Profile: Matthew Winston

There are so many fantastic leaders driving engagement, we thought we’d (re)introduce you to them, and show you a side that you may not have seen before. Know someone we should highlight?

We’re starting with someone who most of you know (if you don’t, you should). Matthew Winston, former Senior Associate Vice President for Alumni Relations at Virginia Tech and now Founder and Principle, The Winston Advisory Pack.

Matthew is also a panelist on our upcoming DEI-focused webinar on March 17th where he’ll share his perspective on how to partner with alumni communities of color and difference.

Meet Matthew and connect with him on LinkedIn.


1. What do you do in one sentence?

Higher Education consultant, with a focus on DEI strategies for advancement professionals.

2. What peer has had the biggest impact on your career?

I feel like I learn from everyone I interact with. But the person who has impacted me the post, without a doubt is Dr. Michael F. Adams, former president of the University of Georgia, for whom I worked for some 13 years. He taught me a great deal about organizational leadership along with the value of understanding context and the big picture.

3. The biggest professional challenge you’ve overcome?

Somewhat early in my career, I made a pretty big mistake, and I worked for a person who did not tolerate mistakes. My faux pas was an honest one, but a misstep, nonetheless. But I did not make excuses, or pass the blame on, even when there were others who shared some of the culpability. I owned up to it and accepted responsibility, which meant making a very public mea culpa and engaging in a few days of serious damage control on behalf of the organization. But a wise and influential person in the community assured me that because of the responsible way I was managing it with “truth and character”, that the situation would soon blow over. He said, “Large fires become small ashes.” Still I thought it would cost me the job. However, my boss told me that I showed a lot of integrity standing up to the heat and focusing on resolving the problem instead of wallowing in the controversy. That was the reason I kept the job.

Those lessons have stuck with me: Accept responsibility for your actions, and when times are tough, focus your energy on solving the problem — not on seeking someone to punish or blame.

4. What excites you about the future of engagement?

I think that the isolation brought on by the unfortunate pandemic accelerated the move toward a broader, more interactive, and technological-aided engagement. We had to become more creative in how we connected with our audiences since we were unable to bring them back to campus or meet up with people at a happy hour. We were able to redefine what true engagement could be, because we captured activities other than reunion attendance and check-writing. Instead, we embraced more fully, things like volunteerism, mentor relationships, career counseling, virtual events, admissions recruiting, entrepreneurial investments, as examples.

These are things that anyone could do from anywhere regardless of the size of their checkbooks or their proximity to campus. The adoption of and advances in technology platforms that help bring people together from various communities was always the direction that engagement operations needed to move toward, and we are now seeing things vector that way.

5. What three things to take on a deserted island and why?

Assuming I could generate an endless supply of power like the castaways of Gilligan’s Island could, I would need:

1 — My phone/iPod — but ONLY for the thousands of songs I have stored on it. I could survive anything as long as I have music.

2 — My favorite pair of running shoes. I would want to work out constantly, and I feel like I have tender feet.

3 — A journal in which to write / draw (and obviously, a pen)