By Jessica Evangelista Balduzzi ’05
When students graduate from Hobart and William Smith, they join a vast network of nearly 20,000 alumni and alumnae scattered across the world and living in nearly every state and country on the planet.
Pockets of density in urban areas like New York City, Boston, Washington, D.C., Los Angeles, San Francisco and Chicago, have traditionally offered opportunities for the Colleges to translate the sense of community that students feel on campus to life as alumni and alumnae. But in places where there is a more modest population of alums and parents, and in an effort to engage all volunteers in important and meaningful work on behalf of the Colleges, a new idea was needed.
Then came a monumental breakfast in the fall of 2009 at the Ramada Inn on Seneca Lake. Attending were the then presidents of the Alumni and Alumnae Associations (now trustees) – Bob Gilman ’70 and Kate MacKinnon ’77, as well as the directors of the offices of alumni and alumnae relations – Jared Weeden ’91 and Kathy Killius Regan ’82, P’13.
“We wanted to create a structure that would really engage our alums and give them something meaty, something that was of consequence and something that allowed them to give back to the Colleges in a very real and important way,” recalls MacKinnon. “We spoke for over two hours and it seemed like only a minute had flashed by.”
“This was a very exciting time for the alum associations,” says Gilman. “That cooperative effort is, I believe, the real legacy of that time.”
“By the end of the breakfast we had an idea of how we wanted to tap into the depth and breadth of experiences of the alum and parent population,” says MacKinnon.
That idea was the beginning of the National Regional Network.
Presented to both Councils and the Board of Trustees, the idea was adopted as one of the key recommendations of the Colleges’ Strategic Plan, HWS 2015. The National Regional Network divides the country into nine regions, each one overseen by a team of volunteers tasked with engaging alums and parents in activities in support of admissions, career services, and development that will capitalize on the Colleges’ momentum and propel Hobart and William Smith into the future.
“Through the creation of the National Regional Network, the Colleges are able to be more proactive and effective in tapping the talents and commitment of our volunteers,” says Regan, who is managing the Network. “We hope to deepen the sense of affiliation that alumni, alumnae and parents have with Hobart and William Smith, consolidate the management of volunteers to allow for more efficient support of their work, and establish a wider, more consistent HWS presence throughout the country.”
“The power of this whole concept, in my view and the view of the Hobart Council, is that this will better engage our alums where they live, which will, in turn, broaden and deepen their connection to the Colleges,” says James (JB) Robinson ’96, president of the Hobart Alumni Association. “We talk a lot about how the relationship with the Colleges should be for life — and the National Regional Network helps facilitate that.”
“We have a long tradition of alums and parents who are ready and willing to serve the Colleges,” says Chrissy Bennett-West ’94, president of the William Smith Alumnae Association. “The Network has the potential to dramatically increase the number of opportunities for our alumni, alumnae and parents to make meaningful contributions of time, talent and resources toward the betterment of the Colleges, both on campus and across the country in our communities. By actively engaging alums through the National Regional Network model, the Hobart and William Smith Associations are better poised to support and strengthen the mission of the Colleges in all of its communications, programs and initiatives.”
“It is a thrilling experience to see the spark of an idea manifest into something beyond anything we could have imagined possible that morning at the Ramada Inn,” says Weeden.