Cindi Grossinger reconnected with UCLA when she accompanied her daughter, Jenna, on a campus tour in 2013, before the student’s senior year in high school.
“As soon as she stepped on campus, she knew she was a Bruin, and that really renewed my school spirit,” said Grossinger, who graduated in 1988 with a degree in economics. “I had forgotten what a wonderful institution UCLA is, what amazing resources are available to us and what incredible people share my passion for the school.”
So she joined the Parents’ Council, the governing body of the UCLA Parent and Family Association comprised of dedicated parent volunteers who serve as ambassadors to the university. And now she is part of the San Fernando Valley network of the UCLA Alumni Association. “I wanted to connect with Bruins close to home,” said Grossinger, who is from Granada Hills.
She’s one of a growing number of graduates around the world who are revitalizing their UCLA links, thanks to the Alumni Association’s expanded opportunities and strategic outreach.
In the past year, regional alumni networks across the country have nearly doubled, from 27 to 53, with most of that growth in California. And as more Bruins find work outside the country, the association has created 18 international networks in such cities and countries as Beijing, Indonesia, Israel, New Delhi and Shanghai, advancing UCLA’s impact around the world.
“I had been in London about a year when I joined the alumni network,” said Mikael Perreau, who is on the board of the alumni network in the United Kingdom. “It seemed like a great opportunity to stay connected while having a direct impact by helping out with events, especially for UCLA students studying abroad.”
One way the association increased alumni involvement was to add new activities. It used to be that the occasional game-watching parties were the only instances when regional alumni groups gathered.
“Today, both regional and international members do a lot more than just watch UCLA compete in football and basketball,” said Kristine Werlinich, senior director of regional alumni networks. “They participate in the student send-offs each summer, the Dinner for 12 Strangers program in the winter, a welcome-to-the-city event and Volunteer Day in the fall, just to name a few,” she said.
Additionally, there are now more events organized around career networking, volunteering, alumni and faculty lectures and Bruin foodies. New activities, supported by enhanced use of social media, better connect alumni to the university and students. There’s also hiking, cycling, whale-watching and wine-tasting, among other options, depending on members’ interests and their location.
“I’ve enjoyed participating in events that benefit community members, for example, the toy drive for cancer patients,” said Janette Alvarez, who is a board member of the Los Angeles South East Network. “I like the fact that it’s a team effort in planning these events. All board members work hard and well together.”
In the past year, the association has also updated its membership model. Total membership rose from 95,000 to 535,000 members after the association board welcomed all UCLA graduates into the Alumni Association at the basic level at no cost. All alumni can now join UCLA Recreation at a discount, have access to the UCLA Library and join the alumni LinkedIn group. Alumni can upgrade their membership by making a gift to the association or Alumni Scholarship Fund.
Through the UCLA Alumni Association, members are not only offered a way to impact their community by practicing “enhanced philanthropy towards scholarships and programming,” according to the association’s mission statement, but alumni can help current students find career paths by offering expertise and encouragement through the association’s mentoring program.
When Crista Cunningham was an undergrad at UCLA, she found that her alumni mentor provided her with great advice and encouragement that helped her become a real estate investment analyst. After graduating in 2010, Cunningham became eager to pay it forward by helping fellow Bruins succeed.
She currently works at the Abu Dhabi Investment Authority on real estate investments throughout the United States. Although she resides outside of the U.S., she continues to serve as a mentor to one or two UCLA students each year. Cunningham communicates with her students via email and phone, guides them in résumé preparation and advises them on how to network with organizations and firms to find internships.
For all members, especially for those who don’t live locally, the association offers additional digital assets, explained Natalee Ellars, senior director of alumni marketing and membership. For example, through the ProQuest online research library to which members have access, they can read an array of publications on psychology, business, political science and many other areas of interest.
There are also discounts for members who enroll in UCLA Extension courses, including many online classes. In accordance with its digital strategy, “the association is in the process of developing an alumni app that will be available by the end of this calendar year,” Ellars said. “Webinars are another feature currently in the works.”
For more information on membership benefits, visit the UCLA Alumni Association page.