For the first time in more than a decade, parents, alumni and students will all be a part of one of the University’s signature events this weekend.
The Office of Alumni Relations combined alumni and parents weekend into one event for this year’s Colonials Weekend, running Thursday through Sunday, to encourage more alumni interaction with current students and their families, officials said.
Experts said bringing alumni and parents – two major sources of donations – together in one weekend is a major opportunity to showcase the University’s achievements and build a stronger community at a university where parents and alumni don’t always feel an attachment to campus life.
With more than 100 planned events, Colonials Weekend will feature staples of past parents weekends like student group performances in Lisner Auditorium as well as school receptions for former students typically a part of Alumni Weekend. But the festivities will also include events designed to bring parents and alumni together like the Alumni, Parents, Students Meet n’ Greet planned for Friday in the Marvin Center.
University spokesman Brett Zongker said combing the events made sense because there are about 300 alumni that are also parents of current students. He said in recent surveys, alumni requested more opportunities to meet current students – another reason the two weekends were combined because students were rarely involved in past Alumni Weekend events.
“Colonials Weekend will provide more opportunities for students, their families and alumni to interact during both structured events and chance encounters,” he said in an email.
“Maybe I’m old fashioned, but there’s still that benefit from one person looking at another in the eye.”
Zongker declined to say if the University’s budget was a factor in the decision to merge the two weekends.
Since the University’s record-breaking $1 billion fundraising campaign ended last June, the Board of Trustees has continued the effort to engage former students, creating an alumni volunteer task force to meet this academic year.
The move to combine the two weekends comes after the parent services office was dissolved into a larger department in the Division of Student Affairs in 2016.
At least two of the University’s peer institutions — American and Emory universities — have also decided to combine alumni and parent events.
Venessa Marie Perry, the president of the Alumni Association, said the fusion of the two events seemed like the logical move because of how much parents and alumni have in common. She said both groups want to communicate with each other to better support students.
“For us, it’s a win-win,” she said. “If we want to make sure that students are having a meaningful experience as undergrads and then subsequently as alumni, then we want to connect with them as students.”
Martin Baum, the treasurer and chair of the Alumni Association’s finance and operations committee, said he is also a GW parent and for parents, meeting alumni is a chance to discover for themselves that their students chose a university with a strong community and deeply-rooted tradition.
“Videos are great and FAQs are great, maybe I’m old fashioned, but there’s still that benefit from one person looking at another in the eye,” he said.
As a parent and alumnus, Baum said the only downside of combining the two weekends is that it creates a packed agenda and events for alumni and parents conflict. But he said having the event take place in one weekend makes it more convenient for campus visitors and means there will be more activities, involvement and people, he said.
“When you bring all those community members back, the campus is in essence their home.”
Raina Lenney, the assistant vice president of alumni relations at American University who previously worked in alumni relations at GW, said alumni play an important role in the quality of current students’ experience. Alumni help retain students and support them through professional development and future opportunities in obtaining jobs or internships, she said.
“Parents recognize the value that alumni have for their students because alumni can play a really important role in helping retain students and ensure that their college experience is more satisfying,” Lenney said.
Lenney said positive alumni engagement leads more parents of current students to donate to the University because they want their students to have a meaningful college experience and they know alumni can help.
Last year, two anonymous parents promised to donate over the next four years to support the student food pantry, The Store. For the 2016 senior class gift campaign, a parent and alumnus donated $10,000 to encourage more donations.
She said holding major events, like Colonials Weekend, is a way to build community on an urban campus where its often more challenging for students and alumni to feel a connection to the University.
“There is that nostalgic piece that plays even in less traditional schools,” she said. “When you bring all those community members back, the campus is in essence their home.”
Joe Vidulich, the American University Alumni Association president, said these events can bring communities together to celebrate their common connections to a university.
“As the university is dealing with things or is growing or is celebrating something, it’s important for all those constituencies: faculty, staff, alumni, students and parents,” he said. “They can all come together and celebrate where that institution has come in the past year.”