Alumni Association 160,000 strong, still pushing for more

By Jason A. Vrtis
Arizona Daily Wildcat
November 15, 1996

Arizona Daily Wildcat


You finally earn your degree, toss your graduation cap in the air and you just can't wait to get away and find a job that pays a real salary. The UA is the last thing on your mind.

Well, the University of Arizona's Alumni Association knows this and is working to get students to support it and get involved with campus affairs before they even leave, said Kent Rollins, Executive Vice President of the Alumni Association.

The association now boasts 168,665 members in the United States and 144 foreign countries and the number of younger alumni members is growing, Rollins said.

These alumni members are represented by 60 national and international volunteer clubs that the UA's Alumni Association runs, Rollins said. Over half of all the active alumni live in Arizona.

Alumni Associations are a U.S. phenomenon and the first was created at the College of William & Mary in Williamsburg, Va., more than 200 years ago, Rollins said. Now, almost every two and four year institution has one and even some high schools are gettin g into the act.

The UA's Alumni Association was founded in June 1897 and beginning next year will celebrate its centennial.

Rollins said the association's primary goal is to get alumni to support and be involved with the UA.

Any student who has graduated from the UA automatically becomes an alumni member. Also any student who attended for one year and has left but did not graduate can request to be a member. The association does not charge annual dues, but does encourage all its members to donate pledges to the Arizona Foundation's Annual Fund. Phoebe Chalk, director of the Annual Fund, said that the foundation's telephone solicitation programs raise an average of $1.5 million each year.

"It is that private support from alumni that helps keep the place growing and improving," Rollins said.

However, raising money is only one part of what the association does.

With so many members spread out across the world the association's job is to provide programs for them, Rollins said. This year, Rollins estimated that the alumni will spend $1.5 million on their programs and personnel.

The most recognizable program put on by the association is Homecoming. The alumni association, along with the UA senior's honorary club, the Bobcats, put together Homecoming activities.

The association coordinates and runs all the alumni events including the four class reunions, the Bear Down Bash and bonfire/pep rally on Friday, and the tents on the Mall Saturday, said Jennifer Harris, the alumni's program coordinator for Homecoming and class reunions.

The Bobcats organize and put on all the student-oriented events, including the lunch time Mall events this week and the Homecoming parade on Saturday, said Angela Ballard, a management information systems senior and president of the Bobcats.

The Bobcats are also in charge of choosing the queen's court for Homecoming, Ballard said. Mortar Board, another senior honorary, picks the Homecoming king's court.

Both the Alumni Association and the Bobcats also solicit sponsorship for Homecoming weekend. Harris said MBNA of America, a national credit card company is the primary sponsor this year. It gave $10,000 and in exchange the company's logo has been included on Homecoming merchandise and banners. It was also given a tent on Mall during Homecoming activities. MBNA of America also sponsors a UA alumni credit card.

The alumni and the Bobcats raised over $30,000 in sponsorship for this year's event, Ballard said.

Harris said that she is excited about the potential turnout for this year's Homecoming, noting that many of the host hotels around Tucson are sold out for the weekend. Harris said she expects 10,000 to 15,000 visitors.

"Our goal is that all alumni get involved in at least one event over the weekend," Harris said.

And with over 120 Homecoming events put on by the various colleges, departments, student groups and other officially recognized groups they should have no trouble finding at least one, she said.

Rollins said many of the programs the association runs are aimed at regions where alumni members live throughout the country and abroad. He said alumni members rarely return to campus, except for homecoming and reunions.

"We typically find that when people come back and visit, they leave here feeling better about the institution. They see that it is progressing," Rollins said.

Kelsey Spies, a creative writing senior and Bobcat secretary, who along with fellow members, has volunteered close to 50 hours a week since Oct. 1 to work and organize Homecoming.

Homecoming offers a unique interaction among alumni and students from many generations, she said.

"My faith in this university is renewed because of Homecoming," Spies said.

This year the Alumni Association will be honoring the classes of 1956, 1966, 1976, and they are celebrating the 25th year reunion for a cluster of three classes, 1970, 1971 and 1972, Harris said.

Homecoming is one of the few on-campus events that the alumni host, but outside of campus the 23-member association staff runs a wide variety of programs.

The association puts on pre-game events at all home men's basketball and football games and, on a limited basis, it helps support the women's basketball squad, the softball team and other varsity sports, Rollins said. Also they organize pre-game tailgate events when the UA is playing away from home. At this year's UA/Iowa game, approximately 400 people from four states came to the pre-game party organized by the Alumni Association, Rollins said.

Also, regional Alumni Association clubs do a lot of community service in their areas, he said. Many, for example, work in soup kitchens around the holidays, Rollins said.

"It puts forth a good name for the university and it shows that the education provided here will hopefully lead to some public good," he said.

The alumni are also involved in student recruitment and scholarship development. Each of the 60 national and international UA alumni groups try to recruit the "best and brightest" students from their region to go to the UA, Rollins said.

These regional clubs will also hold golf tournaments and fun runs to supplement their scholarship funds.

One of the most popular scholarship programs the alumni sponsors is the license plate program. Each of the three major universities in Arizona get money from this program. The special license plates cost $25, and $17 of which goes back to the Alumni Assoc iation which sends it to volunteer alumni groups around the state, Rollins said. These alumni clubs then give on average more than $180,000 to Arizona students.

With all these programs and members, the alumni's primary means of communication is through the semiannual Alumnus Magazine and other newsletters, Rollins said.

The association also lobbies the state legislature on UA budget related matters, he said.

The Alumni Association's future goals include continuing to develop a program with UA Career Services that would set up business networks for UA alumni.

It is also trying to create a Heritage Hall, which might be in the Memorial Student Union Building, to highlight some of the UA's traditions and history for students and visitors.