Alumni ambassadors share Yale’s legacy of engagement with Chinese universities

“Yale’s alumni activities have gone beyond what we take in a traditional way,” according to Zhou Yan, secretary of the Alumni Association of Tianjin University, the first university established in China (1895). Zhou’s quote comes from an article titled “Yale shares alumni culture with Chinese” in China.org.cn, China’s national online news service, describing the World Alumni Leadership Conference in Beijing on July 20.

The conference, sponsored by the Association of Yale Alumni (AYA), is part of the AYA’s fourth Yale Global Alumni Leadership Exchange (Yale GALE) program, where Yale alumni volunteers share best practices in alumni relations with counterparts in other countries. The first conference was held in 2008 in conjunction with the Australian National University, followed by meetings with Japanese universities in 2009 and a 2010 conference in Turkey. The program in China included representatives from universities throughout the country as well as China-based alumni from institutions in the International Association of Research Universities.

The meetings led by Yale alumni volunteers help the other institutions learn from the experiences of American universities on how to develop and maintain life-long engagement with alumni. Yale is known as a leader in this field, having been one of the first places where alumni affiliated by classes and that hosted reunions, established regional clubs and organized a representative alumni association. The conference featured exhibits on those topics, as well as on building shared identity groups, career mentoring, motivating volunteers and engaging young alumni.

Yale and its alumni association remain in the forefront of transforming traditional alumni relations, at home and across the globe, with new initiatives focused on community service. These programs include the annual global Yale Day of Service started in 2009, where alumni volunteer together in their local communities. “We are about more than merely serving alumni,” says Mark Dollhopf ‘77 B.A., executive director of the AYA. “We also are about calling alumni to service, to share the gifts they’ve received as students with the broader society throughout their lives.”

Globalization is another key aspect of the new era of alumni relations at Yale, and is part of the University’s overall initiative to strengthen its role internationally through research collaborations, teaching programs, international projects and public engagement. The AYA’s growing global programs, including Yale GALE, are “a landmark vocation for us,” according to Linda Koch Lorimer, vice president and secretary of Yale, as quoted in a companion online article, “Yale to further ties with China.”

Working with Chinese universities to assist them in their alumni relations deepens partnerships that Yale has developed with China under President Richard C. Levin’s leadership, notes Lorimer. “We see this country [China] as the most important partner for our country and also a major innovator for this century,” she said. Yale’s efforts today build on its historic ties with China, which among other things includes the first Chinese graduate of a western university, Yung Wing, who graduated from Yale in 1854.

The representatives from China who participated in the Yale conference said they took inspiration from what they learned. In the online news article, Zhou said that she took away a new understanding about Yale and its alumni: “They care for the community or even people’s livelihood. They are concerned with social issues such as poverty and women’s development. They work not only on behalf of a university, but on the level of a global community.”

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