Volunteer Forum participants
Carnegie Mellon University alumni have always been about collaboration. The annual Volunteer Forum in Pittsburgh helps provide tools to do just that.
By volunteering for their alma mater, alumni are reconnecting to the heart of what they love about the institution. More than 100 alumni and two dozen guests visited the Pittsburgh campus to learn how to help reconnect more alumni with the university.
Katie Karlovitz (A'78), a public speaking coach, gave the keynote address, "Blaze Away: Dynamic Presenting Skills for Everyone, at Any Age," offering tips for becoming better at speaking in front of people. She stressed the importance of being passionate about your subject.
"We all share very strong emotions about our glorious university. Those feelings can be used as a source of energy when you contemplate your next move as the voice of the Alumni Association," she said.
The weekend's highlights included workshops on creating signature alumni events, connectivity and fun, fundraising, using social media and even a campus scavenger hunt that included many posts to the new Alumni Association Facebook page along the way. Facility tours of the Costume Shop, Google Pittsburgh and a "muddy boots" tour of Scott Hall, as well as faculty insight sessions provided insider info and some of the latest research by CMU's world renowned faculty.
Ines Azevedo, assistant professor of engineering and public policy, and Mario Berges, assistant professor of civil and environmental engineering, discussed sustainable energy systems and resources. Peter Boatwright, the Carnegie Bosch Professor of marketing and co-director of the Integrated Innovation Institute, led a session on values and the resulting buying behaviors of millennials.
Shirley Ho, assistant professor of physics and cosmology, talked about the work she conducts with her researchers, who ultimately are engaged in trying to answer the question, "Why are we here?"
No one's sure about the universe yet, but alumni volunteers were confident about the reasons why they were at the forum.
"I'm blown away by how awesome this event is," said Colin Taylor (E'08), an embedded software engineer and president of CMU's Washington, D.C., alumni chapter and a third-time Volunteer Forum attendee. "It's a great networking opportunity. You make connections with CMU alumni from all over the country — all over the world — and you get great ideas for how to better engage alumni with the university."
Taylor said he was inspired by a session provided by the Boston chapter, whose annual clambake is always a hit.
Laurie McPherson (S'85) took notes on value-added activities her chapter can offer.
"It's hard to convince people that they have anything to gain by becoming involved. They've got kids. They've got demanding jobs. Why and how would they like to be involved with the university?" McPherson said. "One session talked about organizing events around lifelong learning, cultural events and community service projects."
McPherson said it's all about reconnecting.
"Engaging alumni isn't just putting your hand out for money. It's asking how can CMU serve us as alumni, and how can we as alumni serve our alma mater," McPherson said. "At the core of the relationship is connecting and reconnecting, and I want to be a partner in that with CMU."
In that light, McPherson stressed the importance of the university learning what disengaged alumni needs are today and addressing those needs, which brings us back to Karlovitz's keynote address and a key lesson she learned in the School of Drama.
"We learned in the theatre department here that you can't play a result, meaning if I want the audience to break into applause at the end of a scene, I can't focus on that result," Karlovitz said. "You have to stay fully present in the moment-to-moment reality. And if you do that, then the results will always take care of themselves."