"I'm not sure who submitted my name as a potential volunteer," says Ryan Brazell ’05, an alumnus who began volunteering for Oberlin College in 2007. Six years later, he continues to serve his school in multiple areas.
His first volunteer role was as an interviewer for the Alumni Recruiting Network. ARN volunteers meet with applying students for one-on-one interviews. The goal, as Brazell describes it, is not just to see if the applicant is the right fit for Oberlin, but if Oberlin is the right fit for the prospective student.
"I felt like I learned more about Oberlin as I interviewed each student," says Brazell. In the handful of interviews he conducted in San Francisco, each applicant found a different aspect of the school—a program offered, a specific professor or class, an extra-curricular—that made Oberlin a top choice. Brazell says this rounded out his own understanding of what Oberlin had to offer.
Even with everything Oberlin has to offer, Brazell still sees work to be done.
"I volunteer with Oberlin because I'm not satisfied with how it approaches its goals," he says, adding, "I work hard to get my voice heard." Since volunteering with the Alumni Recruiting Network, Brazell joined and became co-chair of the Oberlin Lambda Alumni affiliate group, which facilitates the relationship between the college and its lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer alumni. OLA has been hard at work increasing outreach for both alumni and current students. The OLA leadership has been moving toward better reflecting Oberlin's LGBTQ population and offers two scholarships to current students. The Norm Robertson ’81 Prize and the Andy Cemelli ’85 Grant give awards to projects that advance communal awareness of issues related to LGBTQ persons. Brazell currently represents Oberlin Lambda on the Executive Board of the Alumni Association.
"I am incredibly grateful for the ongoing support and opportunities for learning the College and members of the Oberlin community have provided," Brazell says. "Through my labor, I hope to pay that debt forward. I also hope to make heard the voices of my fellow trans*/genderqueer community members, as well as those from the LGBTQ community at-large."
What suggestions does Brazell have for alumni who want to begin volunteering for Oberlin? "The Alumni Recruiting Network is a great place to get started," he says. "It's a small commitment and reminds me of the parts of Oberlin I love." Brazell also encourages alumni to host regional events. With the help of the alumni office and regional alumni club volunteers, throwing a potluck or arranging a happy hour meet up are simple ways to bring alumni together.
Developing Oberlin's regional groups is on Brazell's list of projects to tackle during his next five years of service. He sees the regional clubs as an opportunity for providing a safety net for Obies entering new spaces. Along with creating city guides and a robust activity calendar for alumni who move to a new city, Brazell would like to create connections between alumni in cities and regions that may not have their own regional alumni clubs.
Until then, the next major project for Brazell and Oberlin Lambda will be a reunion in October 2014. Volunteers, both new and experienced, are welcome.
Photo courtesty Ryan Brazell