Alumni aim to influence lawmakers


Amy Eichhorst poses for a photo outside the Alice Campbell Alumni Center Wednesday. Eichhorst is the director of Illinois Connection. Ally Schlumpf

By Ebonique Wool

There are more than 600,000 alumni from the university’s three campuses. Illinois Connection, an independent organization focused on increasing support for the university, is largely composed of these alumni.

The organization’s members also include business, civic and community leaders and others interested in supporting the university’s goals. “We currently have 700 (members),” said Amy Eichhorst, director of Illinois Connection. “Just over 600 are the alumni of this campus.”

Eichhorst said she believes many more alumni would be interested in signing up, but are unaware of the organization. Illinois Connection is working on its marketing strategy to increase the group’s membership.

“We can exponentially increase what the state legislators are hearing about University of Illinois if we get more people involved,” she said. “We see this as a way to link alumni even if they’re out of state.”

People who join the network are called ambassadors. The organization asks that its ambassadors communicate various ideas to their legislators to become advocates for the university.

“For me it’s a matter of talking to lawmakers in Springfield as well as their staff, to give them a perspective on what the university is trying to advance,” said Randy Witter, group member, resident of Springfield and alumni of University of Illinois in Springfield.

However, all members involved do not need to have close connections with lawmakers to help, Eichhorst said. Anyone can contact his legislator to communicate what issues are important to him.

“This year we sent out an e-mail that provided information on this year’s budget and what’s in it for the University of Illinois (all campuses),” Eichhorst said. “Once someone signs up for the e-mail, we have a sample letter that people can read and send to their legislator.”

About 500 members sent a letter about the budget, Eichhorst said. Letters, phone calls and personal visits are also encouraged as ways to make the state legislators pay attention to important university issues.

“I worked for a U.S. congressman and he asked for weekly reports on letters sent and phone calls on each issue,” she said. “It made him take note of what he needed to become an advocate for.”

The renovation of Lincoln Hall is one of the items on the budget this year. Illinois Connection’s message to its ambassadors is to ask legislators to support the budget.

“There’s only so much money that can be allotted and they have the position to choose,” Witter said. “The better data they have, the better they will be able to make decisions, and the better decisions they’ll make.”

Illinois Connection would also like to get more enrolled students involved, Eichhorst said.

John Szilagyi, graduate student, said he had never heard of Illinois Connection before, but he thinks the organization is a good idea.

“It’s a good way to connect students involved in things that are important to the University,” he said. “A lot of times, current students and alumni can be a help to the university on any issues that need to be addressed.”

Witter said legislators like to receive a diverse response on issues and appreciate feedback.

“When law makers are trying to sift and make decisions, the more support they receive from a variety of different segments of campus alumni, friends, students, administration, the better their decision making can be,” Witter said.