Developing strong relationships with alumni is one of University President Steven Knapp’s top priorities and a task he highlighted at inauguration events Thursday.
More than 600 people attended Thursday’s alumni-themed events. Though the alumni giving rate has been one of the sharpest criticisms of alumni relations at GW, Knapp said Thursday’s events were focused on building community and not outwardly soliciting money from alumni.
“It is important that alumni really become part of the institution and not just for donations,” Knapp said at a breakfast honoring his induction into the Alumni Association. “Part of the reason Diane and I chose to live on 20th Street and F is because we want to engage alumni and have them over.”
Overall, 11 percent of alumni currently donate financially to the University. Alumni relations officials said they hope to increase this statistic to 20 percent.
Events Thursday included a career networking session that matched alumni with students and a series of panel discussions with distinguished alumni.
At an alumni lunch, 1966 graduates Sen. Mike Enzi (R-Wyo.) and Ambassador Edward “Skip” Gnehm spoke about how they were randomly assigned as roommates their freshman year and have been friends ever since. Even after 45 years, they said they would not talk about their college escapades.
“We agreed a long time ago not to tell stories about each other . we were normal college students,” Gnehm said.
Many alumni spoke fondly about the influence GW has had on their lives.
“The person I am is owed to the University,” said Richard Crespin, president of the GW Alumni Association. “Every groomsman at my wedding was a GW alum. When a company I was working for in the past went bankrupt, the GW Alumni Association reached out to me,”
The Alumni Association is focusing on ways in which GW can continue to be useful to alumni after graduation, including providing networking opportunities for alumni when they move to a new city or change jobs, said Matt Lindsay, director of Alumni Communications.
“We have to show alumni that there is value in staying connected,” Crespin said. “I think that GW has tended to focus on recent graduates and we need to focus on people who are mid-career and do things for students. Our alumni are our mentors.”
Some alumni were critical of the University’s weak efforts to reach out to alumni in the past.
“For years the University wasn’t placing an emphasis on alumni. When more time passes without alumni experiencing a reconnection to GW, it is difficult to get those alumni back,” said Steve Frenkil, a 1974 graduate and member of the GW Alumni Board.
Alumni said they believe Knapp’s presidency may mark a positive shift in alumni relations at GW.
“Knapp is going to be the best president ever. He is very down-to-earth and makes time to talk with alumni one-on-one,” said Emily Calis, a 1984 graduate of the Graduate School of Education and Human Development.
One of Knapp’s focuses is building a global community of GW graduates. In December, he and his wife Diana will be touring Asia where they will visit alumni associations in various countries. There are more than 200,000 alumni living overseas, with the greatest concentration in Seoul, South Korea.
Knapp said, “We want you to be proud of GW as not just your alma mater, but your intellectual and cultural home for the rest of your life.”
-Danielle Meister contributed to this report.