Alumni, parents and friends of SMU have extraordinary opportunities to shape the life of the University as volunteers. Whether it’s sharing professional expertise, hosting a gathering for area Mustangs or encouraging prospective students to enroll, SMU volunteers not only energize connections across campus but also extend the University’s legacy of success. Here are some ways to become involved no matter where you live.
SeRVe (Student Recruitment Volunteers)
SeRVe volunteers assist with the University’s recruitment efforts in their local areas. These alumni volunteers represent SMU at local college fairs, correspond with prospective and admitted students, and attend events for prospective and admitted students. In 2015-16, 85 alumni covered 71 college fairs in 60 cities, 21 states and three countries. Nearly 200 of these Student Recruitment Volunteers also contacted 1,528 admitted students and encouraged them to enroll at SMU.
Dana Cassell ’03 of Raleigh, North Carolina and Ali Morgan ’92 of White Plains, New York enjoy sharing their perspectives on the Hilltop with prospective students in their regions.
Dana “fell in love with advertising” at SMU, earning a bachelor’s degree in the field from Meadows School of the Arts. She credits professors who taught her “how to solve business problems and challenges through creativity and strategic thinking” with helping her achieve success as the owner 37 South Consulting, a brand strategy and digital marketing firm. She represented her alma mater at the Raleigh National College Fair in Raleigh in March.
“I spoke about the benefits of going to a private university, the diversity of degree programs offered, the study abroad opportunities and the value of being located in a city like Dallas,” she explains. “The families and I talked about how the depth of the collegiate experience at SMU strengthens character, expands horizons and delivers an incredible education.
“Most of the representatives from other universities were staff and not necessarily alumni,” she adds. “It was such an authentic platform for me to be able to talk from my own personal experience and share my SMU story.”
Ali also found his career passion at SMU, a fact he’s anxious to share with future Mustangs. He grew up in St. Croix, Virgin Islands, where he was an athlete, scholar and actor. A teacher encouraged him to consider SMU – Ali’s paternal grandparents and other family members lived in Dallas – so he made an audition tape and was accepted as a theatre major. He plunged into campus life and was active in Multicultural Student Affairs and a host of other student activities. He also continued to sharpen his skills on the intramural fields.
In the theatre department, the more classes he took, the more enamored he became of teaching.
“There wasn’t a formal theatre education program, but I was able to piece one together,” he says. “I ended up student teaching at Booker T. Washington High School for the Performing and Visual Arts, where I directed a piece. It was a really awesome experience.”
Today all the interests he honed as an undergraduate converge in his position at Rye Country Day School, an independent K-12 school in Rye, New York, about an hour away from New York City. He serves as as the director of diversity and inclusion, teaches drama and coaches middle-school tennis.
When he makes calls to prospective students from New York and Connecticut, Ali is quick to point out that he discovered “the best of both worlds – theatre and education” at SMU.
SMU Connection volunteers have the opportunity to provide career mentorship or advice for alumni or students and to participate in a job-shadowing externship program over winter break and in May. In 2015-16, more than 100 students were matched with alumni for externships.
Tricia Linderman ’91, executive vice president of recruiting and corporate communications at Texas Capital Bank, shared her time and expertise with psychology major Lauren Gonzalez ’16 as a volunteer with the SMU Connection externship program over winter break. An externship can help students discover job options they may not have considered, Tricia says.
“Initially, Lauren thought about going to law school, but had recently decided to pursue a role in human resources. I told her that employment law is a fascinating area where she could combine both her passions.”
For consultant Matt Samler ’04, who hosted business major Taylor Press ’18, the volunteer experience allowed him “to give back to SMU in a more personal way and help a student in the process.” Matt serves as vice president of site selection and location economics for JLL, a commercial real estate services and investment management firm. He believes the externship program is “a great way for students to expand their professional network, which will help lead to employment opportunities when they graduate.”
Spending a day on the job can be revelatory as students consider career possibilities, says Sandy Speegle Nobles ’75, director of education at the Momentous Institute, which provides educational and therapeutic services for children and families. She was shadowed by psychology and sociology major Melissa Kraft ’19.
“Knowing how we are building and repairing social and emotional health in children growing up in poverty was a good fit for what she is passionate about studying at SMU,” Sandy says. “She was able to walk away with an understanding of what we do at the intersection of education and mental health.”
Chapter Leadership and Activities
With active SMU Chapters across the globe, there are plenty of ways to connect with Mustangs in your city. Chapter leaders commit to planning and hosting at least two events per year with the support of the SMU Office of Alumni Engagement.
Laurie-Leigh Nix White ’07, senior vice president with BVA Group, a nationally recognized litigation, valuation and financial advisory firm, has served as chair of the Houston chapter since 2011.
“SMU gave me the connections I needed to land a great job, and when I moved to help start the firm’s Houston office, getting involved with the alumni chapter helped me build out a network. I’ve really enjoyed having the opportunity to meet and get to know so many great people.”
Megan ’06 and Karl Dunkelman ’05 joined the Orlando, Florida chapter when they relocated from Dallas. Megan, a public relations consultant who has worked with professional golfer Annika Sörenstam and other high-profile clients, hails from the Orlando area. Karl is a senior digital producer and production manager for Lightmaker, a global digital agency that develops websites and apps. They’ve served as chapter co-chairs since 2012.
“We loved our time at school and felt a really strong connection to SMU,” Karl says. “When we moved to Orlando, we wanted to get involved in the community and meet more people who shared that passion.”
The Mustang bond is strong, regardless of class year, he says. “Some of our older alumni aren’t able to make it back to Dallas very often, so we enjoy letting them know what’s new, and it’s interesting to hear their stories. It’s mind-blowing how much has changed and how SMU just gets better and better.”
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