Telling the Tufts Story

Christine Sanni, J89, appointed the university’s first vice president for communications and marketing

Christine Sanni

For generations, Tufts has been providing students with transformative experiences, even if that particular phrase wasn’t always used.

In the late 80s, for example, an English major named Christine Sanni discovered a passion for writing and literature, nurtured by a cadre of devoted young female professors who motivate her to this day.

“Having all these role models was fantastic,” she recalls. “And what I loved was that all the things we say about Tufts are really true”—that the university helps students broaden their perspectives, deepen their knowledge and open their minds.

Sanni, J89, went on to pursue a career in communications, working first in publishing and, later, in higher education. She returned to Tufts eight years ago—this time as an employee—and in June was appointed the university’s first vice president of communications and marketing. In her new role, she is merging the team she led as executive director of Advancement Communications with the communications arm of the University Relations division.

The Advancement Communications group develops materials to support the university’s fundraising goals, while University Relations groups are responsible for institution-wide marketing communications and publications such as Tufts Now and Tufts Magazine, public relations and digital communications, including Tufts’ social media channels.

“It’s a great move to sew together these teams,” Sanni says, because they all strive to enhance the reputation of Tufts, engage alumni and create a climate for philanthropy. “This will make our communications even more seamless and more focused.”

With that in mind, one of Sanni’s first goals is to develop a university-wide strategic communications plan to support a core of university priorities, including a new capital campaign and initiatives outlined in the T10 strategic plan.

“I want to think carefully, along with President Anthony Monaco, Provost David Harris, Senior Vice President for University Relations Mary Jeka and other senior leadership about what we want to accomplish in the next one to three years, and how we can drive the success of those initiatives,” Sanni says. “I want to make sure we are supporting university priorities.”

The "Aha!" Moment

Sanni had decided early in high school that she wanted to attend Tufts, and her mother, Hedy Sanni, even got a job as a secretary in the new (at the time) computer science department to help with tuition. “I’m forever grateful that my mother did this for me,” she says. She arrived as a sophomore after spending a year at the University of New Hampshire, and immediately was energized by the many women professors who had joined the English department faculty around that time: Sheila Emerson, Judith Haber, Carol Flynn, Linda Bamber, Elizabeth Ammons.

The classes were small; faculty didn’t hesitate to reach out and offer individual attention; seminars might be held at someone’s home over dinner. “It was an idyllic college experience,” she recalls.

Sanni’s own “aha!” moment as an undergraduate came when she took an Experimental College class in publicity and marketing. As part of the course, she interned with the now-defunct Boston Youth Theatre, a small nonprofit that brought together Boston public school students to write and perform. She assisted the publicist.

“I remember thinking that it was so fantastic to be able to apply the skills I was learning in my coursework—to be a clearer writer, to be persuasive,” she says. “That was when I started thinking about going into communications.”

Her first job was at the publisher Houghton Mifflin, promoting new books and authors in the trade division. “I worked with dozens of fascinating people who had something interesting to say about the world,” she recalls. “I loved knowing that one of the authors was on the radio, talking about an idea from his or her book, because I had made that connection. I felt like a matchmaker.”

That was followed by marketing and communications jobs at the Harvard Graduate School of Education and Boston College, before she returned to the Hill.

Sanni brings the same enthusiasm to her life outside work that she once did to her Tufts classes: she taught herself to quilt during last year’s long winter, and she painted a mural modeled on an old postcard on a wall of her home in Roslindale, Massachusetts. She and her partner, Karen, are raising two teenage sons. She’s an avid science fiction fan and a devoted Trekkie. “Science fiction is always about what’s possible,” she says.

Listening to the Audience

Sanni’s group at Tufts will be grappling with the same issues facing communications professionals everywhere. “We need to think more closely about a digital communications approach to the work we do,” she says. “All communications teams have struggled with the onset and growing sophistication of the digital world, because traditionally we developed from print”—and print media required a different relationship with the audience.

“We are used to pushing communications out to an audience, and assuming the audience is there to listen,” she says. “With the onset of digital tools and social media, the audience can talk back. We need to think more about not only telling our audiences what we want them to hear, but listening to what they want to say to us, having it be more of a conversation.”

That, Sanni says, “is a big change in orientation and something all organizations, regardless of what industry they are in, are trying to do.”

The rise of digital media has also created influential roles for people or organizations outside the institutional structure. “It’s become important to listen to what people are saying about your organization,” she says. Another challenge is that in the past, different media streams could be used to reach different audiences, with different messages. “Now, with the rise of social media, you’re reaching mass audiences all the time,” she notes.

“The thing that hasn’t changed at all is that we still need to be good storytellers,” she notes. “In fact, we have to be better than before, because there is so much competition for messages, and so much information people can get instantly.”

The advantage is that what the university’s communication teams are talking about—the benefits of a Tufts education—is invaluable. “We are here to help students broaden their perspective, deepen their knowledge and open their minds. And if faculty do their jobs well, as they do at Tufts, students have these transformational experiences, as President Monaco says. If we can continue helping alumni to have those transformational experiences, too, then we’re offering something that they want.”

Helene Ragovin can be reached at

Back to Top