Meet Allison Cannady-Smith

The university's new director of alumni and parent relations says people come first

Allison Cannady-Smith wasn’t looking for a new job, let alone one in a corner of the country she’d never visited. She was in fact quite happy at the University of Pennsylvania, where she was director of overseer affairs, coordinating the work of 500 alumni and other volunteers who make up the boards of Penn’s 16 schools and centers.

But then a recruiting consultant called and started telling her about a little college 3,000 miles away. Cannady-Smith was only vaguely familiar with Puget Sound, but the more she listened, the more intrigued she was—especially the part about its people and the intimacy of a smaller university. Long an admirer of the liberal arts model, the grad of Penn’s Wharton School decided she had to see UPS for herself. In October Cannady-Smith, her husband, Greg, and their two children, Amanda, 9, and Gregory, 5, headed for Tacoma.

They weren’t quite prepared for what came next.

Cannady-Smith was immediately attracted by an institution that exhibited ethics and ideals similar to her own, and excited by the opportunities at this point in the college’s growth.

Her family felt a pull, too.

“My daughter is a little environmental activist,” Cannady-Smith says. “She loved the natural landscape of the area and the openness.”

Greg had just started a dream job as a researcher in Penn’s health system, but he liked UPS, and encouraged his wife to trust her instincts. So, what next?

“We had a family meeting, and there was a vote,” Cannady-Smith says with her ready smile. Three months later they were moving into a college-owned house, where they’ll stay until they sell their place in Philadelphia and find a new home in the North End.

Focus on relationships
Now Cannady-Smith is getting up to speed and mapping out what she wants to accomplish. Some of the work was already underway. The National Alumni Board is transitioning to a larger and more volunteer-oriented Alumni Council Executive Committee. Cannady-Smith will work with council leadership to finalize the group’s mission statement, define the charges of the 11 working committees, and recruit alumni to fill open positions. The ACEC structure will be unveiled to alumni in a regional tour to 11 cities from April 2007 through March 2008.

“Our offerings for alumni were behind our peers,” she says. “It was very events-focused and transactional—not the spirit of engagement you’d expect from a university of this calibre. We were lacking in continuity of relationships that connect alumni to the university and one another.”

To help Puget Sound get better at those and other things, her staff will grow by three positions. Two will be filled this spring—one concentrating on student-alumni programs and regional activities, the other on Homecoming and reunion weekend, and assisting affinity groups like the Logger Club, the Adelphians, and alumni fraternity and sorority groups. The third position, which will focus primarily on parents, will be filled this fall.

Cannady-Smith also aims to reach out to faculty members and broaden their involvement in programs designed for alumni.

Better technology
The alumni online community is due for a serious overhaul. “We need a technological infrastructure that supports the way people have become accustomed to communicating with one another,” says Cannady-Smith. “We’ll expand to include bulletin boards for clubs and classes, and eventually Web casts and podcasts of on-campus events and presentations. Our Web presence also will be upgraded to reflect the vibrancy of our new programming.”

Let’s hear it
Cannady-Smith says she has enjoyed her initial encounters with alumni and parents, and looks forward to hearing from others who want to get involved. You can write her at