Alumni Association Celebrates Its 85th Anniversary

We all know that you give something silver for a 25th anniversary and something gold for a 50th, but what is the appropriate gift for an 85th anniversary?

If Alumni Relations Executive Director Michele Nota ’87, M.S. ’06, and her staff have their druthers, they’d like that 85th anniversary gift to come in the form of increased alumni support for and involvement in the Alumni Association.

Using the anniversary as a focal point, Alumni Association staff members are working with the group’s new president, Gary Kullberg ’63, to make sure all URI graduates know about the dramatic increase in the number of programs and services now offered by the Alumni Association.

All of this is encapsulated in the anniversary theme, “Together Making a Difference Since 1922,” that was developed by Kullberg’s marketing communications firm.

Since its founding in 1922, the Alumni Association has been helping the University, its students, and its graduates. Today—85 years after Lorenzo F. Kinney Jr. ’14 (see Looking Back) became the association’s first president—this is hardly your grandfather’s alumni association.

Nowadays the association offers 65 different programs and services for members, their families, current URI students, and the University. Some of these, like the Alumni Association’s magazine Quad Angles or events like Homecoming and the Winter Gala, may be familiar even to those grads who haven’t yet joined the association.

But did you know that over the past five years the Alumni Association has provided almost 1,200 scholarships worth about $1.6 million to URI undergraduates?

Did you know about “Dinner with Strangers,” a program in which alumni host dinners for small groups of current URI students to talk about life after graduation?

Were you aware that, through the association’s Web site, you could have joined as many as 33 online chats in the past three years, including a recent one with Cherry Arnold ’87, the creator of the well-received documentary Buddy about former Providence mayor Vincent “Buddy” Cianci?

Or that as an Alumni Association member, you can get short-term health and disability insurance as well as discounts on life, car, and home insurance?

Nota and Kullberg believe many more alumni would join the association—especially considering the cost for an individual is just $35 a year—if they knew about the many benefits of membership. “The dues should pay for themselves if you take advantage of some of the discounts,” says Kullberg.

Being a member isn’t all about benefits, though. “The discounts are nice, but they’re just the cherry on the sundae,” Kullberg says. The association’s “Together Making a Difference Since 1922” theme calls on all URI graduates to stand up and show their pride in the University to help it continue to grow as a resource for both students and alumni.

The world has changed since that first Alumni Association meeting in 1922, and so have URI’s students and alumni. Today, URI graduates are scattered across the country and around the world. People move often and change jobs frequently.

The challenge for Nota and Kullberg, as well as the Alumni Association’s board of directors, is figuring out what today’s alumni, who are very different from the grads of yesteryear, want from an alumni association. “Every demographic has its own needs,” Nota says. “We spend a lot of time looking at what each generation is doing and what they want, and they don’t look anything alike anymore. They used to be somewhat similar, but now Baby Boomers, for example, are very different from the Nesters who were born after 1979.”

For younger alums, instant information and social networking are key. They don’t wait for the 6 o’clock evening news to find out what’s going on in the world, and they won’t be active, involved alumni if they don’t have regular, frequent contact with the University.

While mailed publications like Quad Angles are still an important way to get information about the University out to alumni, the Alumni Association finds the Web increasingly crucial in its work. Graduates can keep tabs on goings-on at URI and at alumni chapters around the country through the biweekly Web-based newsletter inAdvance. The online chats have attracted participants from 19 states and have averaged 165 visitors to each chat.

As sites like Facebook and MySpace grow in popularity, the Alumni Association is looking at ways to enhance its online presence. “We need to be where our alumni are,” says Nota, “and if it’s virtual, we need to be there also.”

If one challenge for the Alumni Association is keeping abreast of what members want and need, a second, equally important, goal is increasing the dues-paying membership. “A lot of people don’t even realize they’re not dues-paying members,” says Kullberg. “I’ve talked to people who do a lot for the University, and they’re surprised when you tell them they’re not actually dues-paying members of the Alumni Association.”

The Alumni Association is a separate, nonprofit organization from the University, and it relies on dues and giving for its support. The association needs money to do its work, of course, but just as important, it needs people. “People care about URI and want to do something, but they’re not 100 percent sure what they should be doing,” says Kullberg. By joining the Alumni Association, they can help with any number of activities and committees that help the association do its work.

“What I’m trying to get is intelligent passion,” says Kullberg. “If we can get everyone on the boat, and everyone starts to row toward our objectives, we’ll have something hot.”

By Paula M. Bodah ’78