Notes from the desk of Sterly L. Wilder: Doing the pandemic pivot

As time has marched on through this pandemic and our cool spring days became long and hot summer days that turned to fall and now winter, it is so hard to believe that what I used to refer to as Alumni World Headquarters has now become my dining-room table and my laptop. The Karsh Alumni and Visitors Center—our beautiful new home for alumni on campus, dedicated in late September 2019 at the corner of Duke University Road and Chapel Drive—transitioned to a headquarters for flu shots and was the most popular voting location in Durham County.

In our work-from-home environment, I did not see my office for six months and have not seen my colleagues, except on Zoom. I began to understand what our alumni who live away from Durham feel–not being able to walk on campus, hearing the chapel bells only on Facebook at 5 p.m. every day, and missing the energy and vibrancy of this amazing place.

Unlike most alumni, six months is the longest I have ever been away from campus. In fact, I have never been away from Duke for more than a month, and that was for summer camp when I was a teenager.

I started my life in Duke Hospital many years ago (you can probably figure out how many years from my class year), grew up a half mile from campus, and have now started my thirty-eighth year of employment at Duke. For me, the physical space of the campus is almost as important as the people—the place that I, and so many, call home is real and tangible.

The work of the Duke Alumni staff over the past few months has been extraordinary. In a few short weeks after we went home, we started turning out programs, distributing newsletters, reaching out to our alumni who were on the front lines of the pandemic, and reaching out to students as well. We worked across school and unit lines to forge a partnership with Student Affairs and launched the Keep Exploring initiative, which connected 425 students with alumni for meaningful mentoring or internship experiences.

With the help of colleagues on campus, we launched Coursera for Duke Alumni and developed a YouTube page to curate our Lifelong Learning programs, as well as content from every school at Duke. Duke Magazine went virtual—and now is back in print. We learned we could connect easily with alumni from Raleigh to Singapore and San Francisco by Zoom and engage more alumni than ever before.

We pivoted, we engaged, we celebrated, and we came together as a university and alumni community. So, while I miss my beloved campus a great deal, I have now come to appreciate the experience of most of our 180,000 alumni who live in all corners of the world (and even in Chapel Hill).

Know that Duke Alumni will come out of this pandemic stronger, better, and more excited than ever to find ways to engage you in the life of your university, your home. And, when it is safe, we will welcome you back to campus with open arms.


Sterly Wilder '83 is senior associate vice president, engagement and development

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