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John Easom: Keelite of the Month January 2014
1981 American Literature
What am I doing now?
I am the Alumni and Development Manager at Keele University. I should not really be a Keelite of the Month but the person I invited this month is getting married and the matrimony deadline was quite rightly the more urgent priority! So I am an emergency stop-gap – but don’t worry, you will get to meet Karen soon!
How did you get to where you are now?
I graduated from Nottingham in American Studies in 1980 and came to Keele for an MA in American Literature. That set me up for a lifelong fascination with the USA and Canada but my early career was in the Civil Service from 1983 to 2001. In 2001 I was seconded to UK Trade and Investment as an International Trade Adviser, helping small businesses in Staffordshire to enter new export markets. That experience led on to the job of International Alumni Officer at Keele in 2005. Hannah Hiles and I built on the strong foundations laid by Chris Wain and many others from the Keele Society (which has existed since 1954) to bring alumni relations closer to centre stage at Keele.
Photo Right: In the Walter Moberly Building office taken in 2012 by Aynel Tekogul (2013) - reminding me of my contacts with current students. The US license plate was a gift from an American alumnus who visited recently.
What has been your biggest achievement so far?
This is the best job I have ever had so just being here is great. I am probably proudest of the Keele Oral History Project and our efforts to rediscover and share Keele’s wonderful heritage. It sometimes seem tangential to the primary roles of “friend-raising and fund-raising” but I believe this project unites and energises students and alumni across all generations. I want everyone to feel part of this strange, special, significant community and to know why Keele is so like Keele and nowhere else!
Photo left: The archetypal Keele image - Hall, Fountain, Trees, Flowers, Lawns...
And your biggest mistake?
Throughout my childhood I only ever wanted to be an Army Officer. I was all set to join the Royal Artillery with an ambition to command the Parachute Artillery, but I pulled out at the very last stage. That would have opened up a very different path through life and I sometimes wonder what might have been. So it’s not so much a big mistake… more of a wondering… because it was definitely the right decision and my wisest decision.
What are your ambitions now?
To lead the best alumni relations programme in the UK. We have some good ideas and have a very human approach that suits the Keele spirit – I hope it does. Our next big challenge is to mobilise the enthusiasm of Keele alumni to help our debt-bound students as they enter their professions and careers; with internships, work-shadowing, careers advice, work experience, jobs and so on. That’s a very labour-intensive task so it will take a few years to get it really working well – but it’s one of the best things that alumni can do for Keele people.
What advice would you give to someone wanting to work in a similar field?
Alumni Relations is a growing profession in the UK and it draws on a wide range of skills and experiences. Fundamentally, it is about people so you have to get involved in people’s stories. We ask for gifts from alumni – whether in money or time or expertise or influence – but what can we give to alumni? I would advise someone to remember that our best gift is to say, “Tell me your story” and to listen.
What made you choose Keele University?
It was definitely the course. I was interested in both Russian and American Literature and Keele allowed me to continue my Russian alongside the MA. I knew nothing about Keele but I did know that Nottingham and Keele vied to have the best reputation for American Studies. I lived off campus as I was just married and Chris and I have lived in North Staffordshire ever since.
What kind of a student were you?
Newly married, first time living away from home, easily led, aimless and distracted by too many things outside. I didn’t really have the work ethic to make the most of my course and I lacked direction for afterwards. I wasn’t very involved at Keele at the time and perhaps wasted a lot of time - but I am making up for it now.
How has Keele influenced your life?
Not so much as a student – at the time it felt like a step along the conveyor belt that leads from school to work. But this job is transformational for me – there are so many diverse things to do and so many great experiences. I feel responsible to make sure what we do is “better than good enough” for our alumni and helps make Keele a better place now and in the future. I suppose I have finally resolved that aimlessness of my first time here.
What is your favourite memory of Keele?
It’s an odd one. I was involved in a Chapel mission at Keele, led by a Franciscan sister. She was challenged by a more evangelical person with the question, “Are you saved sister?” and she replied, “Yes, and it’s cost me everything I own”. I have never forgotten that sharp vision about what it means to be true to yourself and your values. It reminds me that good things come at a cost but bring a greater reward.
What is your impression of Keele now?
Keele is getting better and better for students and staff alike. There is clarity of purpose and we are rediscovering our founding principles and applying them in a changing world.
Photo left: I love this photo of the top lake. It was taken by Jonathan Knight (1987) in 2011 after the renovation of the lake and surrounding woodlands. It shows tangible progress to make Keele better and was taken by one of many who have stayed on as staff - it captures a sense of lifelong involvement.
Anything else you would like to add?
“We love Keele… but we don’t always like it”. It’s a really special place but it is certainly not perfect. There is always something to improve or correct or adapt. If you are reading this, it must mean you are interested in Keele, regardless of when you left. I hope that also means you love Keele and want to help us change the things we don’t like so much now and in the future.