Alex Roberson (BA 2013 in History and Secondary Education)
Major Gifts Officer, Corporate Relations, at the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum in Washington, DC
Tell us about your current job role/employer and what you’re currently working on.
I’m a corporate gift officer at the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum. We have the privilege of maintaining the world’s largest and most significant collection of aviation and space artifacts, and the distinct honor of being the most visited museum in the country. Currently, we are undergoing a total transformation and renovation of our museum on the National Mall. I cultivate strategic partnerships with corporations, primarily within the aerospace industry, to support the museum and and its efforts to educate and inspire millions of visitors (onsite and online). This includes working towards a $250M private fundraising goal to support the renovations and enable the buildout of all new galleries and presentation spaces.
What key personal and/or career experiences led you to where you are today?
I started my post-college career as a high school history teacher. My time as an educator was foundational to my current job and how I got there. When I say I went from teaching to fundraising for a museum, it’s often met with some quizzical looks. But both jobs require many of the same skills: to be an effective communicator, work collaboratively, manage your time and priorities, and absorb and synthesize lots of information at once. Most importantly, both roles are rooted in relationships. Just as I had to develop a rapport and build trust with a student, and really learn what motivates and inspires them, I devote a lot of my time now getting to know companies and their people. I love bringing folks together in a way that is mutually beneficial to our organization and theirs.
What is the most challenging aspect of your job? How do you navigate that challenge?
What I love about my job is I learn something new everyday. While I don’t come from a traditional aerospace background, I maintain an understanding and deep respect for our artifacts and the stories they help tell. To be successful at my job, I need to not only be able to communicate the priorities of the museum, but also speak knowledgably about the industry we represent. The aerospace sector is rapidly innovating and I’m constantly working to keep up to date with the latest technological development or milestone achievement. It’s both a challenge and an opportunity, but there are a lot of great resources that help me stay current, chief among them, the incredible experts I get to work with every day.
What advice would you give to Wake Forest graduates about developing their personal life habits after college (finances, health, values, work/life balance)?
Get involved in your community, particularly when moving to a new city. Establishing supportive networks from the outset will only help you grow, both professionally and personally. Also, try new things and cultivate new relationships, even if you don’t know what the immediate pay off might be. Some of my best experiences, closest friends, and biggest personal growths have resulted from things that I wasn’t initially interested in or unsure about. You don’t know where new relationships and chances might lead until you take that leap – take the time to invest in them, even when life’s other demands are high.
We know that relationships are important for any kind of development. How do you build and maintain your network?
Be genuine with the people you network with and the relationships you’re building. The easiest and best way to get to know someone is to ask them questions about what they do and why they love it. People always appreciate when others take an interest in their lives and their experiences. After someone has taken time to connect with you, let them know that you appreciate their time. Continue to work to build that relationship, and pay it forward by offering to be a resource to those you can.
Tell us about your mentoring relationships. What impact have these relationships had on your career and life?
I’ve been very fortunate in having multiple mentors who have had great impacts on my life. One of my high school teachers and coaches was a major influence in my decision to pursue degrees in history and education. While at Wake, Professor Adam Friedman served not just as an advisor but as a role model for what I saw as the consummate educator. He also helped me as I weighed the decision to leave teaching and pursue grad school. At George Mason University, one of my professors introduced me to the world of public history and a career in museums. Lastly, my current boss has been instrumental in my development as a fundraising professional and growth within the aerospace community. All of these individuals have helped foster my passion for education and an interest in public service and community engagement, which has led me to where I am today.
What advice would you give to current Wake Forest students and/or young alumni who are interested in working in your industry?
My advice for those looking to work for a non-profit is to identify your core set of values and align them with a mission-driven organization that you support. In order to maximize your own potential and to best support the organization, project, or initiative you are working for, you need to believe in the organization you are representing and its mission.
What’s next for your career? What future goals or plans are you pursuing?
My primary focus is seeing our current renovation project through to the end. It’s a monumental effort that I’m very fortunate and proud to be a part of. I have aspirations of one day working for a corporate (or individual) foundation, shaping their funding priorities and giving strategies. I like the idea of making gifts rather than asking for them! I also haven’t given up the idea of getting back into education to some degree. Nothing quite compares to being in the front of the classroom.
Story published in March 2023. For current updates on Alex’s career path, visit his LinkedIn profile.