Nicole Ducharme (WCAS99) came to this year's Northwestern Alumni Association regional leadership conference in Orlando with a mission: to start a young alumni club in Nashville. Her challenge: to locate other recent alumni in her area and find out what would keep them connected to the University.
The second annual conference, entitled "Governance, Globalization and Growth," brought nearly 50 members of the NAA board, alumni relations staff and alumni from 15 states together to develop new alumni leaders and to familiarize them with the NAA's short and long-term goals. As part of the NAA's continuing effort to widen its support base, the board reached out to alumni in the southeastern part of the United States, hosting the conference at Orlando's Coronado Springs Resort.
For new alumni leaders like Ducharme, the conference provided many networking opportunities and in her case, the chance to test ideas and develop a plan to meet her goal. "Everybody I met there was very helpful in terms of sharing information and offering support and advice whenever I need it," she said.
Christina Langlois (S94), president of the NU Club of Houston, said that while the leadership development components of the conference are valuable, one of the strongest reasons to have the regional meetings is to share ideas with new leaders who may not have the opportunity to travel to Evanston. "It's important to bring new people into these conferences and get their perspective on what their groups need and show them what the NAA can do as well," she explained.
Echoing that sentiment was John Gannon (McC70, KGSM73), of the NU Club of Palm Beach (Fla.), who drove 200 miles to attend. "We're extremely appreciative that Northwestern's coming to us and that there's a professional organization in Evanston available to support our clubs," he said.
Stretching the NAA's reach both nationally and internationally was explored as part of the globalization theme of this year's meeting. Diversifying alumni leadership, beginning with the NAA board, is the first place to start, pointed out NAA president Ava Youngblood (McC79). "That diversity needs to go beyond race and gender, and extend to age, profession and geography to truly reflect the diversity of our alumni population," she explained.
The strength of this year's conference was certainly helped by its timing, said Catherine Stembridge (GS00), NAA executive director and director of the alumni relations department. With the combined successes of the University's Sesquicentennial celebration, Campaign Northwestern and the Wildcats' exciting Big Ten championship football season fresh in the minds of alumni, the enthusiasm level among the volunteer leaders attending the Feb. 23 conference was high. "This has been such a tremendous year for Northwestern," she said. "We want to keep that momentum going and share that success with our alumni around the country."
In his keynote address to the group, NAA trustee and Campaign Northwestern co-chair Tom Hayward (WCAS62, L65) expanded on the same theme. Because of the new leadership in the alumni relations department, the strong support of University President Henry Bienen for the NAA and the enthusiasm of the thousands of alumni involved in Campaign Northwestern, he declared that "the stars could not be better aligned for success."
For Nicole Ducharme, the conference's presentations and brainstorming sessions have already led to success. She now has plans to survey recent alumni and learn their interests. With the help of other club leaders, with whom she's been in touch through e-mail and phone conversations, she hopes to host a mixer in the near future and perhaps a new student welcome in the fall.