As Ray Priestley â€™79 left the Green Center auditorium onÂ graduation day back in 1979, he clutched his shiny silverÂ diploma tightly and had a thought shared by many of hisÂ fellow graduates that day: Get out fast, and donâ€™t look back.Â â€œThe thought at the time was, â€˜You donâ€™t want to stickÂ around too long, or they might take your degree back,â€™â€ jokesÂ Priestley, recalling a grueling academic schedule, little timeÂ for extracurricular activities, and an intimidating faculty andÂ administration. Just a few days after graduation, he left for a jobÂ in Oklahoma, didnâ€™t step foot on campus for years, and didnâ€™tÂ find his way to the Mines Alumni Association (CSMAA) forÂ decades. â€œFor a while I didnâ€™t stay connected, and I didnâ€™t thinkÂ that much about what got me to where I am,â€ admits Priestley,Â now president of the CSMAA Board of Directors. â€œHonestly, IÂ took Mines for granted.â€
Fast forward to today, and the face of Mines alumni isÂ changing radically, with many gradsâ€”eager to network in aÂ tight job market and stay in touch with the newly enrichedÂ campus lifeâ€”reaching out to their fellow alumni the day theyÂ graduate. More than 60 percent of Minesâ€™ 26,000 alumni are nowÂ under the age of 40, and about a quarter of graduates are women.Â Many hail from other countries. And many turn to Facebook orÂ Twitter to keep tabs daily on their alma mater and those whoÂ attended, rather than stay in touch via the occasional reunionÂ cocktail hour.
To better cater to this new generation, and to operate moreÂ efficiently in an era of tight budgets,Â the 120-year-old CSMAA is, like manyÂ alumni associations nationwide,Â reinventing itself. As of July 1, 2016,Â the association no longer requires
alumni to pay membership dues.Â Instead, every Mines graduate willÂ become a member automatically: noÂ dues required.
Alumni staff have beenÂ restructured too, with theÂ editorial staff of Mines magazineÂ and a soon-to-be-hired ExecutiveÂ Director of the Mines Alumni
Association employed by the school,Â and the remaining CSMAA staffÂ employed by the Mines Foundation.Â Most importantly, the association is
rolling out a host of new offerings,Â from mentorship programs thatÂ match current students with alumniÂ in their fields, to Interest GroupsÂ that enable alumni, students, andÂ faculty to connect based on an area of common interest.
â€œThirty or 40 years ago people would graduate, not wantÂ anything to do with Mines for 10 years, then slowly find theirÂ way back. The younger alumni want to be connected as soon asÂ they walk out the door,â€ says Mines president Paul C. Johnson.Â â€œThese changes will help the alumni association focus on whatÂ itâ€™s most excited about: engaging with those students andÂ alumni.â€
A New Era for Alumni Associations
CSMAA is among a growing number of alumni associationsÂ nationwide having to retool in the face of changing alumniÂ demands. â€œIn general, alumni associations are becomingÂ dinosaurs,â€ says higher-education fundraising consultantÂ Jack Miller, of the Fort-Collins based Miller Group. â€œThey will
continue to be out there, but in order to succeed they will haveÂ to be in a different form.â€
Miller says the millennial generation (born between theÂ 1980s and 2000) is generally less interested in joining formalÂ groups and less willing to pay annual fees. And with the riseÂ of social media, they can stay in touch with college peersÂ without joining an alumni association. â€œThey donâ€™t need alumniÂ reunions as much because they have a reunion every day onÂ Facebook with the people they care about.â€ To address theseÂ changing demands, he says, alumni associations must bolsterÂ their social media presence and give their young alumniÂ frequent opportunities for professional networking and careerÂ development.
Mines is doing just that, initiating four new interest groupsâ€”Â Corporate Social Responsibility, McBride Honors Alumni,Â Mines Music Alumni, and Women at Minesâ€”to enable alumniÂ to connect around a common interest. CSMAA will also bolsterÂ support for and expand its 55 sections (now called M Clubs)Â around the country and world.
â€œMines is constantly changing and evolving. We want to useÂ the M Clubs as platforms to re-engage and update alumni on howÂ they can be involved in whatâ€™s happening and empower them toÂ be ambassadors for the school,â€ says Janet Preloger, assistantÂ vice president of constituent relations for the foundation.
