Meet Ryan Retartha, the new Mendoza alumni relations director
Published: October 13, 2020 / Author: Carol Elliott
Ryan Retartha (ND ’07) knows what it’s like to work behind the scenes, literally. After majoring in Film, Television, and Theatre at the University of Notre Dame, he was a successful arts administrator in charge of production management for more than a decade. In brief, that means he’s the guy who makes sure the show does go on — overseeing the complex challenges of staging, lights, sound and costumes.
Retartha (and his twin brother Jonathan, who currently is the director of housing operations for ND’s Residential Life) eventually made his way back to Notre Dame, serving in a number of roles before accepting the director of alumni relations position for Mendoza College of Business as of Oct. 12, 2020.
Strengthening the connection of alumni to current students, the College and each other is at the heart of what is so often referred to as the Notre Dame family. It’s a big job, and it just got bigger, as Mendoza Alumni Relations now includes graduate and undergraduate alumni, where it previously just included graduate programs.
Here, Retartha talks about his background, the reason for the change to include undergraduate alums and his vision for what alumni relations will mean. (Also, when you might want to avoid seeing a stage production with him.)
How did you come to Notre Dame?
I grew up in Connecticut along with my twin brother, Jonathan. Our family didn’t have any Notre Dame connections, but we spent our life in Catholic schooling, and we actually went to a C.S.C. high school. We both matriculated through Notre Dame as undergrads. After graduation, I went straight to grad school at Yale University’s School of Drama and its legendary MFA program.
An MFA is an artistic degree, but my field was in arts management and specifically production management. I spent a decade serving at world-class organizations such as Yale Repertory Theatre, the Wolf Trap Foundation, the Goodman Theatre, and even the DeBartolo Performing Arts Center here on campus.
Most of my work centered on taking the designer’s and director’s visions for the physical production and making them a reality; on-time and on-budget. That includes the scenery, sound, lights, costumes, video projections, props — everything you see that’s not an actor. I typically was in charge of a team of between 10 and 20 artisans who would be crafting a lot of the physical properties of the show.
I came back to Notre Dame in 2015 to serve as the production manager for the DeBartolo Performing Arts Center and then as an assistant teaching professor. I joined Mendoza in 2018, running the operations team and serving in a business development role for non-degree executive education.
Why were you interested in the position of director of Mendoza Alumni Relations?
It’s a unique opportunity because it combines two of my strengths: creativity and service. I’ve spent most of my career creating high-quality, high-value experiences by collaborating with brilliant artistic and academic minds. The opportunity to create programs and initiatives for a network as large and diverse as Mendoza’s is very exciting. It has also been a real pleasure working with Mendoza’s remarkable faculty and staff over the past few years, and that was also a huge driving force in wanting to do more for the College.
Last summer, I was one of the committee chairs for the U.S. Senior Open golf tournament. A lot of my colleagues asked, “Why are you interested in working on that?” And I said, “Because I value the experience of working on larger projects and learning from teams that manage large scale operational challenges.”
That’s something that I’m just really passionate about — how to manage logistics and projects on a large scale; whether it’s materials, whether it’s volunteers, whether it’s the people that you’re serving. And just the idea of creating large, memorable experiences for people, serving people in that way, has always been something that’s really driven me.
What are your roles and responsibilities? How has the position changed from the previous role?
I’ll be responsible for developing an engagement program designed to provide meaningful opportunities for connection, service and professional development to enhance loyalty and support for Mendoza alumni, current students and the College. I’ll also manage our excellent alumni advisory board and help to support the efforts of my colleagues in Mendoza career services, experiential learning, and admissions and recruitment, among others.
The position has changed a bit from previous iterations in that it now reports directly to Dean Martijn Cremers and encompasses both undergraduate and graduate alumni. Martijn and I both felt this was a critical change to make because a truly comprehensive Mendoza alumni network can only be achieved if we create opportunities for our undergraduate and graduate alumni to connect with and serve each other, as well as the College and its current students. We will have a much stronger antenna by which to broadcast Mendoza’s signal if it’s powered by all 40,000-plus Mendoza alumni.
What’s your vision for the role? Do you have particular initiatives or goals in mind?
My broad vision is to create a “culture of service” amongst Mendoza alumni, where serving fellow alumni, current students and the College almost becomes second nature with your diploma. From an initiative standpoint, it’s all about creating meaningful and lasting connections.
If I can use an arts analogy, it’s not unlike developing and maintaining an audience. Patrons who buy tickets one at a time are great in the short-term, but subscribers are what really drives long-term stability and success of arts organizations. Those individuals are key stakeholders who buy into the organization’s mission and vision year after year and oftentimes are a powerful voice in driving the direction of programming. I hope to create a similar level of engagement where we provide valuable, relevant programs and opportunities for alumni to connect with each other and with current students.
How does the position support Mendoza’s mission?
The values that make up Grow the Good in Business™ cannot only be fostered during our students’ years on campus. They need to extend across a career. I hope we can make Mendoza a lifelong partner in helping our alumni to achieve their personal goals as well as represent Mendoza and Notre Dame’s goals to be a force for good in the world.
How can alumni get involved?
This is a very challenging time for our current students and alumni, and a great way to get involved would be by helping to support students and fellow alumni at a local level. I feel the alumni cubs are one effective tool for this. I look forward to working more with the Notre Dame Alumni Association to build engagement and networking opportunities for Mendoza alumni at the local level, where it can do the most immediate good. I also plan on doing a lot of listening this year and welcome the suggestions and perspectives of our alumni as to how to better serve their needs both personally and professionally.
What are some of your other interests?
I’m an avid golfer and cyclist who enjoys a good barbecue. I was still active in the local arts scene prior to COVID-19 shutting down the industry, and most recently was co-producing what would have been an excellent “Jesus Christ Superstar” with my mentors and colleagues in the Department of Film, Television, and Theatre.
Arts advocacy has always been a passion of mine in off-hours, and I’ve served on the board of the Midwest section of the United States Institute for Theatre Technology for over four years. I also continue to serve as an instructor for the Moreau First Year Experience program here at Notre Dame.
I’m also a full-time husband to wife Amy and dad to my toddler son Ellis.
Are you like a terrible person to see a play with? Is it like going to the restaurant with a chef?
I’ll be honest. I’m a good person to see a show with, except for when I go with my wife, because we share an arts background. My wife was a stage manager and a carpenter, so she would actually build the scenery. When she and I see a show together, we’re not good to hang around because we tend to be critical. We speak the same language. But when I’m going with other friends or family, I deliberately step back from the nuts and bolts and just try to enjoy myself.
Have an idea for strengthening the Mendoza alumni community? Get in touch with Ryan Retartha at firstname.lastname@example.org or 574-631-4859.