Tara’s farewell cake created by The Queen’s Cup, a Worcester Bakery owned by alumna Renee King Diaz ’12.
The messages appeared by the hundreds across Facebook, online and in handwritten notes. Messages of gratitude. Well wishes and good luck. And so many memories of the ways Tara Hancock MS ‘06, during her 18 years in Alumni Relations at Worcester State, has made a difference to students, alumni, and her colleagues.
“Wouldn’t have been able to accomplish a lot of things without you in my corner.”
“YOU have been our connection to Worcester State University.”
“You were truly one of the best mentors.”
At the end of June, Hancock stepped down from her role as executive director of Alumni Relations and Engagement to spend time with her family. A beloved member of the Worcester State community and alumna, since she began working at Worcester State in 2005 while she was a graduate student. Over the years, Hancock transformed Alumni Relations to bring greater focus to the experience of students while they are at Worcester State, helping to connect them with scholarships, internships, and networking opportunities – all while launching innovative programs for the university’s more than 40,000 graduates across the U.S. and internationally. Her emphasis on student engagement was paired with a focus on supporting recent graduates or “young alumni,” who are just starting their careers or continuing to graduate school after graduation.
“Tara has done a tremendous job over the past two decades of uniting and building Worcester State’s alumni community,” said Vice President of University Advancement Tom McNamara. “I’m grateful for her energy, enthusiasm and dedication to the university and I have no doubt that as a proud alumna, she will continue to be involved.”
Derek Canton ‘15 connected with Hancock during his junior year after he won the university’s entrepreneurship competition, The Next Big Idea. That win led to a mentorship between Canton and the late Robert K. O’Brien, an alumnus and successful businessman who founded the competition. O’Brien invested in Canton’s startup as he was getting started as a tech entrepreneur. Today, Canton is the CEO of Paerpay and was named one of Forbes Magazine’s 2023 30 Under 30.
“Students connecting with alumni, alumni connecting with students to help them prepare for the world – Tara was a huge part of that,” Canton said. “That was a good thing for me transitioning out of college. She helped amplify my profile and she also just checked in and has been an amazing friend. I feel so connected to the university and Tara is a huge part of that.”
In June, University Advancement held a send-off party for Hancock with alumni and her Worcester State colleagues crowding into the rotunda on the first floor of the Administration Building. People were, literally, waiting in line to hug her.
“Through the time I’ve known her, she was so good about reaching out and making sure people were informed and keeping us connected,” said Board of Trustees member Amy Peterson, the chief of staff in the Worcester City Manager’s Office. “She really made the effort – it wasn’t just calling me to attend an event, it was out of the blue just to grab coffee and catch up. So often you get a phone call and you know there’s an ask coming. With Tara, it is genuine. She wants to hear what you’re doing and what’s going on in life. It carries through from her personal life to professional life. She is one of a kind.”
Hancock has always worked quietly hard behind the scenes to support people, said Maryanne Hammond ’69, M.ED ’72, M.ED ’77, who worked closely with Tara for almost 20 years on the Alumni Board and Board of Trustees. Hammond can remember bumping into her at Worcester State’s COVID-19 vaccination clinic, and asking if she needed a shot. But Tara wasn’t the one who needed the vaccine.
“There was an older alum who needed a shot so Tara drove her to get her shot,” Hammond said. “Tara would be in the office stuffing envelopes. Sometimes when you get to a different level of your job you think things are beneath you. Nothing is beneath her. She went to every meeting of the alumni advisory board and made sure everything went well, from what we were going to eat to how long it would take.”
Worcester State was Hancock’s third job out of college. An English major, she briefly worked in publishing and grant writing, but quickly realized she wanted a job working with people. She landed at Worcester State and was mentored by the former University Advancement Assistant Vice President of Alumni Relations Camilla Caffrey.
“I know it sounds corny, but for me, it really is the people,” Hancock said reflecting on nearly two decades. “There is something about the students and how we meet as freshmen and we get to see them grow up. Our neat role is now you are alumni and we are still connected to you. We get to be part of the journey at Worcester State and beyond. The students have always been my why – even when they become alumni.”
More than a few people mentioned that they hope at some point, Hancock might return to Worcester State. For now, though, everyone is focused on continuing to strengthen the foundation of connection, caring and support that Hancock built.
“Even though she is stepping down from that role, I still feel that same level of connection to her and the university and that’s because of her,” Canton said.”It’s that authenticity and connection – she’s family. Even though she is technically stepping down nothing changes.”