Paula Bonner MS’78
After just a year of teaching phys ed to eighth graders in her native South Carolina, Paula Bonner moved to Madison for graduate school and began a 40-year relationship with the UW. She helped lead the evolution of the Badger women’s intercollegiate sports program, and then in 1989 joined the staff of the Wisconsin Alumni Association (WAA). She led the organization from 2000 until her retirement this fall.
What were alumni relations like when you assumed leadership of WAA?
The new millennium welcomed Rose Bowl championships, but also a drumbeat of reduced state support of UW–Madison — and all UW public colleges and universities. WAA [had to] invest in resources and new people as well as marketing and public relations in order to further support and advocate for this university.
Where did your work begin?
In 1998, WAA had decided to distribute the alumni member magazine, Wisconsin Alumnus (now On Wisconsin) to all alumni households in the U.S. No longer would the magazine be an exclusive benefit to dues-paying members of WAA. Indeed, this led to a new strategy of engaging all alumni. In 2000, when I assumed the WAA presidency, we had to develop a top-notch marketing, communications, and creative team that not only created a new and more powerful brand for WAA, but also provided expertise and additional resources to UW–Madison.
What were the keys to your work at WAA?
Everything we’ve done and accomplished is because of relationships — with alumni and with campus and with others. And one of the joys of this job has been building the staff that we have. I’ve been able to work with and for some amazing people. It’s those relationshps that have made things happen.
Things like what? What are you proudest of?
A hallmark of this time was a commitment to providing alumni with a new level of academically based lifelong-learning programs. WAA partnered with UW offices to offer Alumni University, Wednesday Nite @ the Lab, Made in Wisconsin, and the now-legendary Grandparents University.
One of your biggest projects in recent years has been the creation of Alumni Park. What makes it so special?
Alumni Park isn’t just a park — it’s an effort to tell a story. I want to convey meaning, to symbolize what’s iconic about Wisconsin. Madison is a special place, and the ideas and principles that students learn while they’re here and carry out into the world as alumni — that’s what this park is meant to honor.
Published in the Fall 2017 issue