In June, Rensselaer Alumni Association President Jan Pirrong 69 handed over the reins to Lee Bishop 66. In a recent interview, Pirrong reflected on the RAAs accomplishments and challenges he sees for the future.
As you look back on your two-year term as RAA president, what would you highlight as the biggest accomplishments?
Jan Pirrong: Its been a productive two years. Ive been lucky because I inherited a board of trustees that assumed a focused, businesslike approach to making the current and future alumni experience more positive and valuable. We have taken on initiatives where our experience and interest in the Institutes forward direction are put to use.
One focus has been on the alumni relationship with students. For instance, more than 30 percent of our alumni were involved in fraternities or sororities while they were students at Rensselaer. For many of them, the Greek experience provided great leadership opportunities that they have applied throughout life. Since Greek systems on many campuses across the country are undergoing substantial change, we felt it was important to do whatever we could to ensure that students who choose fraternities or sororities will have the same opportunities to grow socially and gain leadership experience on Rensselaers campus. To that end, the RAA has reaffirmed its partnership with the Alumni Inter-Greek Council, an organization of alumni and students who represent Greeks at Rensselaer.
Additionally, the RAA has begun collaborating with the Rensselaer at Hartford Alumni Association on connecting alumni from our Hartford and distance-education locations. The interests of these alumni groups are complementary, and provide the potential for diverse alumni programs and activities for undergraduate, graduate, and full- and part-time former students. Christine DeCarlo 87, president of the Rensselaer at Hartford Alumni Association, is now a member of the RAA Board of Trustees. We are optimistic about the opportunities that lie ahead.
In what ways does the RAA support specific campus programs?
Pirrong: Because of a growing investment portfolio, the RAA has been able to provide financial support to a number of key initiatives over the past two years. We helped support the Rensselaer Student Union renovations and became a founding partner of the RPIdeaLab, a resource center for student entrepreneurs on campus. These programs not only offer opportunities for direct alumni involvement, they also help introduce the RAA to current students, broadening their awareness of the Rensselaer alumni network and the many ways to connect with alumni before graduation. If students are involved with the RAA, their transition to alumni involvement is that much more natural.
The RAA is also open to proposals from alumni chapters that have ideas for increasing the involvement of Rensselaer alumni.
How has the RAA been able to provide this kind of support?
Pirrong: We have built up our fund balance to nearly $1 million (FY01 ending balance: $969,500) through sound investments and income-generating programs such as the MBNA credit card, our travel program, and beginning this year, an insurance program (major medical, term life, disability, auto, and home owner). These programs offer services to alumni, with part of the proceeds coming back to the RAA.
We used the revenue to support many initiatives, like the ones I mentioned earlier, as well as the Approach stairs renovation, the Walker Lab renovation, an on-campus student-alumni Greek Forum, annual alumni awards, the alumni speakers program, the student-alumni organization called Red & White, and WRPI Webcast capabilities. Our goal is to increase the fund to a point where we can annually support new alumni and student initiatives. We are currently putting together our next five-year organizational strategy to guide our plans.
Whats different about the strategy you are developing now and your previous one?
Pirrong: When our last long-term strategy was developed in 1995, the Internet was in its infancy and the amazing tools it offers were largely unknown. Today we can reach out to so many more alumni through electronic communications that geographic limitations are much less of a factor. Through new alumni programs such as E-mail for Life, RenSource (an online networking database), online discussion boards, and monthly e-mail news updates, alumni can keep in touch with each other to make business or social connections, and can keep in tune with significant campus news. Also, we are continuing to develop programs that provide face-to-face networking and continuing education opportunities.
The RAA has strengthened its role as a representative of the alumni population to the Rensselaer administration. The RAA was able to provide feedback to President Jackson on drafts of the Rensselaer Plan during on-campus meetings. We meet with the president on a regular basis, and do our best to represent the interests of alumni to her. We appreciate this opportunity, and hope that its been as valuable for Dr. Jackson as it has been for us.
These factors, as well as a healthy RAA financial outlook and a change on campus in the coordination of regional alumni chapters, will help us form our new long-term strategy.
What sorts of changes will alumni experience in regional chapter coordination?
Pirrong: The coordination of regional chapters has moved from the Development Office to the Office of Alumni Relations. One benefit of this move is the opportunity for current alumni office programsaffinity (interest) groups, the alumni admissions program, and the new volunteer relations programto better integrate with the regional chapter activities and to offer more to our alumni in regions around the world.
If alumni want to get involved, how can they do it?
Pirrong: An easy first step is to become aware of whats happening with the RAA and on campus. Both are very different than they were even 10 years ago. The e-mail news update service is a simple way to get monthly summaries of stories that are relevant and interesting to RPI alumni. The AlumServ Web page, Rensselaer magazine, and mailings from the chapters describe interesting events for alumni of all ages and interestsso go to an event in your area, or in a city youre visiting!
If you want to provide some of your time to help out, the volunteer relations program matches interests and volunteer needs on a case-by-case basis. You can find out more about all this through the AlumServ Web page (www.alumni.rpi.edu) or simply by calling the Alumni Office at (518) 276-6205.
As you leave the RAA presidency, what advice would you give to the incoming president, Lee Bishop 60?
Pirrong: Because of the time commitment, I have already warned Lee that his golf handicap will go up at least 5 strokes! Seriously, I told Lee that he would be challenged by very creative and loyal alumni who really care about the future of Rensselaer. Every idea is worth consideration, discussion, and action. This volunteer role has been rewarding because I have seen alumni benefit from their connection to Rensselaer, and in turn, I have seen the Institute greatly benefit from the support and involvement of our alumni.
Welcome New RAA Board Members! The RAA has added the following new members to the board of trustees: Jay Webb 61, Christine DeCarlo 87, Robert Forman Jr. 61, Richard Hartt 70, Stephen Levy 74, Sandeep Nandy 94, Shelly Petronis 89, and Marc Schechter 75. Congratulations on your election to the board!
|2000-2001 Rensselaer Alumni Association Board of Trustees
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Denise Angwin 85
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