Daniel Pavilion and Pearce Auditorium.

Virtual Alumni Reunion brings together Brenau graduates from across the globe

Apr 26, 2021
Kathryne Davis

Brenau University’s 2021 Virtual Alumni Reunion, held on April 23-25, included three days of opportunities for former classmates to reconnect, meet new alumni and celebrate the success of this year’s Alumni Award winners.

The virtual event, which has stood in for Brenau’s annual Alumnae Reunion Weekend for the past two years, included a Lunch and Learn with Sidney Prescott on Friday. Prescott is the global head of intelligent automation at Spotify in New York City and a student in Brenau’s Executive Women’s MBA program. The second Friday event was a state of the university address and Q&A session with Brenau President Anne Skleder. The champagne brunch, one of reunion weekend’s more popular events, and Alumni Award announcements were held Saturday. The weekend concluded with a mixology class on Sunday in which participants learned how to mix different types of cocktails.

“Brenau could have easily brushed this weekend under the rug and said, ‘We’ll do it when we can get together again in person,’” said Alumni Association President Brooke Statham, WC ’00. “The Office of Alumni and Constituent Engagement committed to still bringing everyone together and having events no matter what the condition because they understood the importance of the family that we’ve created here within the university.”

During the first session Friday, Prescott spoke about her career, how she worked her way up to her position at Spotify and what it is like to be a woman of color in technology.

“Being a woman of color in technology has been very, very challenging at times,” Prescott said. “There have been many times when I wanted to go to another career, because I felt so isolated in the way that I was treated by my predominantly male peers. Throughout my career, it’s been predominantly male peers in technology and predominantly not people of color.

“I felt kind of disappointed and questioned my decision about continuing in technology. But what kept me in technology was two things: my passion for it and the mentors that I found along the way. The feedback that I got from my mentors and the support that I got from my mentors helped me to weather the challenging times that I faced.”

Before the session ended, Prescott gave some advice to attendees about doing research and negotiation.

“Once I learned how to negotiate, the world opened up to me,” she said. “My negotiation is what brought me to New York. Believing in myself, enough to be very firm about my negotiations, probably is the highlight of my career. Arming myself with knowledge made me more confident in my negotiation where I felt very strongly that I knew what I was talking about.

“I think the other piece is to not accept the first offer. Even if it’s the greatest offer you’ve ever seen in your life, you can negotiate more than that. And do your research before you go in. Do significant research so that you can feel confident about what you’re speaking of, and believe in your own skill set.”

Director of Alumni & Constituent Engagement Ashley Carter, WC ’09, BU ’12, called Prescott a trailblazer in her field and said she hopes to keep her engaged with Brenau students after her completion of the Executive Women’s MBA program in August.

“I asked Sidney to speak to our alumni because she has such an inspirational story to tell,” Carter said. “She is an example of a strong Brenau woman, and I can’t wait to see what she does next.”

Later Friday, Skleder updated alumni on what has been happening at Brenau during the past year, including the launch of the Physician Assistant Studies program in January, the arrival in April of the first cohort of students from Panama that will spend the next five years learning English and earning their degrees at Brenau, the addition of new trustees, and the namings of the Swinton A. Griffith III Deanship of the College of Business & Communication, the Charles D. Walters Theatre on the Square, and the Lynn J. Darby School of Psychology and Adolescent Counseling.

“It could have been so easy this year to just say that we’re putting everything off,” Skleder said. “Well, we could not do that. We needed to keep momentum, and I’m really proud of the extent to which our faculty, staff and students have kept that momentum going.”

Highlighting Saturday’s session was the announcement of the newest inductees into Brenau’s Alumni Hall of Fame, including Brenau Board of Trustees Vice Chair Emmie Henderson Howard, WC ’01, former trustee Antonina Grib Lerch, WC ’03, and Khalilah Johnson, WC ’06.

“I’ve always counted Brenau in my blessings for so many reasons,” Howard said. “It is an honor to still serve and give back and believe in this great school and what it means to all of you, what it means to me and what it’s going to mean to many, many women to come. I will always have Brenau in my heart and keep my heart in Brenau.”

This year’s Alumni Award winners were also recognized, including Dr. Nicole Tong-Mitchell, A ’02, WC ’05, Academy Alumna of the Year; Michelle Prater, BU ’03, Community Service Award; Belinda Landers Jackson, WC ’05, Professional Achievement Award; Celeste Alexander, WC ’99, Service to Brenau Award; and Sommer Stockton, WC ’19, BU ’20, Young Alumna Award.

“We have some truly amazing alumni recipients this year, and I was honored to be able to present these awards on Saturday,” Carter said. “I look forward to a formal ceremony, hopefully next year, in which we can celebrate in person with the 2020, 2021 and 2022 award recipients.”

Also on Saturday, Debra Dobkins, dean of The Women’s College, updated the audience on what The Women’s College has been doing in the past year, including GOLDen Grams, a project in which students design postcards that are distributed in the community; the annual Women’s Leadership Colloquium that was held virtually for the first time ever in March; and the GOLD Speaker Series, which featured Gainesville Latino community advocate Norma Hernandez and former Georgia Supreme Court Justice Leah Ward Sears in September.

Carter said while this year’s reunion was a success, she is eager for alumni to return to campus for their annual celebration.

“I did not want this year to pass us by without the opportunity to gather, even if it was through a computer screen,” Carter said. “I can’t wait to see everyone back on campus on a beautiful spring day sipping mimosas and catching up. It honestly cannot come soon enough.”