The Ties that Bind
Strong local alumni relationships pay off for area schools and professionals.
Whether recent or not so recent graduates, alumni serve as lifelong ambassadors of their alma maters. As such, alumni associations serve an important role at most high schools and universities in Greater New Orleans. Locally speaking, these ties truly do bind.
No matter the size or scope, most schools depend on alumni to support them in some aspect, either by helping with events, fundraisers, open houses, career fairs and forums or through networking opportunities. Maintaining a positive relationship with alumni means that the messages they share about their schools will be positive and current and lead to attracting prospective students.
“Our alumni do a little bit of everything,” said Don Stout, alumni director for Archbishop Rummel High School. We have a great group of Rummel alums that are very aware of the school’s goals and what we are trying to do — educate Christian gentlemen — and they support us wholeheartedly. They help out with Masses, pep rallies, fundraisers, at football games, as well as modeling positive behavior for current students. They are continuously putting their hands and feet to work for us, and they want to give back to their high school as much as possible.”
In addition to supporting the school at various events, Rummel’s alumni association organizes three large fundraisers to support the school: a golf tournament, fishing rodeo and the ‘beast feast,’ — an adventurous food experience. Last year the association raised $70,000 for academic scholarships and campus improvements. “Our alumni always come through when we need them,” said Stout. “They are critical to our success as a school.”
By aligning themselves with their alma mater, alumni also increase the value of their own education and that of their fellow alumni. Many organizations that rank the quality of colleges in the United States, including U.S. News and World Report, use alumni involvement as a measure of a school’s worth. According to the magazine, a large, active alumni association automatically increases a school’s prestige, which reflects back onto a graduate and their resume.
U.S. News and World Report went on to state that as a member of an alumni organization, one has exclusive access to events and promotions intended specifically for alumni. Because enrollment fees in the alumni association fund crucial initiatives like scholarships, schools are heavily vested in helping graduates maximize their involvement. For alumni, this translates to opportunities to form connections with people they might not otherwise meet, such as those working in different industries or living in other areas. It can also extend a social safety net in a new city or produce introductions to established movers and shakers in career fields. If nothing else, alumni membership is often considered when a previous graduate’s child is looking for admission to a school.
“At Loyola University the activities of the alumni association are governed by the Alumni Association Board of Directors and organized to serve alumni, promote the spirit of cooperation and fellowship among alumni, encourage the development of lifelong relationships between alumni and the university and foster philanthropic loyalty and support for the university,” said Laurie Leiva, assistant vice president for alumni engagement at Loyola University. “The association is very active — meeting four times a year — and they host our annual jazz brunch each summer during Alumni Weekend. There is also a very active Young Alumni Pack that plans events and programs specifically geared to meet the needs of undergraduate alumni in their first 10 years post graduation. Last year, more than 7,000 alumni were involved in the association either by attending an event, volunteering their time or supporting Loyola philanthropically by making a financial gift.
“As an institution, Loyola certainly benefits from engaged alumni,” Leiva added. “They can provide a variety of resources — everything from recommendations about potential students to generous financial support. Alumni involvement continues into the classroom … alumni frequently return as guest lecturers to share their professional knowledge and experience. In my experience, if an institution invests in its alumni, then the alumni will invest in the university.”
Today, schools are placing more importance on alumni relations and have beefed up their attempts to engage students and alumni in meaningful ways. By facilitating relationships between students and alumni during this process, institutions have created deeper connections between students, alumni and the school itself.
TOP LEFT: The Raider Golf Classic, organized by the Archbishop Rummel Alumni Association, takes place each fall at Chateau Country Club in Kenner. TOP RIGHT: Loyola 2016 Alumni Weekend BOTTOM: Jesuit Class of 1983 after delivering 500 turkeys to the school last Thanksgiving.
“The Country Day Alumni Association fosters our deep sense of community and inculcates simultaneously traditions and innovations of our school. An active alumni association is indicative of a close-knit school with a sense of community and tradition,” said Jennifer Marsiglia, Country Day director of alumni relations. “While active alumni associations are not unique to New Orleans, we have so many schools with deep traditions. Country Day roots itself in our traditions and also provides opportunities for creative innovation. Our school benefits from generations of families who have attended and also from first-generation Cajuns, all of whom know what it means to be a ‘Cajun for Life’ from the moment they step foot on campus and become part of our strong traditions,”
Alumni relations are an important part of an institution’s growth and advancement because alumni are an institution’s most loyal supporters, they are fundraising prospects, and they embody and take with them the knowledge of that institution wherever they may go after graduation. The reality is that if the relationship between a school and its alumni breaks down, then knowledge of the school’s activities and achievements will stop generating. Maintaining and keeping communication channels open with alumni is imperative so a school can keep them informed of their most recent activities and make them part of the school’s future, not just its past.
“Everyone that graduates from Jesuit is a member of our alumni association. This group works together and is incredibly involved in the school,” said Mat Grau, Jesuit High School alumni director. “We have a core team of 25 people that spans classes of various decades, that meets three times a year to discuss new ideas and follow through with current programs like the annual commencement luncheon. This luncheon was born out of team discussions and is a formal way of welcoming seniors into the alumni association.”
Grau says the association’s mission is to keep the connection to each of the graduated classes and back to the students at the school — something they do with the help of creative events.
“Our Thanksgiving drive is unique in that it involves the alumni, students and faculty all working together to take care of families in need,” he said. “As far as the alumni component, the class of ’83 takes care of purchasing turkeys for 500 families, and the rest of the alumni put together 180 complete meal baskets while the students do the remainder of the baskets. Alumni raise money amongst themselves, and the students raise money in homerooms for the items that go into the baskets as well as collecting staple items. This is such an impactful activity for students that when they become alums they still want to participate. It has become a part of their lives. This has become such a big thing that the class of ’83 is working on getting an endowment to ensure that they will be able to provide turkeys for the drive forever.
“Alums are one of the active distinguishing traits of Jesuit,” he explained. “The strength of our alumni helps sustain the school, and our alumni are very generous in their support, both physically and monetarily speaking. They are generous because they are happy for what the school did for them and they want to pay it forward. The alums are a real resource for us, we go to them for assistance with career day, shadowing programs, guest speaking at assemblies and to serve on various boards to offer input. They are great at supporting the younger alums and giving them a helping hand if they need it.”
No matter the institution, alumni ties are strong in the Crescent City.
“In New Orleans we are one big community, and we are all passionate about the schools we graduated from,” said Stout. “I think that is why the alumni stay so active, and continue to participate in activities at those schools as a way to carry on the tradition that they grew up with and preserve it for future generations.”