When Sam Lundquist enrolled at Denison University in the fall of 1977, he did so without any specific career in mind. As a self-described “classic liberal arts” student, Lundquist instead hoped that his college experience—his learning experience—would ultimately tell him what he wanted to do with his life.

“I went to college hoping to learn what I would be passionate about,” says Lundquist. “I went through three years of college and then I sort of had this epiphany where I realized I could actually have a career in higher education.’”

And he has.

After graduating from Denison with a psychology degree in 1981, Lundquist took a job in Bucknell University’s admissions office. He’s remained in academia ever since.

In a long and winding career that’s taken him through a variety of positions at four different universities, the one constant through the years, it seems, has been Wharton, which he’s returned to now three different times. After serving as associate director of admissions here between 1985 and 1987, Lundquist later returned to serve as director of MBA admissions and financial aid (1992-1996), chief of staff (1996-1999) and managing director of administrative services (1999-2000). He also spent five years working as Penn’s assistant vice president for development and campaign initiatives between 2001 and 2006.

But when the Philadelphia native left Penn to return to Bucknell as vice president for development and alumni relations in 2006, Lundquist was fairly certain that stop would be his last.

Then there came word that a new opportunity had opened up at Wharton.

“It was something I couldn’t resist,” says Lundquist, who took over as Wharton’s Associate Dean for External Affairs in late April. “Because of my deep background at Wharton, and because of the opportunity to work with this outstanding alumni body, it is something that was very, very appealing to me.”

In his new role, Lundquist will not only guide Wharton through the last two years of its historic $550 million fundraising campaign, but also work to strengthen connections between the School and its alumni.

How does he plan to do that? That was among the many questions we asked when we sat down for a conversation with Lundquist earlier this spring.

You obviously have an affinity for Wharton. What is it about the culture here that keeps drawing you back?

The thing I love about Wharton is the culture of ‘initiative’ here. I always remembered that initiative was highly valued in the admissions program when I was involved in it. Wharton is a place that is big enough and complex enough that if you’re going to be successful here, you’re going to have to be a self-starter and take initiative—and take risks, too. That’s what I love about Wharton.

Tell me a bit about your approach to development, and what you’d like to achieve here at Wharton.

One of the big messages that we want to get out to the Wharton community is that good fundraising results reflect a healthy campus culture. We very much recognize the value of student and alumni engagement in all of the School’s programmatic offerings. Our focus really needs to be on those engagement experiences, so that the students and alumni working with us are adding value to what we’re doing. Also, that at the same time, it’s reciprocal, so engagement provides value back to them. It’s only then that we can switch from this ‘engagement moment’ to one that would be supported with a financial contribution. Because we know people will give to their passions.

How would you define ‘engagement’ in terms of alumni involvement?

Engagement can be both informal and formal. When a student or a graduate takes on a volunteer leadership position, they become formally engaged with us—as a board member, for instance, or with the Wharton Graduate Association. Students and alumni in that type of formal leadership role have a set of responsibilities that really define the way in which the institution interacts with them. But not everyone who graduates from Wharton wants to be on the board. That’s why informal engagement is critically important to us, as when alumni engage with their local Wharton clubs, or come to campus to recruit for their companies, or participate in career networking through our online community, or help organize class-based activities as part of a Reunion committee. The act of giving to Wharton is also a form of engagement. Contributing to Class Notes is a form of engagement. It can get that simple. Because we also know that people are so busy, we want to create an environment in which even their small acts of engagement are still meaningful.

One of your principal tasks here at Wharton, of course, will be successfully wrapping up the campaign. Where do we stand today?

We’re at 65 percent of our $550 million goal, which means that as much as we can celebrate what we’ve accomplished, we do still have a couple hundred million left to go. And so we’ll approach the next two years as a campaign within the campaign. We have a very well-defined outcome for what we want to achieve over the next two years: We want to raise $200 million. If that goal is achieved—or, I should say, when it’s achieved—we will have set fundraising records and strengthened Wharton considerably.

How do you plan to “re-energize” the campaign and ensure that these goals are met?

Well, campaigns are seven years long for a reason—and one reason why is to weather economic cycles. The reality is that we’ve just been through one of the biggest economic downturns ever. But the fact that we’re emerging from the past several years of economic turmoil is in and of itself an opportunity to refresh the campaign.

The wonderful thing about Wharton is how dynamic this place is. Our priorities are well-known to us, but opportunities are the things that cycle in during the life of a seven-year campaign—everything from social impact to faculty development to curriculum development. Scholarships have been one of the constants throughout the campaign. We’ll also have the opportunity to talk about opportunities in our international initiatives and all of Wharton’s research centers, which are constantly evolving.

Why is it so important for Wharton to achieve these goals?

One reason that emerges top of mind for me is the little-understood phenomenon that tuition alone does not pay the operating costs of the School. It is, instead, the generosity of those who came before that allows the current student body to enjoy what Wharton is today. And it is the accomplishments of those not yet here at Wharton—the next generation—that will make Wharton even greater than it is now.

Can you speak generally about your goals for the School?

I am very interested in finding a way to communicate out [to our stakeholders] the importance of participation. This “Wharton Community” provides the critical mass that defines how far we can reach. It’s the most powerful asset we have, and it provides the basis for moving forward in a very meaningful way. My strategy is to do as much as we possibly can … to make sure alumni and friends can invest in the School in a manner that is of value to them and that ultimately has the value of strengthening their Wharton degree.

How do you accomplish that?

It goes back to building a healthy culture of philanthropy, which I sometimes now refer to as a culture of investment or a culture of innovation. We want our alumni services to be valued by the people who are seeking those services, and relevant to them, too. We are very interested in being as creative and innovative as we can. But we can’t do that without the gift of time from our alumni, and the gift of financial resources. It takes both. And that gets down the question of participation.