Now in a new role, Cathey Durham hopes to continue making a difference on the Texas Tech campus.
“It was really a hard decision,” she said. “But this is what I have been wanting to do my entire career, and I am looking forward to bringing my knowledge and skills to a new role and transitioning into an exciting opportunity with new responsibilities.”
Durham has been named senior event coordinator and began her duties Aug. 24. Previously, she served as director of alumni relations and events in Arts & Sciences, where she began her Texas Tech career just more than 13 years ago.
“That was my home and my family. This job was completely out of left field. I had pretty much decided I was going to die in Arts & Sciences, and I was great with that,” she joked.
When Durham first showed up at Arts & Sciences as a development coordinator, she wasn't sure what to expect from a just-beginning career at Texas Tech.
She had more than eight years of experience with the nonprofit organization Habitat for Humanity, a thorough understanding of event planning and an unyielding drive to succeed while giving all she had to the place and people around her.
Now, more than a decade later, she can look back at a breathtaking tableau of achievement and be justifiably proud of playing a significant part in what can best be described as a magnificent metamorphosis.
“I was proud of the work we were doing to brand the College of Arts & Sciences, engage alumni, promote faculty and support students,” she said in reflecting on her time with the college. “Each of these successes started with simply engaging alumni in a meaningful way.
“I wanted to create a platform to cultivate, engage and steward alumni. I was responsible for creating a foundation to bring our alumni together where they can engage with fellow Red Raiders, meet our dean and advisory board members to learn more about the college, and how they can support our students and faculty.”
In her previous post, Durham was the director of alumni relations and events for Arts & Sciences, but unofficially, she was in many ways the heartbeat and perhaps the most recognizable person within the college because of her longevity and accumulated institutional knowledge. From day one, she zeroed in on helping the college sharpen its operational and organizational focus on establishing, building and maintaining relationships.
“I was sometimes told I was the face of Arts & Sciences, and to some extent, I was, or maybe it's because I was the constant over those past 13 years,” she said. “I was the front-facing contact and representative of not only the college, but Texas Tech.
“I worked very hard to establish my reputation and am proud of the name I've made for myself. When I first started there, I felt like all I had was my name, my reputation for hard work and my young daughter. However, if I'm honest, I always knew I wanted to make a difference, and I think I have.”
Durham was a tireless advocate for all things Arts & Sciences. She found new ways to connect with the college's massive alumni base and fortify relationships already in place. The role required that she be equally fluent in the languages of communication, marketing and fundraising.
“Cathey is a person who has tremendous love for the university,” said Kris Wood, associate vice president for institutional advancement at Texas Tech. “She is such a genuine person. She is very giving of herself and wants to help others be successful. She pours her heart and soul into helping colleagues achieve their goals.”
Creating a buzz upon arrival
She did precisely upon originally arriving at Texas Tech in 2010. The single parent of an elementary-school-aged daughter, Durham wasted no time making an impact on Arts & Sciences.
“I was so honored to get the job and excited to make a difference in that role,” she said. “My strengths at the time were in organizing and event planning, so we started organizing some alumni receptions and started creating an alumni foundation. From there, we started looking at other ways to reach our alumni base.”
The College of Arts & Sciences is one of the four original colleges at Texas Tech. It is also the largest college with more than 10,000 students and in many ways can be considered the heart of the university community because core-curriculum requirements provide points of contact for virtually every student who passes through its hallways.
“She had a very large task ahead of her when she got here,” said Katelyn Lofquist, a senior director of development who is based in Arts & Sciences. “But she was able to use her creativity and people skills to really create an engaged alumni and donor base that we had never really had at the college before. She just ran with it.”
The vision began with a magazine, expanded to informal gatherings and receptions and soon became big-time events meant to include and interest the broad array of disciplines within Arts & Sciences. The college has 15 departments and more than 60,000 living alumni. For Durham, the challenge was creating engagement opportunities that would have equal appeal for doctors, astrophysicists, archaeologists and social workers, to name just a few.
“We needed a bridge that would bring them all together, so we came up with, ‘We build innovators,'” she said. “It was an idea from one of our student ambassadors, and it became a tagline everyone could get behind. We started branding everything with that and telling stories about our innovative alumni. We have such a vast array of alumni, and every one has an important story. We were able to tell people why it mattered to have a degree from the College of Arts & Sciences.”
Her above-and-beyond approach to the job earned her a promotion and additional responsibilities in 2016. Along the way, she helped create an advisory board comprising mostly Arts & Sciences graduates who provide guidance and feedback on the college's direction. She also oversees the college's annual tailgating event each fall and puts together first-class events like the one in 2018 in Dallas that featured former president George W. Bush as its keynote speaker.
