Every other Wednesday, the Wesleyan Connection makes its way into the inboxes of 42,000 Wesleyan students, parents, faculty, staff, and alumni. Though it seems to be a staple of the Wesleyan experience, the online newsletter has not always been around. In fact, it wasn’t until the arrival of Campus News Editor Olivia Drake in 2004 that it finally took digital form.
Born and raised in the Midwest, Drake first encountered reporting and journalism in high school, where she was editor in chief, photo editor, and staff artist for her high school’s monthly news magazine. She earned her bachelor’s degree in scientific and technical communication, with a minor in journalism, from Michigan Technological University in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan in 2001. She worked for two newspapers in Michigan after college, The Daily Mining Gazette and the Holland Sentinel. However, Drake said that she had doubts about her career choice starting off.
“I realized it was too hard to make a living as a reporter,” Drake explained. “I applied for a job at Wesleyan on a whim—I saw my ‘dream job’ on monster.com, a start-up newsletter editor—and the rest is history!”
Drake said she only planned on a brief duration at Wesleyan, hoping instead to return to the Midwest and explore another one of her passions.
“I thought I’d stay a few years, then go back to Michigan and run a dog sled team because that was my life goal,” Drake said. “It didn’t happen.”
What Drake thought would be a few-year stint turned into a much longer career. Soon after starting, Drake said she fell in love with Wesleyan and the work she was doing to help establish the newsletter that we now know as the Wesleyan Connection.
“That’s my baby,” Drake said. “That’s what I was hired to do.”
Though she had been hired to do solely the writing for the newsletter, Drake recognized that the Wesleyan Connection would need more than text.
“I was not hired to take pictures at all but I was like, ‘No one’s going to read these articles without a picture,’” Drake said. “So I started going around with a little point-and-shoot and whatever they bought me my first year. It was a Nikon D40. It was a 500-dollar camera and I remember thinking, ‘Wow, Wesleyan is so good to me.’”
But Drake said that there is a lot more that goes into a newsletter than taking pictures and writing text, especially for a university with as many happenings as Wesleyan.
“It’s a lot of gathering news, seeing what’s out there,” Drake explained. “I’m always looking at the calendar to see what would make a good story, what would make a good visual story. I know from my newspaper experience, everything’s about that lead photo. I’m always looking for something that will make a great story, something that will captivate people to go into the newsletter and read more of what’s going on.”
Over the past 15 years, Drake has, undoubtedly, witnessed many happenings on campus. However, one of her favorites is something that actually happens every year: Arrival Day for New Students.
“It’s my favorite experience of the entire academic year because everyone is so new and fresh and happy,” Drake said. “And it’s so fun to interview these parents because they’re just beaming, or they’re crying, one or the other, because their kid is starting at Wesleyan. And the kids—you already see them forming friends in their hallway just as they’re moving in, and it’s just a beautiful opportunity to document in words and pictures.”
Drake also said she enjoys taking the annual pictures of campus scenery during fall and winter.
“People eat those pictures up.” Drake said. “Alumni love to see what the campus looks like.”
Outside of Wesleyan, Drake employs her journalist skills in her local community as the public information officer for the Haddam Volunteer Fire Department.
“My job as public information officer is to give them sort of a good reputation in the community,” Drake explained. “Because they’re all volunteers. So last night, we had four trees fall down, power line stuff, so I have to share that with a community like: ‘Oh, we had volunteers out taking care of these trees all night.’ It’s a big job. It’s a way I can give back to my community with skills I’ve also learned at Wesleyan. I don’t think people realize that, so I just want to show how wonderful these volunteers are for getting up in the middle of the night to help others. So I’m helping them.”
When she’s not busy with her jobs at Wesleyan and the Haddam Volunteer Fire Department, Drake said she is also involved with fire photography.
“I’m in this… club, we’re called the Connecticut Fire Photography Association, it’s real, and we meet and talk about our fire photos,” Drake said. “I like to focus on the firemen fighting the fire. Some guys like to focus on the big blaze. I don’t care about the destruction, it’s more of the people doing their job.”
Although she loves the work she does off campus, Drake said that this doesn’t take away from her love of Wesleyan.
“For 15 years, I’ve been walking up that hill from B Lot and it’s just a beautiful day,” Drake said. “Campus changes, the season changes, and I’m just grateful every single morning to walk in this office. ’Cause it’s going to be a great day.”
Drake brings this attitude to her daily work as well.
“Every day I’m publishing a story, it’s kind of public relations, because I’m publishing a story that makes someone shine in the public light,” Drake said. “So whether it’s a photo, or an article about a new faculty publication, it shows the good that Wesleyan employees are doing: faculty, staff, primarily faculty I should say, and students, too.”
Above all, Drake said that it is the students and the ethos of Wesleyan that makes her feel at home in her role at the University.
“The students are the other thing—I love the student body here so much,” she said. “Because I’m kind of weird I think, and Wesleyan is a little weird and I fit in here. Like this is my place. It’s just a wonderful place to work, I have such great colleagues and I love everyday here.”
Hannah Docter-Loeb can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.