By Jeff Brown
Recent grads find creative ways to give back to their alma mater.
I, along with three of my best friends, graduated from Baylor on May 13, 2000. One of us works in business in Houston, another is in his first year as a law professor, and a third is finishing up dental school in New York. Three of us are married, and two already have kids.
As much as we'd like to, none of us can yet afford to make a significant contribution to Baylor when we receive that annual phone call. But we all love Baylor, and so I set out to discover other ways that young alumni like us are helping to support the University.
The first natural step, I found, is to get involved with the Baylor Network. Through a series of organizations in cities across not only Texas, but the United States and even internationally, the Network organizes Baylor alumni of all ages who gather for business networking, to watch sporting events, and just to meet other people with similar interests who come from a similar background.
But in addition to the many benefits Baylor graduates gain from their involvement with the Network, participating in Network events is one easy way for young alumni to begin supporting the Baylor family without making any major financial or time commitments.
Brandon Lester, BS '02, got involved with the Baylor Business Network of Austin in part to make contacts and in part because "being in this town where there's a lot of burnt orange, it's always exciting to find the green and gold." But over time, he says he's realized another aspect of his participation.
"There are opportunities for mentors; if we have younger students that come in or a recent grad that comes in, it gives them an opportunity to potentially contact a person to help mentor them through the business world, someone local," he explains.
Network get-togethers in public places also serve to spread the Baylor name. More than one young alum I talked to had stories of "converting" strangers to Baylor fans after watch parties had gathered for televised football and basketball games--even out in California, where Jeff, BA '00, and Lindsay Webdell, BBA '01, organized a few local Baylor fans to watch the Bears play at a restaurant in San Diego.
"A strong alumni network really puts forth a good impression of the school," says Jeff. "The place where we do our watch parties now, a lot of people didn't even know about Baylor, but they put up our Baylor flag and everything. Postseason play [for basketball] was really exciting, so now we have people that have never heard of Baylor cheering for us, and they keep track of it on their own."
In talking to young grads across the country, I noticed that involvement in the Network often led alumni to find other ways that they could help Baylor. The Webdells, for example, have also served as Bear Hunters, volunteering to represent Baylor at college fairs in their community.
"I had a lot of friends at Baylor who were from Southern California, and I always thought they were really fun and really cool, so when I got out here, I thought it would be fun to recruit and bring people to Baylor from the same area," says Lindsay. "We had such a positive experience at Baylor, forming really strong friendships and being involved in organizations that meant a lot to us. We just wanted to keep that strong and get people interested in that out here. It's easy for us to sell it, because we liked it so much."
Formerly known as Bear Hunters, the program is now called Baylor Delegates and uses alumni to promote the University to high school students in their area. Marie Brown, BA '92, has helped out around the Dallas area for over a decade.
"I like being able to do all that I can. I don't have a lot of money, but I do have time, and I try to give the University as much of my time as I can," Brown says.
The program allows volunteers to work as many or as few fairs as they can. The Webdells say they've worked two or three a year the past several years, while Brown attends five or six high school fairs a year as well as events at several middle schools.
"It really doesn't take a lot of time at all," says Lindsay. "So if you want to be involved and have a spare four or five hours once every couple of months or even once a year, it's totally feasible to be involved."
As a campus recruiter for ExxonMobil, Jeff Farish, BBA '91, found a different way to help students. The former accounting major pushed his company to start visiting the Baylor campus to interview students for internships and full-time positions in accounting and tax with the world's largest publicly traded international oil and gas company.
"What I'm able to do is leverage my position here at ExxonMobil as a manager to be able to go back and help my employer as well as help the students," Farish says. "Ever since I got in a position where I could influence [hiring Baylor students], I've tried to. Every Baylor intern we've had to this point has worked out better than we could ever imagine."
Jay Lockett, BA '04, a former Baylor baseball letterwinner, now works for the minor league Frisco Roughriders as director of Inside Sales and Customer Service. When Baylor's business school started its Sports Sponsorship and Sales (S3) program (read more on page 26), Lockett recognized that the program's graduates were perfectly qualified for his office's needs.
"Really what it is, is it's connecting with those professors who can really help you out--going to professors that you've worked with in the past to see if they have students that they recommend to you," he says. "I want to hire Baylor kids before anything else, and especially if they're in that S3 program. If you ask me why I go to Baylor over and over, it's because that's where I'm connected and where I find good students."
"There's always something you can do," advises Farish, who also serves on the business school's accounting advisory board. "There are young alumni who you can help. If you've been out of school two years, there's always someone who's been out six months. Giving back to the University may be just helping out one student.
"I came out of school in the early '90s, when it was very, very difficult to find employment, and I always promised myself that if I ever got in a position that I would do everything I could to come back and help the students," he says. "I had professors like Helen Miller [BBA '71, MBA '72], Patricia Nunley [BBA '80, JD '82], and the late Dr. James Parsons who were really big influences on me as mentors when I was there, and I just always wanted to be able to do the same thing back for students and have an impact the way those professors did."
Many of the young graduates I talked to had found that at this stage of life, their best means of service was to give of their talents. When she had her first child, Alison Malone, BA '88, resigned from the position she'd held for 13 years with Dallas advertising agency The Richards Group. Soon after, recognizing that she had more free time, she began searching for a way to get more involved with her alma mater.
"I called Baylor and they referred me to someone in Dallas, who asked what I had done for a living. I said advertising, and they said that the nursing school really needed some help in marketing and advertising. Would I be interested in helping them?" Malone remembers.
