- The Washington Times - Sunday, June 12, 2005

Matt Reilein graduated from Georgetown University in 2000, but deep down, he never really left. Now working as a banking executive in Chicago, Mr. Reilein remains involved with the university through its vast alumni network.

These networks can be a gold mine for graduates looking to keep emotional ties to their alma maters while helping establish or stoke their careers.

Universities do their part to keep graduates in the loop via alumni magazines, online newsletters and annual homecoming festivities. For colleges, it’s a way to extend the brand and, of course, fill the coffers via alumni contributions.

Mr. Reilein, 27, serves on Georgetown’s alumni association governing body, which focuses on different areas of alumni life.

“We talk about the way regional clubs can interact and help build affinity for the university and alumni,” he says. “We’ve got clubs all over the world.”

His Hoya ties helped steer the first part of his career. He joined a firm with a long-standing tradition of hiring Georgetown graduates.

“It made you a little more comfortable knowing people from Georgetown had gone into the same program,” he says. “I didn’t necessarily know the people, but I had no problem calling them up with the most candid questions, and they had the most candid answers.”

Mr. Reilein returns to campus several times a year, but not everyone is able to do that.

When they are able to return, it’s often an emotional experience, says Danita Nias, executive director of alumni relations with the University of Maryland.

“The older you get, the more you want to hold on to things that were near and dear to you,” Ms. Nias says. “We had people who hadn’t been back to college in years. They get very emotional.”

It’s up to people like Ms. Nias to make sure alumni have a reason to remember their college days. Graduates lead busy lives, she says, and they don’t automatically jump when they receive a notice in the mail from their alma mater.

She says alumni groups structured around ethnic bonds or special interests, such as a basketball-related association or one dedicated to black alumni, often get a strong response.

A recent successful program in New York invited University of Maryland basketball coach Gary Williams to address alumni, and one built around admissions tips drew a hearty crowd of alumni looking to enroll their own children in college.

Alumni also can help in unexpected but useful ways. One University of Maryland graduate’s move to New York became a bit easier when some New York-based alumni offered to help her move her furniture.

Others have told Ms. Nias they turn to alumni to connect their children with similarly aged children in their new neighborhoods.

“That’s not easy to do in an area where children go to private school,” she says.

University of Maryland graduates stay in touch with their college days via Terp magazine, published three times a year, and online newsletters.

Bill Reynolds, associate vice president for alumni relations and the annual fund at Georgetown University, warns current students not to “let graduation be the culmination.”

Toward that end, the university aggressively courts recent graduates to attend homecoming activities with a series of events that go beyond the typical tailgating parties.

Recent alumni gatherings have offered open forums on such far-flung topics as terrorism and the law, the Catholic Church and the ABC pop-culture smash “Desperate Housewives.”

Georgetown also is wrapping construction on a revamped Alumni House featuring a library, a gallery and a winter garden room.

Mr. Reynolds also tries to coax students to get involved in the alumni clubs — 50 in all — scattered across the country.

Some of these clubs offer a very narrow focus. The university’s Wall Street Alliance in New York focuses chiefly on career networking combined with a sprinkling of socializing, he says.

The newly formed Georgetown Entertainment and Media Alliance offers arts graduates a boost in a tricky job market.

“It’s oriented around networking and navigating an industry which can be difficult to understand,” he says. “It’s a connection-driven business.”

Universities offer more tangible incentives for graduates, too. At George Washington University, alumni can audit courses for a vastly reduced fee, while University of Maryland graduates may opt for reduced rates on car and life insurance policies.

With all the options available to graduates, the online realm is becoming a place for them to find every perk afforded them.

Scott Mory, executive director of alumni programs and annual giving at George Washington University, says the growing number of graduates is forcing many programs to turn to the Internet for help.

“George Washington has over 200,000 alumni and 20,000 current students,” Mr. Mory says. “The ability to maintain a network for a population that size without being online [is difficult].”

Mr. Mory says George Washington’s recent alumni events included pairing current students with graduates for a series of one-on-one dinner meetings and assembling Philadelphia-area graduates to visit the Salvador Dali exhibit at the Philadelphia Museum of Art.

He says alumni needs vary based on their demographic group. Younger alumni want help starting their careers, while midcareer graduates turn to fellow alumni as potential hires. Older graduates are looking for ways to give back, he says.

Many graduates don’t mind a sales pitch mixed with the alumni news.

“Most of our alumni are pragmatic enough to appreciate it’s not completely about fundraising and not completely about good times and partying,” he says.

Mr. Reilein, who met his fiancee at Georgetown, says his days as a college student helped shape who he is, and reconnecting to that time continues to do just that.

“It was a great influence in my life and how I learned to see the world and think about the world. It’s refreshing for me to get back on campus to be re-inspired.”

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