Calling on a Community

Justin Venman says working for UNC as a student calling alumni has opened doors, fostered optimism and given him opportunities he never expected.

When Justin Venman came to Greeley from the little town of Divide, Colorado, with a population under 100, the smaller feel of the Greeley community really appealed to him compared to the larger cities of other universities he visited. “It was almost kind of an immediate thing where I knew, ‘Hey, this place has a really nice community. This is something that I want to be a part of.’ ”

The second semester of his freshman year, he found himself getting to know that community on a much larger scale when he began to work as a student caller for UNC as a student advancement ambassador.

Venman was one of 20 students this past fall semester who called UNC alumni and friends to talk with them about the university and to ask them to support students through gifts to scholarships and other university funding initiatives. While Venman says asking people to contribute financially was intimidating at first, it didn’t stay that way for long.

“There’s definitely a little bit of anxiety when you first begin, but I found that really starts to go away when you realize that you’re talking to almost a future version of yourself. These are people who went through the same thing you did, and you already have this connection with them.”

Venman, a senior Chemistry major with a minor in Earth Sciences, says he didn’t really understand the importance of giving back to higher education until he saw the difference support made for fellow students.

“This is so important, and this is doing so many things for so many people. I’m not financially insecure about going to school, but I know there are a lot of people who are, especially now. Funding from alumni and friends can mean the difference between going to college and not going to college for some people. Seeing that happen first-hand is amazing.”

Making those calls during a pandemic has led to a few changes for Venman. Instead of sitting side-by-side with other callers at the on-campus call center, he’s making about 120 calls per night (every night except Mondays) from his room. UNC’s Phonathon program has been a staple of alumni outreach for years but has taken on new importance during the pandemic because fewer alumni are able to visit UNC and connect with students in-person.

“It feels a little less formal now. I’m taking some time out of my night, I stop studying and I start calling,” Venman says. “I use it as a time to look for advice and talk to some people who went through the same things that I’m going through. I think the atmosphere is a little warmer in some ways because we’re all in this together. There’s this sense of unity between everyone. Reaching out to this greater community that UNC has, it’s an optimistic thing
for me.”

The optimism, he says, comes from the positivity he hears from alumni. He recently spoke with an alumna who teaches elementary school.

“She was teaching online classes. I told her, ‘Hey, that sounds really hard. That’s got to be tough with those little kids.’ She said, ‘It’s provided me some amazing opportunities. It’s really taught me to improvise as an educator.’ She saw it as such a positive thing and found all these areas to be optimistic about. I made an ask for a gift, and she responded that she wanted ‘to give back to the place that gave me so much.’ It taught me a lot about having a positive outlook,” Venman says.

His experience working as a student caller has been rewarding in many ways, he says. “It has brought me out of my shell in a lot of ways. I got to be Klawz at a couple of events. When I first signed up to be a caller, I never thought I’d be doing something like that. Then, there I am a year later in a bear suit having the time of my life. There have been so many cool opportunities to get to know the UNC community. It’s opened a lot of doors for me.”

–Debbie Pitner Moors