Sarah C. Karmon has been named executive director of the Harvard Alumni Association (HAA) and an associate vice president of alumni affairs and development following a national search and extensive consultation process that included perspectives from volunteer leaders, members of the University’s governing boards and senior leadership, and a survey of several thousand alumni volunteers, said Brian K. Lee, vice president of alumni affairs and development. The news follows a vote today from the HAA board of directors to approve the appointment. Karmon will officially take up her new position in January.
A longtime member of the Harvard community, Karmon has served in several University leadership positions and as the HAA’s deputy executive director since 2018. In that role, she oversaw all operational aspects of the HAA, working with colleagues from across the Schools and central administration in support of Harvard’s 400,000-plus alumni around the world. She has also led a number of recent alumni engagement initiatives, including developing and overseeing hybrid programming and events throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. Karmon also played a leading role in bringing the classes of 2020 and 2021 back to campus for special in-person Commencement events in May.
“Working closely with Harvard’s alumni over the past several years has been an incredibly rewarding and inspiring experience. It’s a tremendous honor to take on this role and to serve our alumni, the University, and the HAA, as executive director,” said Karmon. “With a dedicated network of more than 17,500 alumni volunteers and exceptional colleagues on the HAA staff, we have important work to do in connecting alumni to Harvard and ensuring we are connecting the institution with our outstanding graduates, who are contributing to their communities around the world. Working together, we can help share and advance priorities at the Schools, the Faculty of Arts and Sciences, and across the University — and continue to build an inclusive and interconnected community. I’m grateful to the HAA’s board of directors, Brian Lee, and President Bacow for this opportunity, and I’m excited to get started.”
Karmon joined the HAA as the senior director of University-wide affairs in August 2016. She also served as special assistant to the presidential search committee, which selected Larry Bacow in February 2018. Prior to joining the HAA, she served as chief of staff to University Provost Alan Garber, and as deputy director of University development strategy.
“Sarah has been a terrific leader in a time of challenge and change. She has brought together our alumni and created important connections across all parts of the University,” said Bacow. “I’ve had the privilege of working with Sarah in many contexts. Her commitment to Harvard, along with her hallmark collegiality, will help our alumni engage with the University and with each other even more deeply in the years ahead.”
“Harvard alumni are serious about doing good in the world. The more connected we are, the more robust, vibrant communities we can create, ultimately allowing us to achieve much greater impact,” said Ty Moore ’06, first vice president of the HAA board and a member of the search advisory committee. “Sarah has demonstrated time and time again she’s not only a champion of this work, but she can play a key role in advancing and amplifying these critical endeavors.”
Karmon will be tasked with the engagement and stewardship of an inclusive, University-wide alumni community, supporting the evolution of a global network and introducing new ways to connect alumni through technology. As part of this work, Karmon will oversee the HAA’s extensive programming and engagement initiatives and events, including Harvard Alumni Day and College reunions, as well as leading staff who support the many Harvard Clubs, shared interest groups, lifelong learning programs, online services, and worldwide alumni events.
“Sarah steps into her new role as executive director with a deep knowledge of what drives our devoted and engaged alumni, the ways in which the community is evolving along with the world around them, and with a considerate understanding of how the HAA is key to advancing Harvard’s mission,” said Lee, Harvard’s vice president for alumni affairs and development. Karmon will also serve on Lee’s executive team of senior leaders.
“Our work at the HAA, at its heart, is about cultivating the bonds our alumni have with each other, and also further deepening their ties to the institution,” said Karmon, “and an essential part of this is interacting with alumni — from across Schools, classes, and continents. This means listening to alumni, their aspirations for the University, and encouraging them to use their individual and collective voices to help Harvard improve and advance. We are very fortunate to draw on a vast and diverse array of perspectives and experiences that our alumni can share with the University and our wider community.”
Karmon added, “One of the aspects of this work that I find most rewarding is hearing so many different stories from our alumni and celebrating their remarkable impact around the globe. I look forward to finding new ways to engage and connect even more in the years ahead.”
As the pandemic required the HAA to shift nearly every aspect of its work, Karmon helped lead the charge in building community and in sustaining and growing networks through technology and the use of virtual spaces, programming, and events. The HAA’s innovative hybrid approaches blended the immediacy of in-person programming with the greater access of online experiences. This led to a new era of inclusion for the HAA as the organization more deeply engaged existing communities and built new ones, especially cohorts of younger alumni and alumni who had not previously been engaged with the University and its programs.
Working closely with partners and senior leaders across the University, Karmon was key to facilitating the work of HAA volunteer committees focused on understanding how to engage and leverage alumni voices and expertise in support of the University’s priorities and finding ways to encourage greater participation in the elections for the Board of Overseers and the HAA elected directors.
Recently, Karmon was critical to the success of a number of complex, University-wide efforts, including the in-person Commencements and weekend activities that brought back to campus more than 9,000 graduates and 28,000 guests honoring the Classes of 2020 and 2021. Both before and during the pandemic, she and colleagues worked closely with the College to ensure graduating classes could continue the tradition of Class Days and to reimagine Harvard College reunions as yearlong experiences with virtual touchpoints that engage thousands of alumni across the globe, culminating with on-campus celebrations.
“This is a pivotal moment, one marked by new opportunities and an exhilarating sense of possibility,” said Karmon. “We learned so much as we adapted to the new realities brought on by the pandemic, especially as we found new ways to engage with alumni with a renewed sense of purpose. I’ve benefitted immeasurably from Philip [Lovejoy’s] wisdom and experience, and now we have an opportunity to build on solid momentum and progress — to re-envision how we do our work, how we connect with each other, how we innovate and think differently about tools, technology, and spaces for connection, while always remaining open to imagine new ones.”
“Sarah’s appointment is the perfect culmination of one of the most inclusive, collaborative, and consultative administrative searches I’ve seen. The HAA board stands ready to help her make a seamless transition to her new role,” said HAA President Allyson Mendenhall ’90, M.L.A. ’99, who also served as a member of the search advisory committee. “Sarah has been a thoughtful, diligent and strategic partner to the full team of HAA staff, to the board, and to countless alumni volunteer leaders around the world, especially over these challenging last years.”
In the announcement of Lovejoy’s departure Lee noted, “Philip has been a dedicated, thoughtful, and effective leader for the HAA over the last 18 years, undertaking critical work to reimagine the HAA board, to bring important content to the Harvard community despite pandemic challenges, to direct the HAA to engage a changing alumni body, and so much more.”
Following Lovejoy’s February announcement that he would retire at year’s end, Lee launched a formal, seven-month search, which included an extensive listening tour and consultation with senior administrators and alumni volunteers, including many familiar with Harvard through their roles as HAA leaders, and current and past leaders of shared interest and affinity groups and in other roles, as well as HAA staff. Additionally, several thousand HAA volunteers were invited to participate in a survey for the search.