Aamir Anwar Helps Alumni Around the World Stay Connected-Faculty & Staff News - Carnegie Mellon University

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Aamir Anwar Helps Alumni Around the World Stay Connected

Aamir Anwar is charting new territory as CMU's first director of international alumni relations. His task is to build and grow communities of Carnegie Mellon alumni who reside outside of the U.S. Since starting nearly three years ago, the number of international alumni chapters has risen from 9 to 14.

Anwar also teaches a mini-course at the Heinz College on cross-cultural management.

The Piper caught up with Anwar recently to learn more about his roles at the university.


What types of changes has your position helped to create?

Anwar

When I started we established alumni chapters in Qatar, Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia and Shanghai. We now have 14 international chapters of Carnegie Mellon alumni and some upcoming communities. We see that more alumni are engaging, and there is more interaction.

We will soon announce chapters in Portugal, Turkey and Mexico, and we are starting a European Union of Carnegie Mellon alumni. I believe for a while, that's where we are going to stay. We have alumni in more than 120 different countries, but certain countries have larger pockets of alumni so that's where the communities build chapters.

I am also trying to connect our current students who come from countries with chapters with the chapter leadership, so they remain in sustained connection and communication with each other.

Do you visit all of the chapters?

I try to visit them once a year to connect with them, hold events and reestablish my relationship with them to reassure them that we are here to support them.

We like to work very closely with them, which is how we operate with all the domestic and international chapters.

How does the Alumni Association board reflect the international nature of alumni?

The Alumni Association Board is a working board as opposed to the traditional model of an advisory board.

For the first time, we have two Alumni Association board members who reside outside the U.S. The Hong Kong Chapter leader is on the board and so is the chapter leader of Mumbai.

When we hold our chapter leader conference calls, the time difference for all the participants can be as much as 10 or 11 hours. So, it may be at 4 o'clock in the morning for them, when some international chapter leaders call to connect with us to share their experience and to learn from others.

What are some of the programs that take place with alumni chapters?

There are some cultural differences, but Carnegie Mellon alumni identify themselves as a unique group no matter what culture they belong to. They have a commonly shared experience that they celebrate.

But, of course, the larger societal culture that they live in has an impact on who they are, and programs reflect that as well.

To give you an idea, wine tasting is a rather popular small social event, but may not be an appropriate one in Qatar. There are other examples of what works in one place not working in another.

Some usual events we see happening are networking events, social gatherings and happy hours. Last year some chapters started holiday parties during winter break. Many international chapters now are holding welcome events for new students in the summer, when alumni welcome students and their parents to the community and answer their  questions and provide them useful tips on practical and cultural aspects.

We recommend the chapters have three or four major events that will bring most of the people and incorporate educational activities, social events and networking.

Tell us a little bit about your graduate class "Cross-Cultural Management."

Because of my travel commitments I am unable to teach a semester long course, so it is the same content squeezed into a mini-session.

It focuses on business and management in a setting where people from various backgrounds are working with each other, especially in today's world, where the social, political, cultural and technological paradigms have shifted and impacted our worldview and our interactions with our fellow global citizens.

There are many classic examples from corporations and other settings, where people have made a mistake that has caused them to lose face. That's why it is important to learn the culture and the skills to be culturally competent and sensitive.

The makeup of the students in the class is a reflection of Carnegie Mellon. Out of 20 students, 11 are international students and the class has representation from Tepper, the Heinz College, CIT and SCS.

Using my role in Alumni Relations I bring in international alumni as virtual guest speakers so students can learn from their experience.

One was a U.S. alumna living in Paris. She connected with us through video conference from France, where she is a corporate and coaching consultant and a mentor for international business and cross-cultural conflict resolution.

The students had wonderful questions to ask and it was a great learning experience for us all. The rich perspective that students also gave with their reflections and the kind of questions they ask showed in volumes how prepared and willing our students are to learn and
share their experience.

Can you tell me a little about the Loyal Scots Program?

One thing that we do emphasize in alumni relations is that we want to foster a culture of alma mater, in which alumni are fully engaged. It is essentially a comprehensive citizenship that we are talking about.

The Loyal Scots Program is a new initiative of meaningful engagement with the university. Every school has a culture of some kind in which alumni are engaged through that bond. The Loyal Scots Program goes back to the spirit of our founder, Andrew Carnegie, and is an annual and lifelong commitment.

First of all you must keep your contact information updated with the university so in exchange we can keep you informed and updated with what's happening at the university, what's happening at your community and how to take advantage of all the wonderful resources. We call it, 'to stay informed.'

The second is to participate and engage with the university. It can be as simple as coming to an event that is held regionally, locally or at the university. Going beyond that you can become a volunteer or even an alumni leader for your local alumni community.

Engagement is multifaceted. It's not just one thing you can do. There are many, many different things that you can do that fall under the umbrella of engagement Examples are to interview a prospective student, or be a mentor or a coach to current students and recent alumni.

The third criteria is give back to the university in any amount every year. It's not the amount that counts, but the participation.

We let our alumni know how important giving back to the university is. Not only does it benefit so many different aspects of the university and help much-needed funding, but when more alumni give back to the university it has an impact on the rankings of the institution.

In giving back to the university, they can potentially increase the value of their degree.

The last criteria is showing your pride or doing advocacy on behalf of the university, letting people know that you went to Carnegie Mellon and how it impacted your life and contributed to your great successes. That's very important.

How can faculty and staff help the international effort?

What has made Carnegie Mellon so amazing is its openness to the world - from China's Mao Yisheng, who was our first Ph.D. recipient, to where we are today. We have the highest percentage of international students among major research universities, and that is really commendable. But we need to almost have an affirmation reminding ourselves who we are as a larger community and take it to the next level, whatever that may be.

As they say in some illustrations, it takes a village; it takes a community effort to build programs and to sustain programs. Our faculty and staff can also be instrumental in promoting the Loyal Scots Program to our current students and alumni.  After all, it is all about engagement with the university.

Also, I would like to ask our colleagues, faculty and staff to connect with our alumni at large, both in the U.S. and outside the U.S., especially whenever they travel.

This is one very important thing for alumni also. They always long to connect with their faculty and other administrators to learn about the university and if anything else to jog their memory and have a cup of tea.

Whenever faculty and administrators travel, they should let us, the Alumni Association, know so that we can connect them with our alumni.

By: Heidi Opdyke, opdyke@andrew.cmu.edu