An ally for alumni
Throughout nearly 20 years as President and CEO of The Medical College of Wisconsin, T. Michael Bolger, JD, has been known by many as a friend and advocate for the school’s alumni. It did not take him long to establish this reputation.
When he was inaugurated in 1990, the Alumni Association was a dues paying organization with outside leadership and only 15 percent alumni participation. Bolger saw the opportunity to create an Office of Alumni Relations with a College-employed Executive Director, who would also direct The Medical College of Wisconsin/Marquette Medical Alumni Association. This would increase outreach to alumni, eliminate dues and make every graduate an automatic member of the Alumni Association. Bolger also made sure the Alumni Relations Office was placed right near the entrance of the school when the Health Research Center was built in 1998.
“My focus has always been on making the alumni feel a connection to the institution and a pride in being an alumnus of this institution,” said Bolger, who recently announced his upcoming retirement. “It was a priority to make the alumni feel they were highly valued and honored, and that they had a home.”
William G. Weber, MD ’60, was President of the Alumni Association during its transition, and he looks back on the change not only as the right thing to do, but as a great success. His first encounters with Bolger left Dr. Weber with a favorable opinion of the College’s new leader.
“I was very impressed by what he said when he addressed the Alumni board prior to his becoming president of our school,” said Dr. Weber, who later served on the Board of Trustees. “I was a little concerned about having an attorney as our president, but this concern didn’t last long. He was initially and always has been concerned for the complete involvement of the alumni with the school.”
Despite an impressive professional background, Bolger, too, felt some early trepidation about not being a physician. He remains grateful for the warm welcome he did receive from alumni, a memory he expects to endure.
“I take great pride in the graduates of this medical school,” he said. “I think they, by and large and for the most part, are wonderful physicians and wonderful human beings. I’ve gotten to know many of them as I’ve traveled around the country, and I think one of the most heartening things is the way I’ve been accepted by the alumni as president of this medical school, not being an MD myself. I was concerned about that, but I’ve been pleasantly surprised how well I’ve been accepted and received.”
It is Bolger’s commitment that has endeared him to many alumni, said William J. Listwan, MD ’68, GME ’74, also a former association president. Bolger understands the importance of alumni supporting the school financially and as ambassadors. As a result, alumni participation in annual giving – a measure of institutional strength – has increased significantly during his tenure, Dr. Listwan said.
“He has dedicated his life to the Medical College for nearly 20 years and is so good at what he does in terms of meeting people and describing what the Medical College does for all of us – not just alumni but people in the community,” Dr. Listwan said. “He was the right person at the right time.”
Bolger has made it a point to reach out and connect with current students and former students to build this strong foundation of alumni activity within the school. One of his skills is inspiring people to get involved or reconnected, said Cynthia A. Bauer, MD ’74, GME ’75, a past association president currently representing alumni on the Board of Trustees.
“What the Medical College is today reflects Mike’s ambition for the school, his vision for the school,” she said. “I’m totally in awe of everything he’s accomplished. If you want to see his legacy, just stand in front of the medical school and rotate to the left and then to the right. He’s an incredibly positive presence. In today’s world, what a refreshing kind of leadership to have.”
Thomas G. Wittmann, MD ’84, GME ’87, began his term as association president this summer, and attests to the ongoing work Bolger shoulders on behalf of alumni.
“Mr. Bolger has been a wonderful ambassador for The Medical College of Wisconsin,” Dr. Wittmann said. “He has traveled tirelessly across the country in an effort to stay connected with the alumni and has been a great advocate for us. He has affirmed and celebrated the worthiness of our profession as physicians. As alumni, that has given us a real sense of pride and purpose. He will be greatly missed.”
In fashion befitting a successful leader, Bolger looks to the future when assessing his presidency and the College’s relationship with alumni.
“There are many things left to do, and the new president, I think, will have a good launching pad to do them,” he said. “I feel pretty good about the way I’m leaving the office of the president. The alumni are a very important part of the mission of the school, and we need to acknowledge that, nurture that, and continue to grow that connection.”
View the entire fall 2009 issue of Alumni News. (opens as a pdf)
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