|The magazine of University of Houston-Clear Lake
Spring/Summer 2013 | volume 19 | number 2
Alumni Association: Discover AlumNights
In 2008, three members of the UHCL Office of Alumni and Community Relations found inspiration from the community and created a way to help connect alumni. UHCL alumna and then Director of Alumni and Community Relations Charity Ellis, along with Coordinator of Outreach and Communications Mindi Funderburg and Coordinator of Special Events Kris Thompson, discussed the business-oriented networking activities hosted by the Clear Lake Area Chamber of Commerce and decided the UHCL Alumni Association would benefit from hosting similar events.
“So many of our programs were structured but our alumni were asking for very casual mix-and-mingle events,” says Funderburg, who came up with the events’ name, AlumNights. “AlumNights were created for UHCL alumni but also for local businesses, as a way for businesses to gain great exposure for not a lot of money.”
Anyone can offer to host an AlumNight though there are some guidelines such as venue size and accessibility. Alumni Association staff manage publicity for each event through online and print materials, and are on-hand at events to provide guests with name tags, lapel pins and university publications.
The first AlumNight was held at the university in 2009 and was followed by the first offcampus event, held at Emma’s Grill & Tex-Mex Bistro in Pearland. Since then, AlumNights have been hosted by RE/MAX Space Center, Target and Cosmos Bakery and Deli – to name a few. Though AlumNights are typically open to all UHCL alumni, hosts can choose to target their event to a specific audience such as graduates from the School of Business.
“After being designated as the Alumni Association Executive Council liaison to the School of Business, I wanted to do something that would engage our alumni and make them feel connected to UHCL,” says Marilyn Sims, who graduated from UHCL in 1998 with a bachelor’s degree in accounting, was recognized as a Distinguished Alumna in 2010, and has served on the AAEC since 2011. “In my visit with School of Business Dean Ted Cummings, I suggested gathering alumni with the same degrees and the professors who taught them to mix and mingle and find out where their education from UHCL led them in their professions.”
That suggestion led to Sims organizing an AlumNight for legal studies alumni, based on her connections from working in the legal profession. Sims contacted Jim Benson, associate professor of legal studies, and they arranged the event at a local restaurant. The story didn’t end there though.
“One of Dr. Benson’s students had approached me about nominating Dr. Benson for Outstanding Professor and I suggested that would be a great idea,” says Sims. “Most everyone at the AlumNight had at some point had Dr. Benson as their professor, and were specifically coming to the AlumNight to visit with him. We felt like it would be a great showing to have those alumni in attendance endorse the nomination if they chose to do so, and many did just that.”
Benson received the Alumni Association’s award for Outstanding Professor at the 2012 Alumni Celebration event.
Stories like this are just what Charity Ellis had in mind when she helped create AlumNights.
“Our purpose is to gather people up then step aside and let them connect,” says Ellis. “AlumNights are for those natural conversations.”
AAEC Chair Kanch Weerasinghe, who completed his bachelor’s degree at UHCL in 1998 and his master’s degree in 2000, is often present for those conversations.
“AlumNights have been an overall success for everyone involved,” says Weerasinghe. “They have created valuable relationships between UHCL, its alumni and local area businesses.”
Those relationships – reconnecting with former instructors and classmates, discovering new business owners in the community and engaging with UHCL – are why AlumNights not only exist, but are successful events that will continue for years to come.
As Sims says, “relationships are so important in your personal and professional lives and they start with a common bond.”
Maintained By: Office of Communications
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