Magazine article University Business

Road Tour: US San Diego Brings a Piece of Campus to Far-Flung Alumni, Parents and Friends

Magazine article University Business

Road Tour: US San Diego Brings a Piece of Campus to Far-Flung Alumni, Parents and Friends

Article excerpt


MARK WAXMAN IS ONE OF THOSE ALUMNI WHO HAD LEFT HIS college days behind. After graduating from the University of California, San Diego, in 1970 with an economics degree, he went on to the UC Berkeley School of Law and then lived in Los Angeles and Washington, D.C., before moving to Boston a decade ago.

Waxman had nothing against UC San Diego, but he was about as far from engaged as he could get. "I might have paid dues now and then to be [an alumni association] member," he says. Even on business trips to San Diego he didn't think much about the school.

That changed in 2005 when he heard about an event coming to town. Part of the inaugural year of the UCSD Near You program, it featured Chancellor Marye Anne Fox, who had just joined UCSD. Waxman pondered his lack of involvement in his alma mater. "I thought that I should support public education and that I should support an institution that had done a lot for me," he recalls. "I thought I'd go see who the new chancellor was and find out what UCSD was all about."

The evening made an impression. Waxman learned that despite budgetary issues, the university was "still able to maintain its national status as a highly ranked, highly sought-after institution." The event also reminded him of the positive experiences he'd had at the school.

Before long, Waxman was working with the university to plan a future UCSD Near You event in the area, which he would host at the law firm Foley & Lardner, where he is a partner. He hosted another event the following year and learned about an endowed scholarship program which he saw as "a chance to put more than an oar in the water." Why not? UCSD made a mark on Mark, and now he has made a mark on UCSD, through the Waxman Family Alumni Leadership Scholarship, created with his sister Leslie, UCSD '75.

Waxman is just one of a group of alumni re-engaging with the university through UCSD Near You. While program participation has led to other gifts as well, that's not the point. "The driver for this is not fundraising--it's engagement," explains Armin Afsahi, assistant vice chancellor for Alumni Affairs. "Whether they engage with us as an advocate, as a philanthropist, or whether they become volunteer leaders in other ways, all of that is good for us."

As it would be for any institution. But with UCSD being just shy of 50, its alumni base is small. Not to mention, 65 percent of alumni reside outside of San Diego County. "It's challenging, sometimes not feasible, for them to come to events," says Afsahi, who is also executive director of the UCSD Alumni Association. He refers to the university's graduates as "a curious bunch," and research had shown that they are attracted to provocative content.

This combination of factors led to the launch of UCSD Near You, which started with Fox's 2005 tour and has in subsequent years featured prominent faculty, campus leaders, and current students traveling to various cities--with event tides such as "Insights into the 9/11 Commission," "Superhero Science: How Biology Can Save the World," and "Card Counting: Down to a Science." Event attendance has ranged from 30 to 150, and Fox says the program has drawn many alumni who had never attended a university-sponsored event before.

Turning on the Ignition

From the get-go, administrators knew these road trips would take investment and careful planning. The development and communications teams created a brand, and the UCSD Near You logo has appeared on registration materials, reminders, and other communication from the beginning--offering "a complete look and feel at every touch point," Afsahi explains.

During the initial eight-city tour, Fox says, "I was able to learn about alumni who are making a difference in their communities and find out about their experiences at UC San Diego. I was eager to hear their ideas about the future of their alma mater. …

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