Greetings everyone! I’m really excited about our interview for today. I want you to meet Geoff Ashmun, just in case you haven’t met him already. Geoff’s great. He’s a lot of fun and he really likes to talk to the people of McCormick and try to tell their stories. Sort of what we’re trying to do here, but he does it in a much more sophisticated way. If you ever have a chance to sit down with him for lunch or just a chat, you totally should. I like to keep him around mainly because he laughs at my jokes. Someone has to.
Name/job title? Geoff Ashmun, Director of Public Relations
Where did you go to school/what did you study? I graduated from Mary Washington College in 1997 with a B.A. in Religion.
How did you come to work at McCormick? I was the staff editor for an international association serving printing firms. All of our positions were outsourced to a large association management company in downtown Chicago named Smith Bucklin in the fall of 2003. Fortunately, we were given a lot of notice, and one day I stumbled upon McCormick’s “Communications Coordinator” listing in the Tribune. I interviewed with Grayson Van Camp and John Evans, Interim VP for Seminary Relations & Development at the time. I think they liked me.
What do you do? Practically speaking, I do a lot of writing – and several different kinds of writing – from within the Department of Seminary Relations and Development. It might be advertising copy, a solicitation letter, a press release, a devotion, various kinds of programmatic content for print, email or the Web site, profiles of alumni/ae and students, and so on. I’m trying to tell stories about vocation, primarily. While I have a lot of opportunity to be creative, I’m not interested in fabricating anything, as “PR” people are sometimes accused of doing (you know that word, “spin.”). Really, I think I’m doing what we’re all doing in one way or another: bearing witness to what God is doing here in the particular way I feel called.
Best part of your job? With the possible exception of a person or two in the Department of Finance and Administration, I have occasion to work with literally everyone. With all due respect to those who get the thanks of the Board, I’m most impressed with the folks behind the scenes. There’s some magic about these people. What is it about just being in the presence of Carol Biesadecki and that infectious smile of hers that just makes you feel better? Imagine if we could bottle that stuff. Or what about Luke Wallace? I think he’s the only person I’ve never heard complain. And yet, every time I turn around, he’s working on something that just broke.
Hardest part of your job? Expectations are nowhere near commensurate with the resources I have available. It goes with the territory of not-for-profit education, of course. That said, the hardest thing is not being able to tell McCormick’s stories as well as I want to. It’s possible that I’m an idealist who needs to accept the limitations with which I’m confronted. I do struggle with deadlines sometimes, it’s true. I’m working on it. But I also care a lot about the integrity of the stories I’m telling and the people who graciously share them, and I rather like that about myself.
I know you’re doing some work with the pres. search committee, what else are you involved in there? When I start to think about this, my brain hurts. Part of doing my job well requires me to insert myself into as much campus life as possible – without, I hope, being a bad husband. The community is always changing, and so as I represent the seminary in my work, I need to stay on top of who we are.
Where do you think McCormick is heading? I was going to liken this question to forecasting financial markets, but then I realized I actually had a real answer to this. We’re in the midst of a change in leadership, which will precipitate a series of other changes over time. And so there is a lot resting on the Search Committee and those visibly and invisibly influential in this process. But then there is the danger of over-flattering ourselves. I don’t think McCormick’s “direction” entirely hangs in the balance of who sits in the president’s office or who presides over the board. Over the course of decades now, McCormick has developed relationships with communities – “communities” parsed geographically, culturally, and theologically – that have come to regard and depend on us an important partner in raising up pastors and leaders of faith. They will be holding us accountable to be good stewards of our ability to serve them. That’s really the wind at our backs, as I see it, and so we have to continue trimming our sails accordingly to catch that wind. It’s not just about direction; it’s also about whether we’re being propelled forward by something larger than ourselves. Ultimately, that’s God’s business.
Anything else interesting we should know? I’m a music junkie, which means that I’m always digging around in dusty record bins in sketchy neighborhoods. Music has become this diffuse thing that sits on our portable devices. I’m resisting this. For me, part of meaningful relationships to “things” is actually a willingness to be inconvenienced by them. It’s about the visibility of the relationship. Actually, I don’t think it’s that different with people either, which is probably why I have yet to get much out of social media.
(Geoff and his lovely wife, Lorien)
There you have it folks! Geoff in a nutshell. Take care!
Peace ~ Shelley D.