In the Loop
Friends and Giving : Jan 26, 2017

COTA Council meets to share insight, advice with faculty and college leadership

By Mandy McDade

To kick off the New Year, the College of the Arts Alumni & Friends Council (COTA Council) came together for a day of discussion, where they shared their insights and met with faculty and students from the different schools and centers in the College of the Arts on January 6, 2017. The primary goal of the COTA Council is to bring diverse and successful alums and supporters back to the University of Florida once a year to share their experiences and offer advice to the College and its faculty, staff, students and leadership. The Council will provide support as ambassadors and advisors to the College during the Go Greater Campaign for fundraising.

This year’s COTA Council attendees came from all over the country, and have all established themselves within their respective fields. Those in attendance included  John Pinckard, a two-time Tony Award winning Broadway producer; Tammy McDowell, an accomplished physician and Gator Band alumna; Carl Byrd, a renowned brand expert and Creative Director of CarlByrd&Co; Brenna Rizzardi, a fashion designer and founder of the business It’s Sew You; Lois and Mark Rule, an art gallery owner and a research chemist; Stephen Shooster, an artist and business owner of Global Response; Doug Grimmett, the President and Founder of Primal Screen; and Bruce Turkel, a marketing expert with Turkel Brands and author of the book, All About Them.

The day began at the Digital Worlds Institute, where the members were updated on priorities, progress and programs from the directors of each of the schools and centers, Kevin Orr (School of Music), Maria Rogal (School of Art + Art History), Jill Sonke (Center for Arts in Medicine), Jerry Dickey (School of Theatre + Dance), and James Oliverio (Digital Worlds Institute). The Council also heard updates from the Presidents of the Friends of Theatre + Dance, Bill and Melanie Leonard; President of Friends of Music, Jim Theriac; President of Friends of Art + Art History, Steve Shephard; as well as President of Gator Band Alumni Association, Robin Oegerle.

These presentations were followed by Bruce Turkel, who gave a thought-provoking lecture to the council members and students based on his new book, All About Them. The premise of the book is simple: Successful branding should always focus on the consumer, not the business. Following this simple rule has gained Turkel massive success in the advertising field, with clients including Hasbro, American Express, and Nike, among many others. Turkel appears frequently as a branding expert on FOX Business News.

Later, the COTA Council had the opportunity to meet several scholarship students within the College of the Arts. It was a special moment for both sides: For the students, who could thank the council for their support, and for the council members, who could see the direct impact of their generosity.

During the lunch, students were encouraged to ask for advice from the council members, while council members asked the students to reflect on the highlight of their college experience and the lessons they’ve learned. The resulting conversations lasted throughout the meal, with a surprising amount of overlap between answers.

Both Brenna Rizzardi (BFA Theatre Production ’99) and Mark Rule (BS Chemistry ’75) agreed that it was essential for art students to incorporate business courses into their education.

“You’ll always need to understand business, no matter what it is you go on to do,” Rule explained.

Tammy McDowell (MD Medicine ’88), on the other hand, stressed the importance of cultivating a rewarding life outside of work.

“Life isn’t always about work,” McDowell said. “You’ll always have a life outside of work, so remember that life is about everything else you do, too.”

Lois Rule emphasized the importance of building a strong alumni network while at the University of Florida, calling it an “amazing support group” to call upon later in life. Rule also wished someone had encouraged her to make a structured five-year plan post-graduation.

“It’s smart to at least sketch out plans and see what sticks,” Rule said. “You don’t have to stick to it exactly, but it’s nice to be able to have a relative idea of where you want to be in five years.”

For the Council members, these exchanges offered insight into the life of a current arts student. For students, the exchange was invaluable, because it offered insight toward building a successful career in the arts.

After lunch, COTA council members headed to a meeting where they met with College of the Arts Dean Lucinda Lavelli to discuss more of the goals and initiatives of the college in the future. The topics ranged from short-term projects set to launch in the next few months, to larger scale projects that will develop over the next several years. All of the COTA Council members were in agreement that the support they received while at the University of Florida was essential for their future success, and were interested in finding effective ways to foster the relationships between alumni and the College. The Council was particularly interested in developing a strategic case for supporting UF COTA over other institutions that might appear, at first glance, to have a higher return on investment. The key, and the goal moving forward, is to ensure that donors establish a relationship with students and faculty, and understand the profound and unique impact of donating during this period of transformation for the College.

As the university as a whole makes its push to become a top 10 public university in the country, Dean Lavelli understands the importance for the College of the Arts to continually improve and expand. The connections and insights that the COTA Council brings are invaluable to this internal mission, as they have firsthand insight into how to reach out to alumni, and cultivate success for current students.

To see photos of the COTA Council visit, visit our Flickr page by clicking here.