Without fanfare the Alumnae of Northwestern raise much-needed
funds for the University and offer blue-ribbon adult education courses.
Alumnae members, from left, Ginny Grant Blair
(S48), Helen Sullivan Knight (GS36) and Mary Whiteside Schuette
(WCAS60) take an active role in many University organizations
and events. Here, they attend the John Evans Club's recent anniversary
photo by Jim Ziv
Its a Tuesday morning in the John Evans Alumni Center, and 30 members
of the Alumnae of Northwestern are chatting, just about to start their
monthly meeting. As one might expect, the conversation among these long-time
friends partly hovers over family and similar topics but occasionally
drifts into serious assessments of this or that University professor or
the fine points of their expertise. And these women know whereof they
Largely through their Continuing Education Program, taught by faculty,
the Alumnae of Northwestern have raised a remarkable $2.5 million since
1931 for a variety of University causes (before that time the group was
largely a social organization). Additional funds come from the Alumnaes
Waa-Mu Patron Project.
The continuing education courses, established in 1968 in the groups
52nd year, allow it to disburse an average of $100,000 a year for scholarships
and other monetary awards. At the same time the series provides a much-appreciated
educational service to alumni and to the entire Chicago community. All
this from an organization that counts 55 active and 20 associate members
in its ranks.
Ironically those who established continuing education actually created
it for themselves. "Very frankly, the fact that many of us were young
mothers who wanted to continue our academic stimulation was the original
inspiration," explains Cindy Pinkerton (WCAS60), one of the founders
of the continuing education program. "This just seemed like a logical
place to start a program to do that."
The effort initially drew about 100 enrollees but now attracts more than
1,700 every year. And since continuing educations creation, more
than 200 professors have contributed their time as lecturers in the fall,
winter and spring. Four courses are offered each quarter and meet once
a week on Tuesday or Thursday in Norris University Center. The classes
are advertised on the Alumnae Web site, which can be reached through the
education links at www.alumni.northwestern.edu. Topics range from astronomy
to investment strategies to Greek mythology, all for a reasonable tuition
"Our students are people who want their minds and visions of the
world expanded," says Karla Stone (WCAS68), an Alumnae board member.
"They come to the programs just like Northwestern students go to
classes. Many have assigned reading, many take notes, many ask deep, intelligent
Continuing education is organized entirely by volunteers and the board
returns all profits to the University. "Its the volunteer muscle
that makes it such a financial success for the University," Pinkerton
Virginia Rosenberg (WCAS50), current president of the Alumnae board, is
particularly proud of the Alumnae-sponsored graduate fellowships, which
essentially fund the last year of academic work for selected doctoral
candidates who are women.
Another educational opportunity the Alumnae board provides is the annual
NU-Day held on the Evanston campus in October. The daylong program of
six lectures taught by Northwestern professors, alumni and administrators
is open to anyone in the Chicago area.
At last falls NU-Day, participants chose from such lecture topics
as child advocacy in East Africa, bringing war criminals to justice, and
Chinese-American relations, followed by lunch and a performance by students
in the Music Theatre Program. NU-Day also marks the presentation of the
annual Alumnae Award, given in 2001 to Barbara Gaines (S68), artistic
director and founder of the Chicago Shakespeare Theater (Northwestern,
While the Alumnae have donated more than $1.2 million in scholarships,
gifts and grants over the last seven decades, they expanded their horizons
in 2001 by creating two new awards to benefit professors and students.
The Senior Award for Volunteer Service, a $2,000 honor that recognizes
a woman in her senior year for dedication to service, aims to encourage
student volunteerism. The first award was presented last May to Meaghen
Foley (SESP01), who established work sites, recruited campus volunteers
and lobbied for funding to revitalize a dormant Habitat for Humanity program.
The board also raised $500,000 by 2000 a year ahead of schedule
to create the endowed Alumnae of Northwestern University Teaching
Professorship. The first recipient of the three-year chair is Paul Arntson,
professor of communication studies and founding director of the National
High School Institutes Leadership Program. The Alumnae in particular
cited Arntson for his commitment to the Undergraduate Leadership Program,
which emphasizes leadership through teamwork. "The professorship
has been a dream for a lot of the members," Rosenberg says. "It
grew out of an academic enrichment initiative in which we offered fellowships,
but those teaching fellowships have now all been directed into the professorship."
Many of the endowments funds came from the Waa-Mu Patron Project.
Every year the Alumnae sell choice seats to the musical review to nearly
900 alumni who donate to the boards scholarship programs. This project
contributes financially to the school and strengthens ties between alumni
and the University.
In addition to the large monetary and educational contributions that the
alumnae provide the University, the group also serves Northwestern in
less ambitious but nonetheless appreciated ways. The partial renovation
of the John Evans Alumni Center new furniture in the sunroom and
French doors in the main parlor entry are some examples.
Beyond helping build the University in a physical sense, the Alumnae see
themselves as bridge builders to everyone with a Northwestern connection
students, faculty members and the public. "We are ambassadors
of a sort," Stone says. "We enjoy working with each other and
making something happen. Its a really creative process."
Rebecca Zeifman (J04)
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