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The Crimson and Gold Connection: The Great Gorilla Tour 2023

This year’s trip will cover nearly 3,000 miles over, over 15 days, visiting nine cities across six states.

Fred - This is the Crimson and Gold Connection on 89.9 KRPS. I'm Fred Fletcher Fierro, Pittsburg State is quiet over the summer, but work continues, including the Great Gorilla Tour, which is headed east starting next week.

Joining us this week on the Crimson is the Director of Alumni and Constituent relations and soon to be the Associate Vice President and Dean of Students.

Nice to see you in person. And congratulations on the new position.

Jon - Oh, thank you. I appreciate that.

Fred - I'm excited that you're excited about that.

Jon - It's going to be great; you know, I'm going to miss going to miss the alumni world.

It's been part of my life for 10 years and I I love our alumni and I love what I do, but I'm hoping that I can figure out some ways to, you know, remain connected with those folks as well.

So, you know my, the early part of my career was in student life. And so, I'm excited to get back to that. And you know what?

These students, if we do things the right way, they're going to become alumni too. So it's a, good thing, right?

Fred - So you see the connection already. I was going to ask you if you spent some in student life?

I didn’t look this up before I talked to you.

Jon - Yeah, actually I worked in admission for about 10 years. And so, at that point in time, of course, working with prospective students.

So, I guess you could say I've kind of had the whole gamut, you know, working with those high school students who are trying to come into Pittsburg State.

Then certainly I advised the student ambassadors group and did freshman orientation when I was in admission, so worked with incoming and current students a lot during that period of time.

And then right after I finished my Master's degree here at Pitt State, I worked at Carleton College, which is in Northfield, MN, private liberal arts residential college, and I did student activities there so have quite a bit of experience in that area and it's something I love as well.

So, I'm very excited for this next opportunity.

Fred - But you've seen the whole through line from high school to being here into alumni constituent services. That's pretty incredible.

So I'm happy for you to be honest with you.

Jon - Well, yeah, I'm. I'm happy too.

Fred - OK. Well, let's get to this year's Great Gorilla Tour. I was hoping you could give us a little bit of history of how the tour came to be.

Jon - Yeah, sure. So, we did our first great Gorilla Tour in 2017 and I've been in the position I think for about 3 years, and I was thinking about the fact that, you know, we have so many alumni throughout the country, and we had really been focusing on the Four State area with our alumni travels and our outreach.

And so, I was trying to think of ways that we could better connect with people on the coast and up North and down South.

And you know, honestly, you know, 20 years ago when the coffers of the alumni association were a little bit more full.

We’d would hop on a plane, and we'd fly to California and have dinner with 20 people and fly back the next day.

But you know, as economic times have changed and money has changed, you know, it just it's not as practical to do that costs a lot to do that.

And so I don't mind driving.

In fact, I kind of like of like road tripping and I started thinking, you know, I bet we could save a lot of money if we rented a van and we we did this as one big trip.

And then secondly, I was thinking, you know, not only would this give us an opportunity to connect with alumni that we haven't seen in a long time, but maybe we can make a big a big deal out of this. You know, I don't want to say a stunt. But you know, lots of great PR.

Hey, let's take Gus the Gorilla with us. If we drive, we can pack lots of Pitt state goodies in the van with us, and we can give them out to people along the way.

So that's kind of how the idea came to fruition back in 2017, and I pitched it to administration and, you know, couple raised eyebrows, but they let me do it.

 In that first trip, we went down South through Texas and across the South and southeast down to Florida, up to Atlanta.

And so, I think it was maybe about 2,526 hundred miles, you know, talked to hundreds of alumni who we had not had the opportunity to talk to in many years and it was a success and you know it, similar to Dan's , bike trip that's going on right now.

You know, a lot of people said geez, you know, you're driving 3000 miles, you're gone 10 days.

And I was completely energized by it, you know? And to me, it was completely worth it.

And I think, you know, we've seen the relationships that we were able to build over that period of time.

The trip was worth it, so we did it again in 2019.

We called it the West Coast tour. And so, we're strategic in the places that we that we choose.

I mean, you know, we've got pockets of alumni and we can do a heat map and see where those folks are. So when we did it in 2019, we visited Denver. Las Vegas, San Francisco, LA, San Diego, Tucson, Phoenix, Albuquerque and back home.

So that was nearly a 4000-mile trip and we were gone for two solid weeks, and it was a great success.

And so, we had wanted to do it again for a while, but. Of course, COVID you know.

Put a damper on things so we're happy to get this off the ground, so we're heading kind of up north and to the east this time we'll be starting out to Saint Louis.

This is the Tuesday after Memorial Day.

Then we're heading up to Peoria, IL.

There's a Caterpillar plant there, and we have many graduates who work at that plant.

So, Peoria is on the way to Chicago. We're going to stop in Chicago.

We know we've got pockets of alumni there. We're going to head on over to Holland, MI and the Holland Grand Rapids area.

We have actually one of our outstanding. Alumni who we honored last fall. JL Johnson.

He actually has a business there in Holland and we're going to tour his business and meet with Gorillas in that area.

And we're going to have some folks from the College of Technology going with us as well.

Then we're heading up to Detroit. We've got many folks from the automotive industry who live in Detroit, so we'll have a Gorilla gathering there.

We're heading down to Cleveland. OH, then to Philadelphia, PA and then Washington, DC we have.

A large pocket of alumni who live in the Washington, DC, area and then on the way home we're going to hit Nashville, TN, and we'll get home.

So, we'll be gone a total of two weeks once again.

Fred - Well, yeah, I got the stats right here on this particular trip, 3000 miles, 15 days visiting nine cities across six states.

Jon - Yeah, we are. We're just excited to do it. You know, we have a really great recent graduate who just graduated a couple weeks ago, who will be traveling with us to help us with being Gus the Gorilla and help us with some other things.

And you know that's it's a neat opportunity for a student too, because, you know, I know he's getting to see some parts of the country that he hasn't been to before. He's going to get to meet our alumni, which we're excited about.

Actually, when we did the trip in 2019, we had a student who went with us.

And she was so inspired by our interactions with alumni that she actually has a career in higher education.

Now she works in the admission office and that came about because she was able to see, you know, the difference that all of us who work here in Higher Ed makes so kind of exciting.

I don't know if that'll happen with this young man, but we're excited that he's going to go along and then Beth Ann Elliott, who is our Assistant Director, she'll be going with me, so. It'll be three of us.

And yeah, we're just excited to hit the road here pretty soon.

Fred - And you can learn more about the events and Pittsburgh State’s alumni and get Constituents Services Facebook page at

John Bartlow is Director of Alumni and Constituent Relations here at Pittsburg State.

Have fun on the trip, and thanks for joining us today on the Crimson and Gold Connection.

Jon - Thank you so much. I appreciate it.

Fred - This is the Crimson Gold Connection on K RPS. I'm Fred Fletcher Fierro.

Since 2017 Fred Fletcher-Fierro has driven up Highway 171 through thunderstorms, downpours, snow, and ice storms to host KRPS’s Morning Edition. He’s also a daily reporter for the station, covering city government, elections, public safety, arts, entertainment, culture, sports and more. Fred has also spearheaded and overseen a sea change in programming for KRPS from a legacy classical station to one that airs a balance of classical, news, jazz, and cultural programming that better reflects the diverse audience of the Four States. For over two months in the fall of 2022 he worked remotely with NPR staff to relaunch to an NPR style news and information website.