This article is from the archives of the UB Reporter.

Stewart leads UB alumni outreach

Musician-turned-administrator brings unique background to alumni relations

Published: March 29, 2007

Reporter Staff Writer

Graham Stewart, UB's new associate vice president for alumni relations, brings a unique background to his work at the university that includes a lifelong passion for musical performance and a strong record in public relations and marketing, as well as alumni relations.


Graham Stewart says his experiences as a professional singer and jazz trombonist have served him well in his career in higher education administration.

While his experiences as a professional singer and jazz trombonist have played backup for many years to a career in higher education administration, Stewart, who joined the Office of Alumni Relations last October, says that time spent on the stage has been a strong asset in a career that puts him in frequent contact with faculty, staff, students and alumni.

"My performance background has served me well because I do a lot of public speaking," he says. "In the short time I've been here, I've been invited several times to give comments or make a speech of some sort."

Personal skills also prove valuable in "professing the word of alumni relations," Stewart says, pointing out that "everybody has a role in how alumni view the the same way companies say every member of the staff is a salesperson."

Perhaps this perspective stems from Stewart's start working in sales at a small local newspaper and then as a sales manger and marketing coordinator at Time Warner in Ithaca. His first job, however, was as a professional singer with the Gregg Smith Singers, a Grammy Award-winning choir. The 18-month experience included more than a month spent on tour across China, Hong Kong, Singapore, Korea and Japan.

"It was a U.S.-sponsored arts tour where we were ambassadors for the U.S. to the Far East," Stewart recalls. "We performed with national choirs in Asia on some of the biggest stages," he adds.

The recipient of a bachelor of fine arts degree in music from Ithaca College, Stewart returned to Central New York after his tour to perform in light opera and musicals in several regional opera companies and the Hangar Theater in Ithaca.

Yet, Stewart chose long ago not to pursue a career in music. "I found," he says, "you appreciate music more when you don't have to make a living at it."

The door to an administrative career in higher education opened in the late 1980s via construction of the Swartz Center for the Performing Arts at Cornell University. "We moved from the center of campus in an un-air-conditioned, broken-down old building into a new performing arts center," says Stewart, who was hired to build the center's local and national reputation as director of marketing and public relations from 1987-93. "It gave me a chance to build the center's marketing and public relations efforts from the ground up."

He returned to his alma mater in 1993 as director of music admissions for the Ithaca College School of Music, and later served as the director of alumni relations for the college from 1999 until joining UB. He also earned a master's degree in communication from the college's Roy H. Park School of Communications in 2001.

As associate vice president for alumni relations at UB, Stewart points to three important goals: to build a stronger alumni volunteer base through events, information outreach and other engagement methods; to build value for alumni through budget management; and to build awareness about alumni relations and its importance to the entire campus.

"As I look at coming into a new position," he says, "I look toward best practices."

He explains that the final point in his list includes showing faculty and staff members ways in which alumni relations can assist them, such as finding alumni to serve as speakers in classes or to serve on boards related to their research. Stewart also asks that members of the university community inform the Office of Alumni Relations about ties between academic departments and alumni so it can work with them to strengthen and enhance those existing relationships.

"With a place this big, it's easy for us to lose sight of alumni who are involved with the university," says Stewart, noting that for him the shift to a large public institution from a medium-sized private college has been "eye-opening."

"But," he says, "what's nice is that the fundamentals of alumni relations remain the same from place to place."

Stewart has presented at district conferences of the Council for Advancement and Support of Education (CASE) on the topics of marketing, collaboration with student affairs and negotiation. He is a five-time faculty member for the CASE Workshop for Newcomers in Alumni Relations, serving twice as chair, and currently is a member of the Council for Alumni Association Executives. He is a former member of the Association of Private College and University Alumni Directors.

The move to Buffalo from Ithaca was a shift in scale as well, says Stewart, who had lived in Ithaca since the late 1970s. "I'm coming from a small market," says the native of Briarcliff Manor, near the Hudson River, "so to move to the second-biggest city in New York State is something.

"Ithaca's a pretty cultural place," he adds, "but as somebody who relies on cultural inspiration, I've found Buffalo to be really remarkable in terms of the breadth of offerings culturally and the support for musicians and theater people."

A longtime member of the Ithaca-based Ageless Jazz Band—not to mention third-place winner of the 2004 International Whistling Competition—Stewart has started to enter the music scene in Buffalo. Local performances so far have included a benefit concert for Upstate New York Transplant Services in November and several rehearsal sessions as a substitute trombonist for the Buffalo Colored Musicians Club.

Stewart resides in Amherst with his wife, Tina, who is working until May as assistant director of admissions at Ithaca College. Their daughter, Quenna, 15, is a student at Williamsville East High School, and son, Colin, 21, resides in Buffalo near the South Campus.