The College of Engineering Alumni Association Board
The Alumni Board is a group of dedicated, hard-working alumni who are proud to serve the College of Engineering. Visit our ‘Meet the Board’ page for profiles on each of our current members. The following interview with the Dean first appeared in the Summer 2010 e-Currents newsletter.
For more information regarding the College of Engineering Alumni Association Board, or how you can get involved or reconnect with the college, contact Mary Mertz-Smith, assistant director for alumni relations, at email@example.com or (517) 355-8339.
A Link Between the College and its Alumni, A Conversation with the Dean
“Linked in” doesn’t just represent the name of the popular social networking site. It’s what the College of Engineering aspires for its alumni—to be linked in, or engaged, with the college.
“When our engineering alumni get connected—engaged—with the college, it becomes a mutually rewarding experience,” says Joe Gentile (BS ’64, MS ’66 Chemical Engineering), chairperson of the 19-member College of Engineering Alumni Association Board. “The alumni get the opportunity to work with the college’s distinguished faculty and extraordinarily talented students, and the faculty and students receive the benefit of an external perspective and, often times, many years of work-related experience. It’s a classic win-win situation.”
Historically, the role of the board has been to provide advice and counsel to the dean and his staff, participate in college events and initiatives, and act as a liaison between alumni and the college or university. But recently, in order to meet the constantly changing challenges and opportunities that continue to shape the priorities of the college, Satish Udpa, dean of the College of Engineering, challenged board members to develop ways for themselves—and the 36,000 College of Engineering alumni—to better connect with the college. Following is a conversation with Dean Udpa about his view of the board’s role today.
In your view, what is the role of the College of Engineering Alumni Association Board today?
I envision our Alumni Association Board acting as an effective interface between the college and all of our alumni. With our growing number of alumni, it has become increasingly difficult to stay connected with them; our alumni board can help us better accomplish that. We also periodically solicit advice from the board on issues that affect the college. And to some extent, we utilize their connections to engage with the other stakeholders, including students.
Last fall, you issued a challenge to the board: To devise ways to encourage all alumni to become more involved in college activities. What prompted you to issue this challenge?
The college has undergone a major metamorphosis over the past five to ten years. The nature of the program has changed dramatically—it’s not “your father’s College of Engineering” anymore! We have launched a number of initiatives in energy, health, security, and sustainability. Yet, as I traveled around the country meeting with groups of alumni, it became clear to me that our alumni were not getting all of the information that I thought they should have in their hands. They were “wowed” when I told them what was happening in the college; they were not even aware of many of these things. Over the years we have had excellent communication vehicles—Currents Magazine, our department newsletters, the College of Engineering Web site, and, most recently, Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter. Yet, it seemed to me that alumni were still not up-to-date about what’s going on in the college. I realized that what we needed was a human touch, a person with a voice to help us connect better. That’s where I think our Alumni Association Board members come in.
What action has the board taken in response to your challenge?
Our board responded very positively and very quickly to my challenge. In addition to serving as board members, each of these 19 individuals is actively engaged in other college activities. They mentor students, give guest lectures, sponsor and judge senior capstone design projects, and participate in our programs for K-12 students, just to name a few specific activities; the full list is very long. They have used their own experiences to generate a “starter” list of activities that someone interested in becoming more involved with the college can consider. And this list will continue to grow. I applaud the board for their initiative.
How will this translate over into the alumni at large getting more engaged in college activities? Give me your view of how it will look when many more alumni are engaged in the college’s activities. How will that benefit the college?
First, the members of our board will engage more actively with their local alumni groups, to encourage their fellow alumni to get involved. I want each of them to be a “bullhorn.” As the result of our alumni acting as a bullhorn, and acting as our eyes and ears, we will become more sensitized to the real-world problems out in our communities. This will enable us to come up with better solutions to some of the problems that we all face. For instance, in the face of our country’s recent economic downturn, our career services folks here in the college and at the university were able to help unemployed alumni find work. These are the kinds of things that we anticipate doing more of within the next five years.
Why is it important to you that more alumni be engaged in college activities?
John A. Hannah, who served as MSU president from 1941-1969, once said: “. . . when the university issues your diploma to you, it places an indelible stamp of approval on you, and you become a part of this university forever.”
In other words, according to John Hannah, our alumni become part of the Michigan State University family. And to maintain a healthy family unit, we must interact and communicate, informing each other about things that are happening in our lives. I want our alumni to know that the value of their degree has increased, that we’re doing everything in our power to make sure that the quality of the programs here are in their ascendancy. I want to be able to connect with our alumni. I want to be able to share our stories. To some extent, the reputation of the university, the reputation of the college, depends on our alumni having successful careers, and how well they market the college.