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Staff and faculty fill volunteer ranks


The Alumni Association invites the assistance of staff and faculty in a variety of volunteer activities, including lecturing, screening scholarship applications and calling new students with words of welcome.

UCLA Today Staff

Over the past year, more than 1,000 alumni have generously volunteered their time and services to make the UCLA Alumni Association’s many events and programs successful. Greeting busloads of grade school students at college fairs or football games, reviewing scholarship applications, raising funds, calling new students to welcome them to UCLA, giving informational interviews — volunteer activities run the gamut, and alumni respond in volume. It’s a natural connection for alumni, who realize the value of devoting time to their alma mater.

But what about staff and faculty? Most of them already spend more time at UCLA during the week than they do with their own friends and families. Beyond fighting traffic and toiling for eight hours or more at their jobs every day, what more do they need to give?
The answer is, of course, nothing.

Which makes what 140 staff and faculty volunteers do even more remarkable. These tireless souls often spend many evening and weekend hours devoting their energies to the Alumni Association’s network of committees and numerous events. They receive little reward other than the satisfaction of doing a good deed.

“We are especially grateful when faculty and staff volunteer their time to be involved with the UCLA Alumni Association,” said Keith E. Brant, the organization’s executive director and assistant vice chancellor of alumni relations. “Even long after graduating from UCLA, alumni love to continue their interaction with faculty. The faculty-student relationship is at the core of the academic enterprise, and that bond can last a lifetime.

“We also appreciate when campus staff are involved with association programs. Better than most, they understand the UCLA of today and are in the best position to know how to make a difference.”

Who are these intrepid souls, and how do they get involved?

“Staff and faculty become involved through a variety of means,” said Marci Weisblatt, associate executive director of volunteer and project management for the Alumni Association. “For some opportunities, we specifically recruit individuals who will bring a certain perspective or expertise to the table, such as asking faculty members to serve on our Faculty and Campus Relations Committee, or asking an admissions staff member to serve on the Educational Outreach Committee.

“For many other opportunities, staff and faculty contact us in response to a notice in our monthly e-mail newsletter or in campus publications.”

Some faculty and staff are alumni themselves, Weisblatt added, so they receive information about volunteer opportunities through campus- and alumni-based communication vehicles. “They often like to give back to their alma mater in ways that might not be possible through their jobs,” she said.

That’s true for Grace Basila, a 1991 graduate in sociology. Helping External Affairs staff takes up the lion’s share of her job as program manager for its human resources department. Yet, when she took the job in 1999, she immediately attended an Alumni Association Volunteer Open House to deepen her involvement.

Since then, Basila has participated in various programs ranging from career services to scholarships and leadership development. “I really enjoy the activities that provide opportunities for students and alumni to interact and share experiences,” she said. “Whether you’re sharing knowledge about life after UCLA or helping students to network, it is truly an amazing connection that you make with fellow Bruins.”

Through her service on the association’s Committee for Ethnic Diversity, the Diversity Outreach Leadership Program, the Distinguished Scholar Selection Committee and the Ralph Bunche Committee, Lovell Sevilla became involved with the Pilipino Alumni Association, serving as its director of academics and scholarships and as a mentor.

“To volunteer with the association has been extremely easy for me, since I work on campus as an academic counselor in Honors Programs,” said Sevilla, who graduated from UCLA in 1989 with a B.A. in history. “I am in complete awe of these amazing students we will be graduating. It makes my heart beam with pride when I interview students who I believe will make long-lasting contributions to our society through their academic and scientific research, their desire for social justice and their spirit of community.”

Training of the volunteers varies, depending on their specific role. Sometimes a staff or faculty member brings just the right expertise to an activity.

Carlos Haro, a three-time UCLA grad and assistant director of the Chicano Studies Research Center, has been volunteering since 1994. His first role was hosting tables of parents of prospective freshmen at several lunches for the Family Summer Orientation Program. Haro easily slid into the role of adviser, discussing the important part that parents play in getting their children prepared for and admitted to UCLA.

