Running the Wave
Tahsin Alam, Foster’s new chief advancement officer, arrives at the right time with the right perspective
For Tahsin Alam, the Foster School’s new associate dean for advancement, an impactful career in higher education has been shaped as much by obligation as opportunity.
He knows, quite personally, the power of private support.
Alam was born in Bangladesh to a family educated beyond its means at some of the world’s finest universities—made possible by scholarships. His mother’s modest salary as a physics professor was no match for the astronomical cost of higher ed in the United States.
“I came to the US for college on a full scholarship,” Alam says. “There was just no other way.”
It unlocked a life-changing education at Bates College in Maine. There, his aspirations to pursue a law career took a hard turn early in his freshman year, when he was elected student representative on the search committee for a new college president, working alongside a dedicated consulting firm: “I thought, did we just hire consultants whose only job is to find leaders for colleges and universities? That’s what I want to do.”
After graduating with a BA in economics, politics and theater, Alam landed a job at Isaacson, Miller, a leading executive search firm with a higher ed practice. “It was pure serendipity,” he says, “followed by a lot of investment in chasing that opportunity.”
Over the next decade, Alam became expert at identifying and developing the people, cultures and organizations that excel at university advancement.
When I think about Foster, it’s as a wave that is just about to crest. That’s right where I like to be.”
He joined the Rutgers University Foundation in 2015 as its first head of talent management. But his purview expanded rapidly. Before joining Foster this summer, he served as vice president of advancement solutions and talent management, leading the team overseeing Rutgers’ $2 billion campaign, managing the Rutgers Foundation board, co-leading the Human Capital and Diversity Committee of the board, and all organizational growth initiatives.
If Alam’s career could be graphed as a continuous climbing curve, his many fascinating side pursuits are more of a scatter plot. He does like to challenge himself.
That explains his penchant for skydiving and sailboat racing, for instance. He used to race motorcycles, too.
When he wished to cook like a professional, he convinced an up-and-coming chef to take him on as an unpaid weekend apprentice at her fine dining restaurant in Philadelphia.
After two years mastering the culinary arts—but wracked by the unhealthy lifestyle of kitchen work—Alam quit cold turkey and dedicated himself to becoming an Ironman triathlete, a goal he achieved at Lake Placid in 2012. He also turned to yoga to rehabilitate mind and body, eventually becoming an instructor and co-founding a casual open-air “studio” to restore the Philly masses pent up by COVID-19.
The Franklin effect
Given his eclectic interests, serial passions and time in the cradle of American liberty, it may come as little surprise that Alam’s favorite figure from history is Benjamin Franklin, the most adventurously curious of Founding Fathers: “He’s the inspiration for anything and everything in my life.”
Beyond their kindred inquisitiveness and élan for new experiences, Alam admires the way that Franklin operated: in the background of history. “He personified the power and importance of running the spotlight,” he says, “rather than being in it himself.”
For his part, Alam plans to shine a brighter light on the Foster School, which he finds poised for greatness. He’s determined to catalyze an innovative advancement team that sets the industry standard in promoting inclusion and creating opportunity—virtues that have transformed his own family.
“When I think about Foster, it’s as a wave that is just about to crest,” he says. “That’s right where I like to be.”