She just returned from Turkey and is planning a trip to Israel. This is the work life of Brooke Eisenmenger, the director of international advancement.
Serving as a goodwill ambassador for the Urbana campus, she meets with University of Illinois alumni in Europe and the Middle East. She searches for alumni with successful careers who feel a sense of connectivity to the university, then travels a great distance to meet with them in the hopes that the relationships she develops will result in a gift of support of the U. of I.
Eisenmenger’s involvement in higher education advancement spans around 12 years, though it’s not her first job serving in an international capacity.
A decade ago, she became aware of her current job while working at the University of Chicago, where she managed an international board of alumni and friends. That job didn’t have the fundraising component that her current career does.
“I knew that (this) was the job that I would want to have at some point in the future,” Eisenmenger said.
She said this kind of job isn’t common for a university, however. The university has to be sizable enough that it has a large international population, and there have to be resources to support travel. At a moment in her life when she wasn’t looking for a job, she got a call from an employment headhunter, telling her about the position.
“It sort of came to me. It found me,” she said. “I feel lucky.”
Eisenmenger travels about two consecutive weeks each month, typically attending 10 to 25 meetings with alumni each trip. The trips allow her to visit more than one city, depending on the location, so she can meet with as many people as possible.
She loves traveling and has been working in fundraising for a while, but she also enjoys the added complexity of understanding a culture and its perspective on philanthropy.
“I really love trying to figure that out and how to maneuver within a country’s cultural landscape to reach the end goal of university support,” Eisenmenger said.
Since starting this position in May 2015, she has visited Belgium, France, Germany, the Netherlands, Switzerland, Turkey and been to the United Kingdom multiple times. In addition to her upcoming trip to Israel, she’s planning to visit Italy, Saudi Arabia, Spain and the United Arab Emirates. She also might travel to some Latin American countries in the future.
When setting up meetings, Eisenmenger said most people are excited to hear that a representative of the U. of I. is coming. If alumni enjoyed their time at university and they are available, they’ll almost certainly take the time to meet with her. A meeting typically starts with Eisenmenger asking people about their experiences with the university and providing updates on the college and department they attended.
She also explains what the university is doing to better engage with international alumni, as many of them feel disconnected – figuratively and physically – since most graduated years ago and all live thousands of miles from the campus. Many of those she meets are deeply passionate about the university and their time on campus.
“Everybody is so nice, and I’ve met so many wonderful, wonderful people,” she said.
Everyone she meets is fluent in English. When she travels, the challenging part about language is trying to figure out which train to take.
Sometimes when people cancel appointments, she is able to squeeze in a little bit of sightseeing.
When visiting Paris for the first time, Eisenmenger had 23 meetings planned over four days. She remembers walking to and from every meeting – around 12 miles in one day – to see whatever she could of the city despite the hectic schedule. She also was determined to see the Eiffel Tower – even if her only opportunity was at 11 p.m.
“I don’t remember being tired. I just remember that it was really cool, and I’m glad I did it,” she said.
In her free time, Eisenmenger, who works for the Urbana campus but lives in Chicago, enjoys reading, going to the gym, taking her dog to the beach and spending time with her fiance, Tyler. They will get married in May.
Her job gives her ample time for reading when she gets to meetings early and for movies on the long plane rides. She enjoys reading historical fiction and anything someone recommends. “I’ve seen every possible movie you can imagine,” she said.
Aside from knowledge about fundraising, she said it helps to have a sense of adventure in her job.
Beyond that, it’s a learning curve. She said you have to be interested in learning about other cultures so you can be able to approach each place and person in the right way.
“There’s nobody to teach you that,” she said.