“What Cathey does so well is build relationships,” Wood said. “She is a great listener. She hears what people want to accomplish and asks how she can help them. She then facilitates it. She listens intently and is gracious with donors.”
A natural knack for fundraising
For an idea of her impact in numerical terms, Durham was directly responsible for assisting the Arts & Sciences team in raising approximately $90 million during her time there.
“I've been in fundraising for over 20 years now, and I have learned and grown so much more because of the opportunities, support and leadership being here at Texas Tech,” she said. “And in these years in Arts & Sciences, I worked hard, proved myself, and earned the trust and support to cultivate and steward major gifts on my own. When I look back at the events I've created, the alumni I've engaged, and the gifts we raised, seeing it on paper, that's a proud moment for me.”
Durham brings a rare blend of skills to her job. She is just as comfortable talking to prospective major sponsors for high-profile events as she is helping alumni connect their passion with their generosity. She is at ease meeting with accomplished people and helping them find ways to bring their philanthropic dreams to life.
“Even though there has been some turnover, Cathey was the constant,” Lofquist said. “She was the one who has built so many relationships through the years, and there have been a lot of gifts and transformational things that would not have happened without those relationships.”
Not bad for someone who was ecstatic to land a full-time job that required no weekend work and gave her more time to spend with her daughter.
“We only had two development officers and me when I started in Arts & Sciences,” she recalled. “We wanted to simply make contact with our alumni, update them on the college, give them something to be excited about in terms of engaging with the college through volunteerism, mentoring and hosting alumni events. Hopefully, that engagement and stewardship would lead to major gifts supporting our students and faculty. This approach was successful, and with each event, it just grew from there.”
It grew because of Durham's consistent devotion to a cause she treated with nonstop tender, loving care. Where someone else might have seen challenges, she saw potential. Instead of approaching problems, she created opportunities.
Durham, though, is quick to share the credit. In fact, she becomes emotional just talking about the people she gets to work with day in and day out.
“I loved my team,” she says simply. “I am a very passionate person who is all about teamwork. A good team supports, encourages, advocates, grows, fails and succeeds together. I wouldn't have the success I've had at Texas Tech without my team. We had challenges over the years, like when COVID-19 hit, and we had to immediately pivot every event to virtual, which was a challenge, to say the least.
“However, I had an incredible team who worked closely so we were able to re-create events, still with a meaningful and intentional message – just virtually. I am so proud of all the work we did during that difficult time.”
A time for learning and growing
Those earliest pandemic days were difficult for everyone across the Texas Tech community, but Durham said it was also a time of learning and growing personally and professionally.
“I am very proud of what we established in terms of signature events, but it's definitely having a supportive team, and having a dean (Tosha Dupras) with an impactful vision to rally behind,” she said.
While it took a one-day-at-a-time approach, the results have been noticed.
“Her consistency with our alumni and donors had a huge impact,” Lofquist said. “We would not be where we are fundraising-wise if it was not for all of the work she has put in over the past decade plus.”
For Durham, that's what it was all about. Everything she does flows from how she effortlessly seems to connect with people. She has spent years developing relationships with thousands of Arts & Sciences alumni, and she has earned immense trust as a result.
“It was our job to get out there, meet our alums and hear their stories about their time at Texas Tech,” she said. “Then we got to listen to their stories, find out what they're passionate about and help them engage and support that philanthropic passion. It's amazing the things that have happened here over the last 13 years.”
There is an old saying about finding a job you love and never feeling like it's work. That is where Durham continues to find herself every day when she sits down at her desk.
“I am thrilled to be here,” she says of both the university and the new job. “I love the challenges of this new role and am looking forward to contributing my knowledge, skills and leadership to the President's Office. Now, it's a matter of learning the ropes, working with my team to continue the incredible work they do, while bringing new and innovative ideas to the President's events.”
In her new role, Durham hopes to continue creating special moments at Texas Tech in the years ahead.
“I feel like this is the next natural step in my career,” she said. “This is a new office, and I am still learning people and still transitioning out of my old role and into my new one, and I am excited about getting to work with a lot of really great people.”
Those who know her best say it was only a matter of time before Durham's record of accomplishment opened a new door.
“Texas Tech is a better place for Cathey Durham being here and people across the board like Cathey in their roles,” Wood said. “Think about people who love this university and love the area they work in. She is one of the people who make this place go, who make it special, who have made it a welcoming place where people can see themselves here for life.”