in our outstanding program. For most alumni it was an excellent re-introduction to the forum, which had been a memorable part of their student experience.”

The 2020 Tulane Business Forum ended up exceeding all expectations, drawing more than 700 business professionals representing more than 200 companies. Aptly centered on the theme “Waves of Change: Reimagining Business Growth Through a Crisis,” the event enabled far-flung alumni to engage remotely with different panels. In fact, the remote options opened the forum up to so many more attendees that TABA plans to continue offering remote sessions going forward, allowing interested Tulanians to attend from wherever they choose to log in.

Another success was the Freeman Webinar Series. Centered on of-the-moment issues, moderated by Freeman faculty and featuring industry experts, these online seminars allowed alumni to expand their knowledge on timely subjects from the comfort of their own homes. Alumni tuned in enthusiastically, eager to use their quarantine productively. Topics included “How Have the Events of 2020 Impacted Clean Energy?,” “What Happened to the Price of Oil?,” and “Hospitality in the Age of Social Distancing: A Conversation with Hotel and Restaurant Owners.”

Another annual event that successfully navigated the shift to the virtual was the Tulane Business Model Competition. “By enabling this year’s semifinalists to present their business models to judges via videoconference, we’re doing all we can to create a valuable experience for our participating ventures at a time when they’re especially in need of our support,” said Rob Lalka, executive director of the Lepage Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation, which organizes the annual event.

The virtual format also made it possible for more ventures to participate, elevating the overall quality of the event. “In all my years as a judge, I believe this was the highest level of competition I’ve seen in the TBMC,” said Albert Lepage (MBA ’71), retired co-chairman of Lepage Bakeries, who served as one of this year’s judges.

Faculty were quick to recognize that travel limitations and an increased use of virtual engagement tools such as Zoom spelled opportunity for their classrooms. Industry luminaries from across finance, management, marketing and accounting served as guest lecturers via Zoom over the 2020-2021 academic year, providing students with invaluable firsthand insights.
Throughout the pandemic, the Freeman School was able to innovate in exciting new ways, amplifying its reach and further deepening its already impressive alumni network. As an educational institution, the Freeman School never stops learning. This past academic year taught us above all that there are so many ways that alumni and friends can continue to remain involved and give back to our community — even without necessarily coming to New Orleans physically.

Alumni interested in learning about more ways to get involved should contact Caitlin Gottstine, director of alumni relations, at

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