All alumni, students invited into association free of charge

By Alissa Groeninger

For the last 136 years, former University students could only become members of the Alumni Association if they paid dues. That all changed this summer.

As of July 1, all 620,000 alumni from all three University of Illinois campuses became members of the organization free of charge. This change took effect after three years of planning, largely because of the urging of University President B. Joseph White. A voluntary donation program replaced the dues.

White said in an e-mail that the restructuring of the association makes all alumni feel as though they are a part of the University and allows for recognition of the University of Illinois.

“This is a great and unique message among University alumni associations,” White said.ÿ”It makes us an innovator and a leader, which we are and want to be.”

The association’s goal is to mobilize the large body of alumni and help them focus on issues important to the University. For example, the more than 300,000 alumni living in Illinois can advocate for the University by putting pressure on the state’s government in Springfield.

Joe Rank, the Alumni Association’s vice president of membership, said the need for more funding is evidenced by how long Lincoln Hall has gone without any renovations. He added that the University of Illinois at Chicago produces more physicians and dentists than any other medical school in the country. However, they are turning away qualified applicants because they do not have the classrooms, instructors and funding.

The revamping of the Alumni Association also includes current students as members, although seniors and graduate students gained automatic membership six years ago. Rank said this will benefit students because they are able to seek out alumni for internships, jobs and scholarships as well as use the Alumni Association to find a mentor and attend career fairs.

“Illinois grads are generous with their time and their money, and what a resource that is to current Illinois students,” Rank said. “Our goal is to leverage the alumni’s generosity (to help students).”

The Alumni Association also has an externship program that connects students with alumni. The program is even more accessible now that students and graduates are a part of the same organization.

Sara Cohen, sophomore in Business, participated in the Alumni Association externship program and believes that the connection between current students and people who have graduated from the University is very important. She said the changes to the Alumni Association benefit students because they will be able to form more connections.

“It allows students to have more networking opportunities – for alumni it allows them to give back to the University,” she added.

Rank said the changes help reinforce the message that when a student comes to the University, they are joining a family. Being a part of the Association gives students exposure to a worldwide network of graduates.

“We’re the umbrella organization that embraces every graduate,” Rank said.