Then he joined other volunteers in congratulating thousands of newly admitted students through the New Student Welcome Calling project. “I often asked that I be the one to speak with the Spanish-speaking parents,” Haro said. “Often, these parents had not gone to a university; having their children move out of their home to attend college was a new experience. I spoke to them as an alumnus, as one who had experienced the institution, as the son of working-class Mexicans who had not gone beyond a fourth-grade education and as the parent of a daughter who was in the university. The parents were often appreciative of my words, and I recall one father saying, ‘Thank you. I did not want my daughter to leave home, but what you have said is true; it is the best thing for her.’ ”

Diane Childs, reference librarian and education bibliographer in the Charles E. Young Research Library, found out about the need for volunteers on the Distinguished Bruin Award Committee to screen and interview juniors and seniors who had distinguished themselves through service to UCLA, the community and the classroom. Childs, a UCLA graduate who received her M.L.S. in 1979, signed up.

“For two years now I have had the privilege of reading dossiers for juniors and seniors who are award candidates,” she said. “The interviewees are very bright, enormously talented, highly motivated and quite interesting people. They truly show why they are distinguished and will continue to be leaders after graduation.”

One of the longest-serving staff volunteers is Noelle Tisius, a 1980 UCLA grad in English who has been participating since 1985, primarily in the scholarship area. Currently renewal chair of the Scholarship Steering Committee, Tisius previously was community college chair, community college area chair in Northern California and a freshman scholars interviewer.

“It’s rewarding to meet the students and other alumni and to be able to give back to the institution that helped me get started on my career,” Tisius said. “Working as a volunteer helps broaden my understanding of different parts of the university, and helps me as well in my position as associate director in the UCLA Office of Corporate, Foundation and Research Relations.”

While many staff and faculty volunteers are alumni, some are not. Ric Kaner, professor of chemistry and biochemistry, is a Brown University graduate but finds that UCLA’s Alumni Association “does great work.

“I’ve attended Dinners for 12 Strangers 14 out of the 16 years I’ve been at UCLA and have found these to be a great place to get to know UCLA, its students and alumni,” he said. “For the past two years, I have served as one of the faculty advisers to the association’s Faculty and Campus Relations Committee. We have come up with what I believe are very nice events, including a fall tenure reception honoring newly tenured faculty, and one-on-one meetings between alumni and all new UCLA assistant professors. We’re also making an effort to get more faculty involved in Dinners for 12 Strangers.”

Joining Kaner on the Faculty and Campus Relations Committee is Mathematics Professor Thomas Liggett, who noted that during his first 33 years on the UCLA faculty, he had almost no involvement with the Alumni Association. Now he attends quarterly dinner meetings at the James West Alumni Center, where he provides information about the faculty and the broader academic community.

“As faculty members, we serve the campus in a variety of ways,” Liggett said. “This, together with my activities with the Alumni Association, helps provide connections that are particularly important in the large and varied community that is UCLA.”

Finally, not all volunteer activity takes place on campus. English Professor Fred Burwick found a unique way to weave his field of expertise into his volunteer activity. As faculty director for last September’s Alumni Association cruise from Amsterdam to Budapest, Burwick lectured to the alumni travelers on topics that matched the sites they visited.

“I lectured on ‘Rhine Romanticism: The Loreley,’ ‘The Frescoes in the Wurzburg Residenz: Giovanni Tiepolo,’ ‘E.T.A. Hoffman in Bamberg, 1808-1812’ and ‘The Stage Designs at the Vienna Opera House,’ ” Burwick said. In June, he will give a talk on “Bacchus in Romantic England” during a wine-tasting event in San Diego and will serve as faculty director for another Alumni Association trip, this time to England’s Lake District.

“Our alumni are wonderful people: witty, intelligent and fun to be with,” he said. “I very much enjoy the Alumni Travel programs and look forward to offering my services for many years in the future.”

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