Carnegie Mellon University

Image of Lex Kochmann

August 16, 2019

An Eye for Engagement

Deitrich College alumna and volunteer Lex Kochmann used her diverse CMU education to create a highly dynamic life

By Amanda S.F. Hartle

For many years, Lex Kochmann (DC 1981) lived a life with two passions. By day, she was a vice president at Citigroup in Manhattan. By night, she transformed into a thespian, breathing life into scenes at The Actors Studio.

This unexpected dichotomy of a life steeped in both finance and drama wouldn’t have been possible without her undergraduate years at Carnegie Mellon University.

“CMU gave me the courage to try different things,” she recalls. “I have confidence in my abilities. CMU has a way of bringing that out of you.”

To some, her college selection — in a city she never even visited — to pursue a degree in modern languages and administration and managerial science seemed unorthodox. To her, it was a choice that altered the rest of her life.

As one of the first students to have her education shaped by CMU’s core curriculum, Lex’s course load was a harbinger of what is now the university’s hallmark — a diverse education combining arts, technology, science and society.

She enrolled in a physics course examining cognitive dissonance and economics with Nobel Prize winner Herbert Simon, surprised herself with success in computational linear algebra with Saj-nicole Joni and rejected sleeping in to take an 8 a.m. Saturday class in calligraphy with Arnold Bank.  

“Even back then, CMU had this amazing, diverse approach to education. That mix of being able to study different things and not hear you can’t do that or you shouldn’t do that” really changed me, she says.

While she was broadening her horizons in the classroom, she also served as a leader on campus as a member of the tennis team, resident assistant in Henderson House and vice president of Student Dorm Council. For the council, Lex took the helm in arranging entertainment for Spring Carnival and drove its top-ranked buggy during practice runs.

“When you’re an RA, you’re someone who likes to run things and meet new people. It was the perfect job for me,” she says.

Decades later, another “perfect job” popped up in her inbox when she saw a message from CMU’s Alumni Association announcing an open volunteer role as president for CMU’s Princeton Alumni Network. Lex recently had transitioned to the nonprofit world, and she was ready for a new challenge.

“I felt my experience could make a difference in the network. I loved running events, and I loved bringing people together at events that are new and different,” Lex says.

Soon, the CMU network in Princeton was reignited, and Lex expanded the group from a focus on Princeton to New Jersey as a whole, which worked out wonderfully with her fellow alumni in the New York and Philadelphia networks.

Her strategies on engaging alumni are pretty straight-forward. She understands that when people first come to an alumni event, they want to form new connections.

“Once you get them in the door, and it’s a fun event, you can get them to keep coming back again and again,” Lex explains. “They find out how fun it is, and how great it is to reminisce about CMU.”

Over her years as president, her fellow alumni enjoyed plays at Paper Mill Playhouse, a family day at Grounds For Sculpture, informal picnics at her house and CMUThink events, featuring engaging talks with faculty members.

She remains actively involved in the network as vice president, as well as a member of the Andrew Carnegie Society.

“I’ve enjoyed meeting new students and their parents,” Lex says. “I’m always amazed at the event by the mix of the alumni who come together.”

Just like her days at CMU that helped her become who she is today, it’s the perfect mix.