This is the third in our series introducing some of CAA’s longtime District Chair volunteers.
A Leadership Award scholarship finalist approached District Chair Mike Landreth ’89, after her interview with a question:
“Why have you been doing this for 20 years?”
Well, Mike, why have you?
“Not only was there a desire to support Cal and give back, but on a selfish note, it’s invigorating to talk to these students,” he says. “They’ve got incredible resumes. They’ve got this fresh outlook and passion for their future. It restores your faith in humanity.”
Those incoming freshman—motivating leaders at the top of their class—have the same questions as any new student. What’s it like going from high school to college? How are the classes different? How do I navigate this big campus?
Instead of waiting for orientation though, scholarship finalists can often get questions answered by today’s leaders—the alumni that serve as District Chairs and interviewers.
“Serving as an interviewer or District Chair gives you a chance to share some of your own experiences,” Landreth says. “I can talk about things that worked for me, or things I’ve heard from other students. We can share some of our knowledge and hopefully give incoming students a little reassurance that they’re going to do fine.”
As District Chair for Alameda’s Alumni Chapter for the past five years, Landreth has met dozens of new students. As an interviewer for more than 20 years, as well as an active member of Alameda’s alumni association, he interacted with many more.
Since graduation, Landreth served as the Alameda Chapter’s vice president, president, and as a member of its scholarship committee. Along the way, he added his role as interviewer. When a longtime District Chair stepped down, Landreth accepted the position without question.
“I’d been involved with the committee for a long time,” he says. ” When they asked me to take on the role of Chair, it was an easy decision.”
Leadership Runs in the Family
Landreth’s history with the Alameda Alumni Chapter dates back well before his volunteer roles. As a high school senior, the Alameda native interviewed for the Leadership Award in the same district.
“Receiving the award was a great honor,” he says. “And I definitely took advantage of all its benefits while I was at Cal.”
Alumni House became Landreth’s unofficial home base. He made friends with staff and got involved with the Alumni Scholars Club, a student club that focused on professional development. Landreth helped lead fundraisers and served as president during his junior year. When he graduated from Cal with a B.S. from the Haas School of Business, with an emphasis on finance and marketing, his Alumni House friends convinced him to stick around as a volunteer.
When he isn’t giving his time to Cal, Landreth serves as customer service manager for Shutterfly, where he heads the customer experience department. His team examines everything from Shutterfly products and services to website navigation, order fulfillment and shipping. His early experience leading and inspiring teams has no doubt helped him oversee departments, as well as know how to make best use of customer feedback.
Landreth’s commitment to service and leadership has made an impact at work, at Cal and at home. His daughter, Julia Landreth, received a Leadership Award scholarship as an incoming freshman during the 2016–2017 school year. She is also a finalist for 2018–2019.
“It was a little odd because we have to make sure there’s no bias,” Landreth says of having his daughter in his district. “Fortunately we had some interviewers that didn’t really know me, so it worked out well.”
Would he have been a tough interviewer or a softie? “I might have been a little harder on her than with someone I didn’t know, because I know what her potential is,” Landreth says. “Thankfully my daughter and I have a terrific relationship, and I feel she would have done just fine either way. It certainly would have been a different experience for her.”
Looking for Inspiration
When interviewing scholarship finalists, Landreth says the committee, following guidance from the Cal Alumni Association (CAA), looks for true, inspiring leaders. “When I interviewed applicants, I would ask myself, would I follow this person?” Landreth says. “Whatever task or goal they had, is it something they could motivate me to do? Does this person seem passionate about what they’re doing and do they speak to it in a way that sounds compelling?”
CAA and alumni districts work together to ensure consistency in questions, scoring, and experience for applicants. Currently, the Alameda district joins forces with Oakland and Berkeley to hold interviews on campus.
For the most recent round, CAA hosted a meet-and-greet before and after interviews so finalists could meet each other as well as alumni. The event went so well, CAA hosted the same networking event for continuing students. Most took advantage of the time to interact.
“It’s some time out of your day, but the return on investment is substantial.”
The District Chair position requires a few hours a week from March through July, as well as most of a Sunday for the interview panels. Landreth believes volunteers get back as much as they give.
“It’s some time out of your day, but the return on investment is substantial,” he says. “You’re going to get a ton of support from the alumni association. You won’t have to reinvent the wheel to set up and conduct interviews. You benefit from meeting the students and hearing about what they’re doing. Plus, you keep a connection to Cal and get to help continue its great programs and traditions.”
In addition to serving as District Chair, alumni can serve as interviewers or as application readers. “There are a host of ways you can get involved,” Landreth says. “Contributing in some small way is very satisfying.”
Networking with fellow alumni adds to the District Chair ROI. “During the scholarship interview period, it’s always great to reconnect with alumni,” he says. “We have folks that have been out of school for 50 years; 30 years, like me; and some that have been out for 20, 10, and more recent graduates. “It’s a great mix of people, backgrounds, majors, and life experiences. Even if it’s just once a year, it’s great to interact with everyone and talk about our experiences.”
by Heather R. Johnson