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Women of Achievement: Tippie College's Barbara Thomas employs those past theater-major skills

'I've written more COVID-related messages than any of us wants'

#x201c;It's getting to know people - students and alumni - seeing what they're doing and helping them make connections t
“It’s getting to know people — students and alumni — seeing what they’re doing and helping them make connections to the college,” says Barbara Thomas of her role with Tippie College of Business. (Courtesy Barbara Thomas)

Barbara Thomas is devoted to making connections for college students and alumni at the University of Iowa’s Tippie College of Business, as well as for community members.

As executive director of communications, external and alumni relations for the Tippie College of Business at the University of Iowa, she has spent the past 15 years working to connect students and alumni to the work of the business school.

“That means overseeing the communications efforts from the time many become students for the rest of their lives,” she said.

“It’s getting to know people — students and alumni — seeing what they’re doing and helping them make connections to the college. Hopefully it’s really beneficial all around.”

Before taking on her current role, she worked as the editor of the business school’s alumni magazine, a position that she now oversees. Thomas works with a team of two writers who put together magazines for the college and oversee social media and digital photo assets.

Thomas personally works on collegiate and alumni messaging on a broad scale.

So in the past year that has included everything from the new dean being announced to all things related to COVID-19.

“I’ve written more COVID-related messages than any of us wants,” she said. “I wear many, many hats and juggle many balls at any point in time.”

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A speech, communications and theater major while in college — something that Thomas said serves her well as she plans and runs events, and gets up to speak in front of others — Thomas went on to earn her MBA from the University of Iowa just a few years ago as well.

“I never would have thought I would have worked at a business school but, it’s actually been a great fit,” she said. “And receiving my MBA was very helpful because it enabled me to speak the same language, and gave me great confidence in my ability and decision making and insights.”

Another big part of Thomas’ role is external relations focused with alumni.

“We have over 52,000 living alumni, and it is fascinating to see what they have done in their careers and how successful they’ve been,” she said.

“Part of my role is to sometimes highlight that, but then also bring those people back into the life of the college.”

Thomas works closely with the college’s advisory board, its dean and development officers to get alumni involved, whether in speaking to classes or providing research projects for faculty and students.

“That is a really fun, cool part of my work,” Thomas said. “I love finding a way to get them involved in the life of the college or connecting them with a student.”

Her team runs a number of collegiate events, including the Iowa Business Leadership Award, to build community within the college, as well as a variety of regional events to keep alumni connected to the work of the Tippie College of Business.

But this year they have pivoted to provide virtual offerings for students and alumni alike, especially through their faculty webinar program which now happens monthly.

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This year, Thomas also has served as president of the Iowa City Noon Rotary. An unconventional year for Rotary to be sure, Thomas said she still is proud of the way that the 250-member, 100-year-old club has continued to meet, virtually, and make a difference in the community.

“I am really proud of the fact that we are pulling in 70 to 80 people a week for virtual meeting,” she said.

“It’s a different way to get to know the members. It’s a different way to engage and lead and organization.”

Thomas said that, since spring, Rotary has organized highway cleanup programs, hosted a virtual leadership camp for local youth and partnered with the Johnson County Community Foundation to provide some $30,000 in funding to local organizations hard hit by the coronavirus pandemic.

At the end of the day, that is the legacy, it seems, that Thomas strives for.

“I’ve always worked for organizations that are doing something positive for the world,” she said.

Once a month, Business 380 spotlights some of HER magazine’s Women of Achievement, published by The Gazette. The awards were sponsored by Farmers State Bank.

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