Evolving, Serving and Having Fun

From the Fall 2014 edition of Vanderbilt Business

As Owen’s website says it, the approximately 40 members of the Alumni Board “serve the community through the promotion of and support for the school’s strategic priorities and initiatives.” Ask Erika King, MBA’99, the board’s new chair, and she’ll tell you that description leaves out an essential detail: “It’s fun.”

Alumni board brainstorming
During alumni board meetings, members divide into smaller groups and provide insight on matters concerning the school. Nancy Lea Hyer, associate dean for academic programs, facilitates one such session last fall.

For King, who has been involved with the board since 2011, some of the enjoyment in serving comes from getting to know other alumni and comparing their experiences. “It’s fun to learn what Owen was like before I got there (it started in an old funeral home, after all), and to hear from people who came after me,” King says.

But even more, as the board’s role has evolved, serving is not just a way to stay connected but a way to continue to shape the school. Board members, like other alumni, help recruit students, share expertise with current classes, and assist in internship and job placements. In what is a very instrumental role, the board helps shape the school’s strategic direction, Johnson says.

The board meets on campus twice a year. At those sessions, Alumni Board members break up into small groups of four or five and, with the help of a facilitator, apply their expertise to questions that bear on Owen’s planning for the future. For example, King says, “we might talk about the future of campus-oriented education. Should Vanderbilt continue having MBAs in residence? Should we grow our health care programs? Should we have a program in technology?

“These are things that the dean is generally pondering,” she says. “We get to bring our collective experience to bear on his thinking.”

The advisory role for the board, King notes, is relatively new. “For the person who simply wants to check board experience on their résumé, this is not the board for them. It’s work. But we get to be consultants to our alma mater. How can that not be fun?”