Winter 2015

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Northwestern is the quarterly alumni magazine for Northwestern University.
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Alumni Life
From left, Alumnae leaders Cindy Willis Pinkerton ’60, Anne Heiberger Martino ’89, Janet Bilandic ’84 MBA and Pamela Butler James ’71 wrap up a meeting at James’ home in suburban Chicago. Photo by Michael Goss.

The Alumnae Celebrates 100 Years

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Learn more about the Alumnae of Northwestern University and the group’s impact on Northwestern.

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Women’s group plays key role in Northwestern’s past, future.

The Alumnae of Northwestern University has come a long way in 100 years.

In the early 1920s, just a few years after 30 alumnae formed the all-volunteer group to raise money for a women’s building on the Evanston campus, its members generated revenue by selling sandwiches for 17 cents each.

Today, as the organization’s members celebrate the centennial of its founding in 1916, they take pride in a long history of creating opportunities for students and faculty, offering continuing education classes to the public and contributing more than $7.5 million to the University over the last century.

“What we’ve been able to accomplish for the University is incredible,” says Cindy Willis Pinkerton ’60, who joined the organization in 1966.

From the beginning, the Alumnae has focused on sharing Northwestern’s resources with the public while supporting the University’s research and teaching mission. That support has included gifts toward the construction of Northwestern landmarks such as Scott Hall, Harris Hall and Norris University Center. It also includes scholarships and fellowships for students and grants for faculty throughout the University.

For example, the Alumnae supports Northwestern’s Summer Internship Grant Program, which provides financial support that enables students to accept unpaid summer internships.

The Alumnae may be best known for the continuing education classes it has offered since 1968. For a modest price, members of the public can enroll in noncredit courses taught by Northwestern professors on the Evanston campus. More than 3,000 people take the 10-week courses every year, filling the program to capacity, and the Alumnae’s members use the proceeds to support a wide range of initiatives at the University.

Alumnae classes
Professor Ivor G. Wilks talks with participants at an Alumnae continuing education course in 1975. Courtesy of the Alumnae of Northwestern.

Pamela Butler James ’71 enjoyed attending the classes so much that she joined the Alumnae in 1999. Now she helps plan new classes and serves as co-chair of the group’s centennial committee, among other responsibilities.

“The students who attend these classes — many of whom aren’t alumni — feel like they’re part of Northwestern,” James says. “It creates a connection where maybe there wasn’t one before.”

The Alumnae’s members regularly evaluate their support for student and faculty programs to make sure the organization is contributing to areas of Northwestern that have the greatest need or the most potential to benefit the University and society at large. That process recently prompted the group members to establish the Alumnae Centennial Endowment for Undergraduate Research.

Encouraging undergraduate researchers makes a profound difference in their college experience, says Janet Bilandic ’84 MBA, who joined the organization in 2001 and is now the group’s president.

“Research goes beyond the University,” she says. “It makes a positive difference for years to come.”

The Alumnae’s members say they get a special sense of satisfaction from seeing how their dedication and gifts have shaped Northwestern.

“I think about how many lives we’ve enriched,” says Michele Krauss Bresler ’63, a member since 2010. “That’s the big takeaway, and we’re very proud of it.”