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Building long-lasting, supportive relationships: Meet Mark Swenson

A white man smiling, with short brown hair and a mustache, wearing a navy blue tie with a suit jacket.
Mark Swenson, associate director of development at the School of Human Ecology

Mark Swenson is the associate director of development at the School of Human Ecology. Alongside Wisconsin Foundation and Alumni Association colleagues, Swenson works closely with alumni and donors to advance private support for the school. Through heartfelt connection and curiosity, Swenson helps alumni and donors see the impact of their philanthropy on Human Ecology’s students, scholarship and mission.

Born and raised in Viroqua, Wisconsin on a small family dairy farm, Swenson grew up as an active athlete who participated in UW Extension programming, including 4-H. He completed undergraduate and graduate studies at UW–Madison, earning a bachelor’s in History and a master’s in Educational Leadership & Policy Analysis. Before his role at Human Ecology, Swenson worked in the UW–Madison Office of Admissions and Recruitment as the alumni relations & national recruitment manager. He partnered with hundreds of alumni admissions volunteers across the world who were equally as passionate to share their love for UW with prospective students.

What do you do in your role as associate director of development?

In my role, I help alumni, friends and donors stay connected to the School of Human Ecology, serving as a philanthropic advisor and resource. I meet with supporters locally and across the country where I have the chance to learn about their passions and lived experiences and how those connect to the work in Human Ecology. I help find ways they can deepen their engagement both to Human Ecology and UW–Madison. That might take the form of connecting them with the newly created Human Ecology Office of Strategic Partnerships or facilitating a conversation with a faculty member working in cutting-edge areas such as wearable technology, access to healthy school lunch or predictors of college students’ prescription drug misuse. There are so many avenues to support students and faculty, and I assist donors in finding the right fit for their intentions and interests, along with sharing the impact of their gift.

What excites you about your role?

Human Ecology’s programs and leaders are innovative and bold in their approach to addressing significant societal issues. The school’s relevance is greater than ever, and it’s exciting to see enrollment growth across programs with students who are inspired to be leaders.

Our graduates and supporters do incredible personal and professional work in fields ranging from design to human well-being, community and organizational development, consumer science, personal finance and beyond! I’m constantly inspired by conversations and stories from our donor community and their reasons for giving back. It is a distinct honor to help connect their passions and generosity to areas that impact our collaborative research and student experiences, and it’s always fulfilling to share gratitude from those who have benefitted from direct philanthropy with donors.

What is a memorable moment you have shared with a donor?

I met with an alumna and donor who reflected on her student experience in Human Ecology and mentioned her internship as a meaningful part of her time as a student. Through her summer internship, she learned about multiple career pathways at the organization where she was working. It was also through networking at the school that she secured her first full-time position post-graduation and eventually a promotion within a new organization years later.

The conversation perfectly captured the value in that influential experience. Since that conversation, the alumna has directly supported student internship scholarships with a hope of giving current students the same opportunity to meaningful internships.

Why is the School of Human Ecology a fulfilling place to work?

While working in admissions, I learned a great deal about Human Ecology through the eyes of prospective students, but that was only the tip of the iceberg. It’s incredibly fulfilling to work with donors, colleagues, leaders and students who are dedicated to improving people’s lives through their work and support.

Human Ecology is an outstanding example of the power of philanthropy and the power of the collective, and being able to share that story and the school’s vision for the future is very rewarding. Nancy Nicholas Hall is also a phenomenal space that would not have been made possible without donor support. It’s a joy to be able to welcome alumni back to the building who perhaps haven’t been on campus for years, and to see their pride in their “home”.

What’s something people might be surprised to learn about you?

I grew up on a dairy farm and worked for years as an on-air personality/radio DJ in my hometown. I fancy myself as a BBQ aficionado — spending most weekends trying new recipes and techniques for family and friends. I’m also an avid Badger athletics fan, and I attend many different sporting events with my wife and son.