December 3, 2007
60, Number 13
December 3, 2007
By kim Urquhart
Leslie Wingate is uniquely suited for her position as senior director of alumni programs for the Emory Alumni Association, where she helps alumni around the world stay connected to their alma mater.
She knows just how important this is. Upon graduating from Emory in 1982, “I became one of those truly disconnected alumni,” she admits. Wingate transferred to Emory her sophomore year from Middlebury College in Vermont, and left again her junior year to do a year-long study abroad program in France through New York’s Hamilton College. “Now I’m connected as can be, but one of the results of those wacky college years is that I didn’t make a lot of strong connections the way someone who’d been in one place all four years would,” she says. But then, staying in one place was a somewhat foreign concept to the young Wingate.
The daughter of a diplomat, she spent her childhood in Russia, France, Washington, D.C., Czechoslovakia, Sweden and Bulgaria. At age 14, she and her brother were sent to boarding school in Devon, England. Surprisingly, it wasn’t at all stuffy. “The school sat on the ocean. The setting was like something out of a movie, absolutely gorgeous,” she recalls. The curriculum had an Outward Bound-type focus. Weekends were spent camping in England’s Dartmoor. “We’d have to do these survival expeditions where all they’d give you is a little chocolate and some oats, and no tent. This was in the middle of winter in England, and it was always raining,” she adds.
“But I wouldn’t trade that experience for the world,” Wingate laughs. She learned early on the value of teamwork. It’s a trait she now values in her team at the EAA, who support each other and have engaged an increasing number of alumni in the life of their alma mater. “You feel like you’re part of a family here,” she says.
And so, despite a nomadic youth, Wingate has found a home at Emory. “I love going to work each day. I am probably the most enthusiastic person at Emory about my job,” she says.
That commitment made her an ideal candidate for Excellence Through Leadership, an intensive program designed to strengthen the performance of senior leaders from across the University, which Wingate began this fall.
She says she has enjoyed going back to school. “I have been blown away by the quality of the [Emory Executive Development team] who teach the course. I’ve been learning things that are extremely useful, such as strategic thinking,” says Wingate, who classifies herself as more of a “doer” than a long-range planner.
And Wingate does quite a lot at the EAA. Always on the go, she’s been to Chicago, Nashville, Washington, D.C. and Baltimore this semester alone. She has led trips through Italy for the Alumni Travel Program and driven the Wagners across Ohio as part of Destinations, the EAA’s distinguished speaker series.
Wingate and her staff organize presidential visits, faculty speakers, annual award ceremonies, class reunions, alumni trips abroad and other activities both on campus and in cities around the globe in an effort to strengthen relationships with alumni worldwide.
A relatively new hat that Wingate now wears is that of faculty liaison, a role she inherited from Gerry Lowrey who retired earlier this year after 30 years at Emory. As a faculty liaison, Wingate’s goal is to raise awareness of the myriad opportunities that faculty have to serve alumni through EAA programming. “There are a lot of faculty out there who don’t understand the value they offer to alumni,” Wingate says. “When we talk to our alumni in other parts of the country and ask them what they want from us, they often say, ‘we want to hear from faculty.’ They miss that.”
The Emory ambassador got her start as an ambassador for France. Wingate applied her passion for French — her area of study at Emory — to previous careers with the French Trade Commission and the French American Chamber of Commerce in Atlanta.
After the birth of her second child, Wingate left the Chamber of Commerce, which she had led for 10 years, to become a stay-at-home mom. Three-and-a-half years later, she came back into the workplace, where she forayed into the development and stewardship area of her local church.
“It brought a lot into my life,” Wingate says. “I met my boyfriend Sam and his daughter Isabella there, and my children sung in the choir.” And it was during this time that one of the congregation members, a senior leader from the Emory Alumni Association, alerted her to an opening at Emory. “It was just the right timing,” she says of her decision four years ago to join the EAA. “I’ve loved it from the start.”
Wingate — who is off this month to speaking engagements with President Jim Wagner in Dallas and Houston — counts on the support of her family and friends to balance an often hectic schedule. “My daughters have been known to have dinner on the table waiting for me when I get home,” she says of Sarah, 14, and Emily, 11, both of whom she hopes will one day attend Emory.
Wingate says she is looking forward to the holidays, when she will take some time off for quality family time. She has even made an early New Year’s resolution. “My goal this year is to take the holidays completely off and not check e-mail,” says Wingate, who pledges to leave her Treo switched off. “For one thing, I want to model that work-life balance to the people that work with me. Work is important, but your life outside of work is every bit as important.”
She hopes that Emory alumni across the globe feel the same way.