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Ben Eikey wasn’t sure what to expect when he put out a last-minute call for fellow U-M alumni to help restock the pantry at the Greater Lansing Food Bank.
“They wanted 20 volunteers on a Wednesday afternoon, the middle of the work week, and I had less than 24 hours to find them,” said the 2013 grad. “But I was blown away by the response. We were full and I was very impressed with that willingness to give.”
That spirit of generosity is a hallmark of the Alumni Association of the University of Michigan, whose 100,000 members do much more than get together to reminisce about their college days.
“We put on at least one to two events every week,” said Jennifer DeGeus, ’95, who is on the board for the Greater Chicago Club, one of the largest of the 63 Alumni Association clubs located throughout the country. “We raise money for scholarships, clean up Lincoln Park, volunteer at Ronald McDonald House and have a Wolverine Wellness program for people to try out different kinds of exercise, like aerial yoga. Then we hang out afterwards.”
Since graduating with her bachelor’s degree 22 years ago, DeGeus went on to study medicine at Philadelphia’s Drexel University and is now a pediatrician in Joliet, Illinois and an Alumni Association life member.
“I knew I wanted to be a member right away, when I was still in Ann Arbor, because I wanted to remain a part of the Michigan community. People are very proud of the school and we yell ‘Go Blue!’ to each other on the street when we see what you’re wearing,” she said. “When I was in medical school, a surgeon high-fived me across the operating table when he heard I went to Michigan.”
Sharing a Special Connection
Helen Harding, the Alumni Association’s director of membership and annual giving, said Michigan grads share a special connection. “We recently did a survey and ‘keeping in touch with my fellow alumni’ was the No. 1 reason to belong,” she said. “We do love each other and being around each other.”
Eikey found his membership invaluable when he moved to Lansing for his job as legislative director for 78th District State Representative Dave Pagel.
“It was really a fun thing when I was getting used to being in a new area,” he said. “I was interested in the idea of service and being with people who are like-minded. The university was such an important part of my development.”
Eikey, who is now the chapter’s treasurer, also enjoys the social aspect. “Every walk of life and type of industry is in the club and people have been able to develop quite a few mentors. You can ask advice of the older alumni, which has been tremendous. Folks with advanced special degrees like doctors and lawyers are very giving with their time to talk with younger alumni.”
He also enjoys the scholarship reception held each May. “It’s really neat when the students come back and talk about their experiences,” he said. “It’s gratifying to know we helped make that happen for them.”
Life Member Tina Nielsen has three degrees from U-M: a bachelor’s in kinesiology in 1995, a secondary education teaching degree in 1997 and a master’s in earth and environmental sciences in 2003. She went on to earn a Ph.D. from the University of Wisconsin, where she works on a bioenergy project funded by the Department of Energy. “Moving out of state, which I’ve done a number of times, there is always that inherent sense of community through your local chapter,” she said.
Young grads, Nielsen said, should take advantage of the Alumni Association’s mentorship, interview coaching and other job programs that help launch a professional career.
Despite technology like LinkedIn and Facebook, “your true interactions still come from being face to face, and with the extremely competitive job market, the Michigan brand carries a lot of weight,” Nielsen pointed out.
Noel Cimmino, ’94, has taken advantage of some of the many special events marking the university’s bicentennial celebration. “There have been a ton of speaking events where professors are presenting on different topics,” said the Farmington Hills attorney. “One spoke about using stem cells to treat injuries, which I am interested in because I have bad knees from playing sports.”
The Alumni Association offers membership at several levels, including a special reduced rate for recent graduates.
“My advice to new grads is to take the first steps forward, add yourself to the list and attend some events,” Eikey said. “There is an extraordinary amount of resources available to us as alumni, and it adds tremendous value to one’s life.”
Visit alumni.umich.edu to learn more about membership opportunities.
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