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UC Merced Strikes ‘Grand Gold’ for Alumni Chat Series

June 1, 2018
Jessica "JaeJae" Julian ('10) poses with two awards from District VII of the Council for Advancement and Support of Education.
Alumni Relations Specialist Jessica "JaeJae" Julian ('10) poses with two awards UC Merced received for its Alumni Career Chat Employment Success Series (ACCESS).

In 2013, UC Merced’s Alumni Relations staff proposed an idea: Invite alumni back to campus to talk to current students about their post-graduation careers and experiences.

That idea became UC Merced’s Alumni Career Chat Employment Success Series (ACCESS). And when Alumni Relations Specialist Jessica “JaeJae” Julian (’10) joined the department, she took that good idea and turned it into gold.

This year, the ACCESS initiative earned a prestigious Grand Gold Award of Excellence from the Council for Advancement and Support of Education (CASE) District VII. CASE Awards recognize the best work in alumni relations, communications, development and marketing at educational institutions worldwide, with District VII representing the western region of the United States.

“I was completely shocked and surprised,” Julian said. “It was a big moment.”

ACCESS was one of three External Relations projects to claim CASE District VII Awards of Excellence this year. ACCESS and the recruitment video UC Merced: Building Your Future each won gold. A third submission, UC Merced Drone Photo 2017, won a silver award in the public service announcement and commercial spots category. Since 2013, UC Merced has earned 14 CASE Awards of Excellence.

The Grand Gold award is UC Merced’s first. It was also Julian’s first CASE submission.

Audience members listen to UC Merced alumni talk about their post-graduation careers
More than 1,400 students and 100 alumni have participated in nearly two dozen career chats in the last five years.

All projects that earn a gold Award of Excellence are considered for the Grand Gold. They’re judged against other gold award winners, but only those deemed as the most exceptional and innovative earn the Grand Gold.

“I’m very proud of our small but nimble Alumni Relations team of three — all of whom are UC Merced alumni,” said Executive Director Chris Abrescy (’09). “Our CASE Awards of Excellence continue to put UC Merced on the radar and help build the credibility of our small but growing alumni relations program. It demonstrates that we can engage our young alumni and provide impactful programs regardless of the campus’s age, alumni population size, program budget, or staff size.”

Career Chats Continue to Grow, Expand

The ACCESS program connects UC Merced alumni with current Bobcats to help inspire and empower students to further their education, participate in research and pursue career opportunities. As an advisor to UC Merced’s Student Alumni Association, Julian collaborated with the group to improve and expand ACCESS’ reach. When it launched in 2013, Alumni Relations hosted one or two chats a year.

When Julian came on board, she worked closely with the Student Alumni Association to help make ACCESS more robust. They expanded discussion topics and established stronger relationships with partners that included the schools, the Center for Career and Professional Advancement and the Associated Students of UC Merced (ASUCM). They also engaged more alumni participation by adding a goal to include four to six alumni as speakers at each event.

“Our CASE Awards of Excellence continue to put UC Merced on the radar and help build the credibility of our small but growing alumni relations program. It demonstrates that we can engage our young alumni and provide impactful programs regardless of the campus’s age, alumni population size, program budget, or staff size.”

Chris Abrescy
Executive Director of Alumni Relations
Two crystal awards are displayed on a tabletop.
UC Merced's ACCESS program earned two awards -- one of them a distinguished Grand Gold -- from the Council for Advancement and Support of Education (CASE) District VII.

The efforts paid off. This year, organizers hosted seven ACCESS events, the most in one academic year. More than 1,400 students and 100 alumni have participated in nearly two dozen career chats in the last five years.

“Being UC Merced alumni helps us understand the needs of our students,” Abrescy said. “A high percentage of our students are the first in their family to attend college, and many may not know what it means to be an alumnus, or what steps they should take as they transition from college to career.”

Julian said earning the CASE recognition was humbling. “This entire experience has empowered me to continue to produce programs and events at a golden level for my alma mater,” Julian said. “This wouldn’t have been possible without a hard-working and dedicated team who truly believes in the work we do.”