Malone and her husband, Mike--a University of Dayton graduate who also works for The Richards Group--used their talents to help Baylor's Louise Herrington School of Nursing (LHSON) develop a new tagline that summed up the school's mission in three simple words: "Learn. Lead. Serve."
"Mike and Alison Malone were a godsend to the LHSON!" exclaims Dr. Judy Lott, dean of the nursing school. "They have helped us develop materials to promote our mission, and have worked together to provide high-quality marketing and promotion guidance to the LHSON. We are so blessed to have them in our family!"
Robert Nitsche, BBA '93, found his niche back where he started--in the Hankamer School of Business.
"Terry [Maness, business school dean] and I have talked about different things and what's going on at the school. He saw I had an interest in how the school was doing, and he asked me to be on the advisory panel," says Nitsche, now the chief financial officer for Insurance Network of Texas. "We look at curriculum, we talk about majors, we talk about the direction the business school's going. It's great being in on that, having input."
"Everyone has something to give, even if it's just time and a thoughtful approach--a sincerity in wanting to help, that's something to give right there," Alison says. "There are lots of ways to get involved with Baylor. Sometimes they need specific help, and sometimes they need volunteers to help with a big project or event. And sometimes they need you because maybe you have connections to other people that would help them ... There's just so many different ways to help."
Of course, giving financially to Baylor is an important way of supporting the school and its current students, too. In addition to serving on Hankamer's advisory board, Nitsche and his wife, Robin, BBA '93, established an endowed scholarship in 2002 as a way of giving back.
"One of my best friends at Baylor had a lot of scholarships," says Robert. "After we got out in the real world, we thought that as God has blessed us, maybe we ought to do something for other kids."
"It's amazing to see what the little money that God has given us to share with kids at Baylor, how great they're doing with that," says Robin. "It's always a huge impact on both of us when we meet the students who have received the money and they talk about what they want to do with their lives."
Katie Cunningham King, BBA '03, MACC '03, expressed similar sentiments when asked why she and her husband Robert (a Texas A&M graduate) created an endowed scholarship for business school students in 2007.
"I had some scholarships that I applied for when I was at Baylor through the business school, things that would give just a couple hundred dollars a semester or something like that," she reflects. "I remember that being a blessing to me in my education, and I thought it would be nice to help someone else, whether it was a big or small dollar amount, just to help them get through a semester."
King's employer, KPMG, offers to match its employees' donations to their alma maters, so she took advantage of
that to establish the scholarship. Many firms offer similar "matching gifts" programs; a complete list can be found at matchinggifts.com/baylor.
"Our heart is with Baylor," says Robin. "We met at Baylor, and we got married between our sophomore and junior years, so we have a big emotional pull towards Baylor. We thought doing something for Baylor kids would be a great way to help out and give back."
So what's the takeaway? I hope that one day, perhaps my friends and I can also endow a scholarship--maybe in honor of our favorite professor, Dr. Robert Packard. But for now, we can each find our niche. The guys in Houston can represent Baylor to future students, while my friend in New York can talk up Baylor's pluses to the captive audience in his dental chair each day. The real estate underwriter can start pushing his boss to hire Baylor interns, and we can all gather at the end of the day with other alums in our cities to cheer on Baylor's athletic teams. I look forward to discussing how we've all gotten involved at our 10-year reunion next year!
To Find Out More
Since 2004, the Women's Network has promoted fellowship, funded scholarships and offered Baylor-related programming to 13 geographically based women's groups. The Women's Network is open to all alumnae and former female students, wives of Baylor alumni, and mothers of current and past Baylor students who live within one of the 13 communities served by the network. Local volunteers, with assistance from campus-based staff, run the Women's Network. Activities include lectures, book reviews, museum tours and special events just for young alumni and "Mama Bears" (mothers of preschool and school-age children).
The Business Network is organized in different cities and is focused on all types of business, including law, engineering and computer science. Business Network speakers have included economists, Texas Supreme Court justices, oil and gas explorers and investors, music producers, health-care administrators and physicians, professional sport team owners, and even a pickle packer and producer. One Business Network group hosts an annual golf tournament, which garnered more than $100,000 in donations to the business school. Another has established an endowed scholarship for students.
The Young Graduate Network supported almost 100 events in 2008, including social mixers, community service events, alumni sports leagues, and Baylor sports watch-parties. In addition, the Young Graduate Network has continued the popular intramural sports program with "Aftermurals," in which Baylor alumni play a wide range of organized sports. This network also invites young alumni from all cities to Waco to participate in the annual "Bearathon," a student-led half-marathon that raises money for student scholarships.
The Baylor Sports Network communicates with alumni, former athletes and friends to engage them in athletics at the University. Working with the Baylor Bear Foundation and the 'B' Association for former letterwinners, the Sports Network hosts 55 to 65 events each year that introduce the coaches, honor the players and involve the fans.
The Baylor Parents League is the liaison between the University and the parents of Baylor undergraduates, offering parents opportunities to learn about the University and find a place of meaningful service. Parent volunteers annually coordinate more than 200 events, including hosting student sendoffs, assembling student gift baskets and organizing prayer meetings. The Parents League was organized in 1968 and became part of the Baylor Network in 2006.
The Global Network has encouraged alumni to be involved in internationally focused programs. This initiative has increased awareness of opportunities that already exist and has enlightened alumni who are seeking to connect to the global Baylor family. The international gatherings usually happen in major sightseeing and tourism centers. When possible, students and faculty studying or working abroad provide alumni with a fresh perspective of campus life.
Baylor Delegates support the University recruitment efforts in cities and towns across the country. After completing a training seminar, Delegates are equipped with materials and information that prepare them to promote Baylor to potential students and answer questions students may have about the admissions process.