Growing Chapters Program Spreads Mustang Message
Alumni support is crucial to the achievement of University goals, and chapters around the world serve as the primary conduit for engagement by former students with their alma mater, says Bill Vanderstraaten ’82, chair of the SMU Alumni Board.
“We want to increase participation by alumni in all parts of SMU life, including recruiting prospective students, volunteering and annual giving,” he says. “The chapters program provides the platform for our out-of-town alumni to become ambassadors for the University in their communities in every way.”
SMU alumni chapters number 38 from coast to coast in the United States. In addition, 14 international groups in Mexico, Central America, South America, Europe, the Middle East and Asia bridge the miles to the Hilltop.
Outside of Dallas, the chapters boasting the greatest number of SMU alumni are Atlanta, Chicago, Denver, Fort Worth, Houston, Los Angeles, New York City, St. Louis, San Francisco and Washington, D.C.
San Diego is home to the newest chapter, which is expected to be up and running by the end of this academic year. The Cleveland, Ohio, chapter just relaunched after a year of inactivity.
The Fort Worth chapter also is going strong, reports Watt Stephens ’07, chapter leader. Stephens, who serves on the Fort Worth Steering Committee for The Second Century Campaign, “just couldn’t stand all the purple over here” and decided the time was right to paint the town red and blue.
In late February he organized the chapter’s first event in several years. Approximately 60 alumni, spanning class years from 1949 to 2009, gathered at a landmark venue in Sundance Square to get acquainted and learn about the many avenues for engagement with SMU.
“I got a lot of positive feedback from alumni who are interested in becoming more involved with the University as volunteers,” says Stephens, a commercial lending manager with Frost Bank. “Several alumni expressed an interest in partnering with the Hegi Family Career Development Center in some way.”
A focused approach to revitalizing the alumni chapters program began in 2008. As chair of the Outreach Committee at that time, Vanderstraaten led the team effort.
“We were a national university without a national chapter structure, which was a vital missing link to accomplishing University goals,” says Vanderstraaten, president of Chief Partners, a private real estate investment firm in Dallas.
Under the leadership of the SMU Alumni Board and the Young Alumni Board, the chapters program has flourished. Game day watch parties, community service, net-working breakfasts, happy hours and “SMU on the Road” events are just a few of the activities offered by alumni chapters. These Mustang gatherings not only strengthen ties between former students and the University, but they also provide a collegial forum for networking and meeting new friends.
“For me, the primary benefit of staying connected is the friendships – the continuation of bonds with people I knew in college and forging new friendships with SMU alumni I’ve met since graduating,” says Kim Head Amos ’94.
After earning Bachelor’s degrees in political science and French, Amos landed in New York where she headed the New York City alumni chapter from 1996-2000. When she moved to Atlanta, she stepped into that chapter’s leadership role, a post she has held for 10 years.
“When you live away from Dallas, you need the SMU group in your town much more,” Amos says. “Chapters are a great resource for alumni, especially those who have recently relocated and may need housing information, networking contacts or just a friendly face.”
In Chicago the Careers and Cocktails series brings together recent graduates with more seasoned alumni, says chapter leader John Gaines ’04, a commercial real estate broker.
“We usually bring in a guest speaker to address a specific topic, followed by a question-and-answer period,” he explains. Recent speakers have included experts in the fields of finance and human resources. “Afterward, alumni often stay and network. We’ve gotten great feedback, particularly from our older alumni who really like that it’s not just a happy hour, that it’s an informational program as well.”
In Orange County, California, weekday get-togethers at a central location provide Mustangs living in the sprawling region with a chance to reconnect, says chapter leader Alexandra Aswad ’06, a California native who works in pharmaceutical sales.
“We recently had two alumni, who had been good friends at SMU but lost touch after graduation, come to an event and find each other after all these years,” she says. “We’ve also had alumni who didn’t know each other at the University meet and become good friends.”
A shared interest in Mustang sports and the latest news about Centennial happenings inspire alumni of all ages to come together for watch parties and “SMU on the Road” campus updates.
“It has been an advantage to build a network while our sports teams have been improving. It’s always easy to rally alumni around sports,” says Vanderstraaten. “Our move to the Big East Conference will provide a whole new experience for SMU alumni.”
Through chapter participation alumni also show their appreciation to the University.
“I grew up in Richardson, so I technically didn’t go away to school, but the geographic diversity of the student population made it seem like I did,” says Vanderstraaten, who earned a B.B.A. from SMU.
“Attending SMU was life-changing, and I want future students to have that same positive experience, which is why I give back to the University – both through financial support and my time.”
Get Involved, Connect Today
Whether they recruit new students to the Hilltopor rally support for SMU’s Second Century Campaign, alumni are vital to the University’s mission to strengthen its student quality, faculty excellence, academic distinction and the campus experience.
Alumni talent and enthusiasm are always needed to:
- Recruit students
- Mentor students
- Inspire peers to make a gift
- Represent Hispanic alumni
- Plan class reunions
- Represent African-American alumni
- Get involved in local chapters
- Represent young alumni
The “Get Involved” website streamlines the volunteer process. On the site alumni can view a description of each opportunity and outlines of expectations and time requirements.
The online application procedure is quick and easy: Select the “Connect Today” button; fill out the form, checking all programs of interest; and hit the submit button. A representative from Alumni Relations will follow up with all volunteers.
For questions about SMU’s alumni involvement opportunities, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or call 214-768-2586 (ALUM) or 1-888-327-3755.