For as long as there have been alumni, there have been students connecting with them. But since the 1980s, UW-Madison students have been interacting with Badger alumni in a simple, yet special way: chatting over the phone. Badger Call employs nearly 100 enthusiastic students each semester, and annually raises more than $2 million of critical funds for the university. Matt Surwillo x’17 is one of those students. In between studying physics and economics, the Milwaukee-native is going on two years as a Badger Caller. As the UW kicks off its five-year Comprehensive Campaign, we caught up with Matt to hear just why you should answer the phone when they call.
What does a Badger Caller do?
We reconnect alumni to the school. We have such an incredible on-campus community, and as a Badger Caller, you really see that it doesn't just exist within the Madison city limits. Our alumni are a huge part of the Badger community, and Badger Callers make sure they know it.
What's your favorite part about the job?
I love learning things about UW-Madison that can't be found in books or online. My goal is to learn something from every call I make.
And what's the toughest part?
I tend to get frustrated with myself if I'm on a cold streak. For me, the toughest part is just shaking it off and moving on.
Have you ever had a really great interaction with someone you've called?
Yes! Two calls immediately come to mind. I vividly remember calling a man who was a test pilot at Edwards Air Force Base with Chuck Yeager. I've probably watched "The Right Stuff" one too many times, because I nearly lost my mind. I tried to squeeze every story he had out of him on that call. I think he got sick of me after the twentieth minute or so. The second call that comes to mind involved a physicist who worked at Los Alamos right after the Manhattan Project. As a physics major, you hear about these guys who were splitting atoms and discovering quantum physics at Los Alamos, and you just wish you could've been there. Talking to that guy was the closest I'll ever get.
What's the one thing you wish everyone knew about Badger Call?
When we ask someone about [his or her] time at UW, we really are interested. It's great to get a pledge on the phone, but it's even better to have a great conversation.
And most importantly, why should people answer the phone when you call?
The UW is what it is because of our alumni. I think the main reason that some Badgers choose not to give back to the university is an underestimation of their impact. Every gift makes a difference. That's not just something we say to make our alumni feel good. Like I said, I firmly believe that we are what we are because of our alumni. So when we call, we're not trying to sell you the University of Wisconsin. We're trying to keep you on that team of alumni who want to make a difference at this school. So when we call, please answer, because all we're trying to do is show you just how big of a difference you can make.