They say babies still in the womb learn the sound of their parents’ voices. Kristin Coffey must have heard “UT” so many times that she entered the world with a love for the university her family has supported for decades.
Kristin, who works for the UT Alumni Association, is a Knoxville campus grad (’08). But a sizable contingent of family and friends are UT Chattanooga alumni. Her mom, Kim Coffey, holds degrees from both UT Chattanooga and the UT Health Science Center in Memphis. Her dad, Daryle, is a UTC grad, and her grandmother Betty Whaley, who graduated when UTC was still the University of Chattanooga, is a former president of the UT Alumni Association. Kristin’s sister, Kendall, will graduate from UT Knoxville in December. Kristin’s aunt, Lori Barton, as well as Lori’s husband, Bret, and their son, Tyler, are all UT Chattanooga grads.
Now that Kristin works for the alumni association, which includes graduates of all the UT campuses, she finds it “incredibly cool” that her efforts support all the parts of the university that have been so important to her family.
Growing up, Kristin recalls going to alumni association Women’s Council meetings with her mother. She was given to understand early on that UT was the family university. “I considered going to some other schools and even visited a few, but they didn’t have the right feel,” she says.
With her lifelong UT loyalty, Kristin couldn’t be better suited to her job as a fundraiser. She works in the telefund office, supervising students who call alumni to solicit gifts to the university — the entire university, Kristin emphasizes, not just Knoxville.
“The students have to know a lot about UT and be at ease talking to alumni. They follow a script at first but if they’re good at it, they leave the script behind and have real conversations. We are a liaison between UT and the alumni.” She says the student callers don’t ask exclusively for monetary gifts. “Some alumni who can’t afford to give right now are happy to volunteer their time to the university.
“We’ve called several alumni recently who’ve said they would give except they’re unemployed right now in this economy. Our student callers have given them contact information for the UT’s career services offices. Lots of alumni don’t realize career services is for alumni too — not just students.”
Kristin hires the telefund callers, some 60 a semester, and educates them about UT. She’s there every evening (calls are made Monday through Thursday) to oversee the students and help out if they get questions they can’t answer.
The telefund recently ended its first ever million-dollar year. The program started in January 1985 and has raised more than $8 million in support of UT. Student callers have completed over 765,000 telephone calls.
Kristin was a sociology/criminal justice major and a member of UT Singers. She interned in the alumni office in summer 2007, learning some of the basics of alumni work. During summer 2008, she helped run UT Knoxville freshman orientation, a “grueling” job that taught her a lot.
“I learned to walk that fine line between being a friend and being a boss to the students,” she recalls. “That prepared me well for this job.”
Kim Coffey, Kristin’s mom, is a physical therapist in Chattanooga. She serves on the UTC alumni board and is a past president of the Hamilton County UT alumni chapter. She’s a former member of the executive committee of the UT Alumni Association Board of Governors and served on the UTAA Women’s Council. Her mother, Betty Whaley, was president of the UTAA in 1980, and at the time was just the second woman to hold the position. Her husband — and Kristin’s grandfather — U. Kay Whaley, is also a graduate of the former University of Chattanooga and a former president of the Hamilton County UT alumni chapter. It seems fair to say the family support of UT is unanimous.
Jada Williams, who manages the telefund, says Kristin adds a lot to the organization.
“She is the third generation of a family that has been involved with the UT Alumni Association on many different levels. Kristin’s understanding of university history and her knowledge of the various campus relationships make her a perfect fit,” Williams says. “Our program has definitely benefited from Kristin’s hard work. We’re hoping there are more family members in the pipeline!”