New Columbia Alumni Association & Network President Michael Wojcik ’96 talks with us about his life’s work and goals for the alumni community.
Columbia College Chicago’s history is inextricably linked to Michael Wojcik’s ’96 own. In the 50s, his father attended Columbia after serving in the Korean War. In the 90s, Wojcik was an active student leader on campus and an advocate for college affordability, representing Columbia on the Illinois Board of Higher Education Student Advisory Board, among other roles. And today, he’s stepping up to lead the Columbia Alumni Association & Network (CAAN).
Over the last 20 years, Wojcik has worked in nonprofit fundraising. He’s currently senior director of development for American Red Cross in New York City. Since joining the Chicago Red Cross in 2003, Wojcik has raised over $200 million for people in need. He credits Columbia with driving his passion for fundraising.
What sticks out in your memory from your time at Columbia?
Columbia was a time of self-discovery for me, as it is for every student. I had to face a few realities. The first was that my fairly significant vision impairment would prevent me from pursuing a career in interior design, which is what attracted me to Columbia. At about the same time, I caught the political bug and left Columbia for a semester to work on two campaigns. I returned with a new focus to study public relations and arts management. I also became quite involved in student government. And lastly, my college years were a time when I became comfortable being who I am: a gay man. Columbia was a safe place to explore and feel accepted.
I attribute my career in nonprofit fundraising to my experience as a student intern in Columbia's Development office. Like many Columbia students, I come from a working class family. Growing up, my ability to attend college was not a given. While working in the Development office, I saw the struggles that students were having to afford school, and the work that the college was doing to raise funds for grants and scholarships. That's when I knew I wanted to work in fundraising.
How has working for the Red Cross shaped your worldview?
Just as I was able to see the impact of Columbia’s fundraising efforts for student scholarships back when I was a student worker, I am fortunate to witness every day the incredible good that comes from the work that our volunteers do at the Red Cross. If there is one thing the Red Cross has taught me to understand, it’s need in all its dimensions. With the Red Cross, I’ve traveled the world. I’ve met and heard the life stories of migrant workers in Vietnam, prison inmates in Ukraine, an HIV-infected single mother caring for three children—two of whom are also infected—in Siberia. These experiences have taught me that we are all just one misstep from a life-changing event. And this is why I work in fundraising: to be part of a solution, to create access to opportunity and, in the Red Cross context, to offer hope.
What are your plans for CAAN ?
I have three goals. First, to entice more Columbia alums to engage with the college, its students and alums. Second, to increase giving to the college from alums. And third, to strengthen our alumni network in New York City. To do this, we need a multimedia approach to capture attention. At the end of the day, Columba alumni are artists and communicators. They are hip and cutting edge. We need to reach them on that level.
Why should alumni engage with the college?
Columbia alums are the college’s number one ambassadors. We are thousands of voices strong. What we do and say about the college defines its future, its brand. A strong Columbia means greater student success, greater career opportunity and increased value in our degrees. As the old saying goes, success begets success. So many of us benefited from scholarships and aid during our time at Columbia. We need to return that favor and continue investing in this first-rate institution.