Imperative IX: Enhancing the Involvement of the Entire Baylor Family

October 13, 2003

By many accounts, Carol Landers, BS '83, is a model alumna. She's active in the Baylor Women's Association of Houston and currently is president. She encourages other alumnae to serve on its board and attend events. 
But that wasn't always the case. In the years after she earned her bachelor's degree, she moved to Dallas, New York and finally to Houston and thought very little about her alma mater -- not unlike many new graduates. Then, an acquaintance invited her to a Baylor Women's Association event. She enjoyed renewing old friendships and making new ones, as well as being "reminded that Baylor people are so sharp," she says. "Once you're pulled into something like that, you want to stay involved." 
That's just the type of experience the University desires for its more than 100,000 living alumni and is one of the goals of Baylor 2012's ninth imperative, enhancing the involvement of the entire Baylor family, says Larry D. Brumley, acting vice president for university relations.
But finding ways to track how well Baylor is engaging alumni, as well as its other key constituent groups targeted in this imperative -- prospective students, Baptists and other Christians, governmental entities and the Central Texas community -- can be challenging, Brumley says. 
"Buildings you can see coming up, you can see when you're adding faculty, you can measure fairly easily a top-tier student body by quantitative measures," he says, listing other imperatives included in the Vision. "Building community can be somewhat more challenging to manage and assess." Still, maintaining relationships with these groups is essential, he says. "We should redouble our efforts to reach out to and engage people for whom Baylor has a special meaning."
Strengthening relations with Texas Baptists and other Christians will continue to be a priority, as well as maintaining ongoing communication with policy-makers in Austin, Texas, and Washington, D.C., he says. "It's important, as we increase our research activity, for us to enhance our federal relations to ensure that Baylor is availing itself of all grant monies that are out there," he says. 
Enriching the quality of life in the community is another of the University's stated objectives. During the 2002-03 academic year, students volunteered more than 130,000 hours of service, says Jessica Truglio, coordinator of community service. During the same time period, Baylor's economic impact on the Waco area was nearly $1 billion, says Dr. Thomas Kelly, economics professor and director of the Center for Business and Economic Research. 
Likewise, revamping and enhancing how the University maintains relationships with alumni -- its largest group of constituents -- is an ongoing process, says Dr. Randy Lofgren, associate vice president for Alumni Services, a division created by the University in summer 2002. 
"There are people who are Baylor graduates who very much feel that they are in the Baylor family," he says. "We may not ever be able to make that unanimous, but we ought to be making the effort ... to expand the degree to which that is true for people." 
Research has shown that an increasing number of alumni want more opportunities to interact with one another based on interest, rather than solely on where they live or when they graduated, Dr. Lofgren says. "We're trying to determine the passions our grads have and accommodate those interests."
One example is the Mama Bears, a fellowship opportunity for Houston-area alumnae with young children. The group, formed in fall 2002 as an offshoot of the Baylor Women's Association, attracted a handful of members in its first year and included activities ranging from park outings to a seminar on child development, says Landers, the Houston alumna. "The 'mom' connection is one of the strongest connections there is. So if you can combine the mom connection with the Baylor connection, that could be really powerful," she says. This fall, the Mama Bears concept expanded to the Dallas/Fort Worth metroplex and is expected to be available in other cities, as well as online, Dr. Lofgren says. 
In addition to building a bigger presence in cities where there are large concentrations of graduates -- such as in Houston, Dallas and Fort Worth -- Alumni Services also is building an online presence, Dr. Lofgren says. These virtual communities will be developed and moderated by alumni volunteers who share common interests and have "credibility with people in the community, whether it's virtual or actual," he says. 
Career networking and lifelong learning opportunities also are valuable parts of the equation for alumni, he says. Currently, graduates can post or search for job openings through the Alumni Services Web site and attend business seminars in designated cities. The Alumni Network Program is developing volunteer leadership to boost alumni involvement, says Dr. Lofgren, citing the Baylor Business networks in Houston and Dallas as successful examples of this endeavor. Also being considered are continuing education courses for those who live outside of Central Texas.
New and future grads also benefit, says Rishi Sriram, coordinator of student and recent graduates program in Alumni Services. This fall, current upperclass students were invited to participate in a program called AIM (Alumni in the Making), which helps equip them to better serve fellow alums in their communities after graduation. An alumni orientation, to be held twice a year for graduating seniors, will help them transition to the work force, where questions about taxes, insurance and countless forms await, he says. 
Younger alumni, especially those who have been gone from Baylor less than 10 years, are eager to stay in touch with the University, but have not always had the means by which to do so, says Sriram, BA '01. Young graduate programs in major Texas cities as well as the online communities are helping to address those needs, he says. "Enhancing the Baylor family is about connecting as many people as possible through their connection with Baylor. And by doing that, we're creating something that extends those experiences and relationships." 
Dr. Lofgren hopes the message to alumni that their alma mater is there for them will become more pervasive. "I'm wanting the focus to be, 'What can Baylor do for you right now?'" he says. "The University wants to go on record by virtue of its investment in this program to say, we believe it benefits the University when you are served well." 
That type of concerted effort does work, says Landers, who already is thinking about where her two children, ages 7 and 3, might attend college. "Houston is such a big city that you don't run into Baylor people every day, so Baylor is sort of in the back of your mind. You need a reminder of how really special it is," she says. "I'd like to share that with my children some day."