Deborah Fowlkes, who grew up near campus, returns to her hometown as the Alumni Association’s executive director.
As a child, Deborah Fowlkes splashed in the CU engineering school fountain on hot summer nights to cool down while her father, applied math professor Irving Weiss, worked in his office. The night watchman flicked the lights to tell her it was time to go home.
Thirty-six years later, Fowlkes, 53, is executive director of the CU-Boulder Alumni Association. She came on board in late July from Temple University, replacing Ron Stump who retired after two and a half years as executive director and 12 years in student affairs, mostly as vice chancellor.
“Deborah is a manager, leader and motivator who will provide benchmarks and strategic planning,” says Julie Wong, vice chancellor for student affairs since July 2008. “Her breadth of experience in working with different partners serves us well. We are very, very pleased.”
For the past three decades Fowlkes worked at Duke University and Temple, but she regularly returned to Boulder to visit her father, run the Bolder Boulder and cross country ski with her dad and two sisters — Wendy Weiss (Ital’78) and Ellie Weiss Krajewski. Many of her Boulder memories are shaped by the university. She still has six-foot Amazon spears, a giraffe-skin drum and other souvenirs she bought at various Conference on World Affairs events.
As a Boulder High School student, she rock climbed, skied, jogged and hiked with her father. Her first job was at the Orange Julius on the Hill. It was a time when transients were all over the Hill, carrying sun-burnt babies, trailing bedraggled dogs and sometimes proposing to the 15-year-old Fowlkes.
Her father, 91, raced in the first Bolder Boulder and was a charter member of the Boulder Road Runners. He’s “delighted and thrilled” that Fowlkes has returned home after leaving in 1974 for Duke University where she majored in comparative literature and French literature and later earned a master’s degree in liberal studies.
Fowlkes met her husband, Stephen Fowlkes, on Valentine’s Day during her freshman year at Duke. A child and adolescent psychologist, Stephen has been in the clinical field most of his career, working with juvenile delinquents. He taught at the Community College of Philadelphia for five years. The couple has two sons: Gabriel Fowlkes who works in the entertainment industry in Los Angeles and Daniel Fowlkes who is in the computer field in Virginia where he lives with his wife and five children. The new alumni executive director and her husband also have a puppy, Manfred, a 75-pound (and growing) Old English sheepdog that is eight months old.
Fowlkes’ work in alumni relations began with a volunteer stint. Living in a small town three hours from Duke, she discovered none of the local kids were applying to Duke, so she called the admissions office to volunteer to recruit students. She received admissions materials, attended leadership training sessions and volunteered at college fairs. She was motivated by the strong sense of community she felt where everyone seemed drawn together by love for and pride in their school. Her desire to give back was the starting point, as it turned out, of her career.
When the couple moved back to Durham, Fowlkes was hired by Duke undergraduate admissions to read and evaluate applications and conduct information sessions.
Fowlkes then took on the Alumni Admissions Program, working with about 3,000 alumni volunteers who interview prospective students. Two years later she became the founding director for alumni continuing education. Realizing more intellectual substance could and should be offered to former students, she worked with faculty to create programs that provided lifelong learning. She later took over the alumni travel program.
A call from a search firm about an opening at Temple University in Philadelphia brought a “no thank you” from Fowlkes. But three months later they called again, telling her the university was ready to revamp its alumni program. She recognized the challenge and chance to build a program and this time she said yes.
“After 19 years I was ready for a new challenge,” she says.
Fowlkes likes creating and building and says she had done as much as she could at Duke. She served as assistant vice president of alumni relations and executive director of the Temple University Alumni Association for
She sees her greatest accomplishments there as revamping the board of directors from 120 people to 50, establishing term limits and starting shared interest/affinity groups and reunions as well as alumni clubs around the country.
David Unruh, Temple’s senior vice president for institutional advancement, says he’s “incredibly grateful” to have worked with Fowlkes.
“Her approach and personality strike a balance, encouraging a conversation and building consensus to achieve priorities,” he says. “She has transformed our alumni relations program in every way from staffing to event quality to engaging alumni.”
Propelled by a desire to give back to the community, Fowlkes and her husband sought unique volunteer opportunities in Philadelphia. Asking themselves how they could make homeless people feel important, they served food at the Grace Street Café. Through Hosts for Hospitals, they opened their home to patients and families needing a place to stay when they came to the city for treatment. One man stayed with them five weeks to be with his wife who had been hit by a car.
Fowlkes also served on the boards of two inner-city Christian schools that provided high-quality education to youth aspiring to attend college. She adds, “Faith is central to my life and who I am.”
An opera fan who is particularly fond of Mozart’s The Magic Flute, Fowlkes also enjoys reading and took up motorcycle riding with her husband after their sons went to college. She thinks the activity must appeal to the part of her that likes adventure and relishes mastering a new skill. However, she reports she’s “very cautious, which is almost an oxymoron, watching everyone, every second.”
Fowlkes welcomes their return to Colorado’s healthy outdoor lifestyle, although she says she will miss Philly’s “wealth of culture,” the diversity of the urban environment and ease of subway transportation. Having given up their cars four years ago, Fowlkes and her husband enjoyed walking, taking buses, and for Fowlkes, hopping on the subway for a three-minute ride to work.
To her new position Fowlkes brings the perspective of an alumni relations professional who has been closely associated with CU, understands the university and feels strong ties to it. She’s the first woman to lead the CU-Boulder Alumni Association since its inception in 1882.
“I bring an outsider’s perspective and an insider’s love,” she says. “I’m so excited to be back at the school I grew up in and around that meant so much to me.”