Historically, most alumni associations operated asÂ independent nonprofits, with their own budget and staff andÂ funded primarily via dues with a little help from the universityÂ they served. But as annual dues have become challenging forÂ associations to collect, many cash-starved alumni groups have
merged with their school or foundation. According to a 2016Â survey of nearly 500 U.S. schools by market research firmÂ Alumni Access, 68 percent of alumni associations are now fullyÂ integrated with their schoolâ€™s fundraising and developmentÂ departments, and 74 percent now have no-dues models.
Mines is now part of that trend. Under the new no-dues model,Â its membership will automatically increase from 6,188 to moreÂ than 26,000. Its new partners at the school and foundationÂ will cover its budget and handle many of the associationâ€™sÂ administrative tasks, like accounting and human resources.Â â€œWithout having to shoulder that responsibility, we can focus onÂ connecting people more to each other and to the school,â€ saysÂ CSMAA board member Aprill Nelson â€™08.
When Nelson arrived on campus as a student in 2004 toÂ participate in the McBride Honors Program, she was nervousÂ about leaving her family back in Houston. But within months sheÂ felt at home. â€œMines became a second family to me,â€ she says.Â Before she even donned her cap and gown in 2008, she donatedÂ $1,000 and became a lifetime member of CSMAA. One year ago,Â she joined CSMAAâ€™s Board, offering the perspective of a young,Â African-American female familiar with the realities of todayâ€™s jobÂ market.
â€œIt used to be that you would start with a company and beÂ there for 20 years. Now, it is maybe three to five years. YouÂ move around a lot more,â€ says Nelson, who has worked withÂ Scotiabank and Swift Engineering as a reservoir engineer andÂ is currently between jobs. â€œHaving the opportunity to chat withÂ alumni who have been around and are more seasoned can beÂ hugely helpful.â€
Kim (Tony) Hyung, a senior at Mines, agrees and is workingÂ to create more opportunities for young Mines alumni to shareÂ their wisdom not only with fellow alumni, but also with currentÂ students. During his sophomore year, Hyung was strugglingÂ with self-doubt and contemplating a switch from petroleumÂ engineeringâ€”his lifelong dreamâ€”to mechanical engineering.Â One evening he heard Priestley, a petroleum engineer, speak at a
networking event and cornered him afterward to ask him whatÂ his career had been like. â€œHe told me he had struggled at times,Â too, but that if I was passionate about it, I should stick with it.Â If I hadnâ€™t talked to him that day, I would be in a really differentÂ position right now,â€ Hyung says.
Hyung, current president of the Student Alumni Association, isÂ now working with CSMAA to craft a pilot mentorship program,Â which will formally match current students with select alumniÂ mentors, starting this fall. Hyung would also like to see alumni ofÂ all ages gather in person with students for social functions.
President Johnson shares that vision. â€œMost of the engagementÂ with the alumni association has historically been on the frontÂ end, in terms of send-off-parties as students head off to Mines,Â or years later as the alumni association catches them after theyÂ graduateâ€ he says. â€œI would love to see more alumni engagementÂ with students while they are here.â€
Big Changes, Bright Future
CSMAA board members involved in hashing out the details ofÂ the transition concede that the merging of the alumni associationÂ with the school and foundation has not been without hurdles.Â When the idea of joining forces emerged, it was met withÂ opposition by some long-time alumni. â€œThis is a huge change,Â and there has been a contingent that is averse to it,â€ says CooperÂ Swenson â€™04, a former board member. Swenson noted that evenÂ one year ago, he was opposed to the merger, but he has sinceÂ changed his mind.
Under the plan they came up with, CSMAA remains anÂ independent 501(c)(3) nonprofit with its own clear mission (i.e.,Â to engage with students and alumni). Meanwhile, the alumniÂ association will continue to have significant oversight of MinesÂ magazine through the editorial board. â€œI feel like when we finallyÂ all shook hands, it was a huge success,â€ says Swenson.
Priestley agrees. â€œTransitions are never easy, but now we canÂ really see momentum building,â€ he says. â€œWe have this amazingÂ opportunity to expand the alumni network and do great thingsÂ now. Itâ€™s an exciting time for Mines alumni and for Mines.â€