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This article originally appeared in the Bentley Magazine.
PJ Neal ’02 had heard the lament time and again from fellow alumni, and it frustrated him. “Alumni support of the Annual Fund is extremely important,” says Neal, a donor to the fund since 2005. “But there’s more to the alumni experience.”
Neal’s own post-graduation involvement has included representing Bentley at college fairs and sharing his expertise with the university’s Career Services team.
“Bentley wants to engage with alumni,” he says. “Career Services is looking for alumni to hire other alumni, take on interns, and serve as mentors. The Center for Alumni, Parents and Friends Planning wants our help in planning Reunion Weekend and identifying new ways to strengthen the community.”
But word of those and other opportunities was lagging. So, in 2012, Neal was happy to join a task force charged with finding better ways to reach out and engage alumni. The group included other alumni volunteers; trustee chairman Steve Manfredi ’73; and Leigh Gaspar and her colleagues at Bentley’s Center for Alumni, Parents and Friends.
“Bentley and its alumni base had been evolving for years,” explains Gaspar, who directs the center. “But the Alumni Association, formed in 1955 — before we offered a four-year degree or had a Waltham campus — stayed New England-centric and focused on holding events. The task force started asking, ‘How are we serving alumni? Are there groups we’re missing?’”
Chapters Turn a Page
Last fall, following task force recommendations, Bentley launched a new Global Alumni Board smaller in size but greater in scope. The streamlined organization (13 members versus 30 on the previous board) comprises appointed and elected alumni directors, with positions dedicated to regions well outside New England. The board chairman is PJ Neal.
“It’s anything but business as usual,” he says. “We’re focused on serving all 65,000 alumni across the U.S. and beyond. With this new organization, the association is structured for long-term success and lifelong alumni engagement.”
The heart of what Neal calls “Alumni Association 2.0” is a concerted effort to grow alumni chapters here and abroad. There are chapters already underway in the New York City region, Greater Boston, and northern and southern California.
“These areas have a core group of alumni with proven interest in meeting, networking and hosting events,” explains Gaspar. Other groups, in the mid-Atlantic and Chicago for example, are in early development. This spring, the Global Alumni Board is reaching out to bring international alumni into the new model as well.
“With support from the board and the Center for Alumni, Parents and Friends,” Gaspar adds, “chapters will promote social and business networking, build ties between current students and alumni, and help promote the Bentley brand.”
Manfredi, whose wife, Christine, is a fellow graduate, casts the work in ambitious terms.
“The goal is to have every graduate stay connected to Bentley in one way or another,” he says. “We’d like to see more alumni involvement overall, and we think this new structure allows for more engagement across the board.”
As befits a business university, Bentley modeled its new approach using best practices from academic institutions nationwide.
“We’re looking to engage alumni in meaningful ways, to strengthen their community while advancing Bentley’s strategic goals,” says Gaspar, noting her department’s strong collaboration with Undergraduate Admission and Career Services. “We’re encouraging alumni to connect in whatever way makes them feel great, whether that’s a regional group or through an affiliation such as the Honors Program, service–learning or LGBTQ.”
The Global Alumni Board signifies “a fresh start,” she adds. “The energy from alumni is palpable.”
Neal and fellow board members are seizing the momentum.
“The lines of communication are open,” he says. “We want to hear from alumni: What kinds of services do you want? How would you like to be involved? We’re here, and we’re ready to listen.”
The Yawkey Foundations have recognized Bentley University’s longstanding commitment to service-learning and awarded the university $500,000 to educate students to effectively lead nonprofit organizations and expand student efforts to help community groups.