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Students, alumni work to improve strained relationship

Joe Piarulli | Friday, November 3, 2006

In an effort to improve the relationship between students and alumni, the Academic Affairs committee and the Alumni Association have teamed up to organize several student-alumni receptions, the last of which takes place today.

Concerns over a seemingly strained relationship between alumni and current students were expressed last May in Washington D.C., when a Board of Trustees report by former student body president Dave Baron and now student body president Lizzi Shappell dealt directly with the issue.

Baron and Shappell referred to polarizing issues such as the controversy surrounding the University’s “Candle” advertising campaign, the academic freedom debate and the regilding of the Golden Dome to make a point that “students and alumni have a perception of each other that isn’t always accurate.”

“Sometimes they are more on the same page than they think themselves to be,” Baron said.

This year, Aly Baumgartner, Student Senate Academic Affairs committee chair, has made student-alumni relations a focal point of her committee. She has organized three student-alumni receptions this fall, the last of which is scheduled today from 3:30 p.m. to 5 in the lobby of the Coleman-Morse building.

Baumgartner said the receptions have been a way to address the issue brought up last year. Although the Alumni Association reaches out to freshman students and students once they graduate, she said, there is room for improvement in between.

“Lizzi Shappell and Bill Andrichik came up with the idea of the student-alumni reception as a way for students to welcome alumni back to campus,” Baumgartner said. “During those four years that you’re actually a student at Notre Dame, the relationship … tends to fall by the wayside.

“It’s an informal way to network and just meet and talk to alumni.”

Two of the receptions have come and gone. For the first reception, the Alumni Association was in town, which led to what Baumgartner considered “a really big success.”

“We had a great group of alumni who were there, just a range of ages as well as geographic areas,” she said.

Baumgartner cited “a combination of advertising and convenience” as reasons why the second reception didn’t go as well.

“There weren’t as many alumni,” she said. “Also student participation wasn’t as great.” Some students come for informal networking or just to meet alumni, she said, though there are some other reasons.

“I think a big student draw is that we raffle off two tickets to the football games for the students,” Baumgartner said.

From the alumni standpoint, the receptions were partially meant to give offer insight into current Notre Dame student life and how it differs from past decades.

“The alumni and students tended to have very different opinions [on issues like academic freedom and “The Vagina Monologues”] and we didn’t know whether it’s just generational or communication, but we decided getting to know each other would help bridge some of the gaps,” Baumgartner said.

The receptions include free refreshments, and the first 50 people receive pep rally tickets.

The University Affairs committee, with help from the Alumni Association, structures the events, though Baumgartner said the interaction between students and alumni usually happens naturally.

“We usually have a handful of student government kids who will initiate talking in groups if some people seem to be nervous, but it is usually pretty comfortable,” she said. “It’s nothing too stiff or formal.”

The last of the receptions will be aimed partially at Film, Television and Theatre students, because the Notre Dame Media and Entertainment Group is in town.

“A lot of alumni [in the] entertainment industry are going to be around,” she said. “This is the first time we’ve actually targeted specific student groups.”

Baumgartner said she expects some very successful writers, producers and entertainers to be present at the reception.

“We’re really hoping it will turn out well,” she said.