Weili Cheng to retire as Yale Alumni Association leader
Since 2016, Weili Cheng ’77 has served as a kind of alumna-in-chief for Yale’s 180,000 alumni worldwide.
But early next year, the lawyer, former senior executive for The Ritz Carlton Hotel Company and Marriott International, and former Pierson College resident plans to retire after more than seven years as executive director of the Yale Alumni Association (YAA).
“My family is ready for me to reduce my commitments,” Cheng said in a recent interview, the full text of which follows below. “And of course, I am very much looking forward to spending more time with my adorable baby grandson.”
Founded in 1972, the YAA enhances and renews the university experience for all alumni, throughout their lives, whoever they are and wherever they may be, striving to inspire new ideas, affiliations, friendships, professional fulfillment, and acts of service around the world.
During her service as YAA’s leader, Cheng, who will retire at the end of February 2024, has overseen the association’s myriad groups, established the direction and tone of its office and operations, acted as YAA’s emissary to the broader Yale community, and generally served as a reliable “go-to” for all things Yale alumni during a transformative period for the university.
Cheng takes pride in the many ways that Yale’s alumni community has become stronger and more engaged during her tenure. The resources and opportunities that YAA now provides effectively support more alumni, including the creation of new learning programs and career development opportunities such as mentoring, expanded support for Yale’s increasingly diverse alumni community, and increased engagement among recent graduates and current Yale students.
“Weili has led the YAA to new heights,” Joan O’Neill, vice president for alumni affairs and development, wrote in a message to campus colleagues last month, after Cheng made her plans known. “She has built strong partnerships across campus and has worked hard to bring greater visibility to the YAA and our alumni community.”
A search for Cheng’s successor is now underway. A committee chaired by Rahul Prasad ’87 Ph.D. will advise the university during the search process.
“Having started as chair of the YAA when Weili joined as executive director, I experienced firsthand the wonderful transformation of the alumni association that Weili has accomplished in her tenure at Yale,” said Prasad, a retired physicist who is president of the Yale Club of San Francisco and has chaired YAA’s board of governors and the Yale Graduate School Alumni Association (GSAA). “We have a great opportunity to build on where we are to an even more engaged alumni community shepherded by our next executive director.”
The search advisory committee welcomes input from the Yale community, including suggestions on what attributes and traits make an effective YAA director as well as nominations (and self-nominations) for candidates.
Cheng had a long history of service to Yale before she was named executive director, serving as chair of the YAA board of governors, president of the Yale Club of Washington, D.C., an active member of the Class of 1977 Class Council, and member of the Yale Alumni Magazine’s board of directors, to name just a few of her service roles.
In a recent interview, she spoke about her tenure as YAA executive director, new resources the organization has made available to alumni, and why she’s excited about YAA’s future.
What are you proudest of from your time as executive director of the Yale Alumni Association?
Weili Cheng: My top priority as executive director has been to strengthen the YAA as an organization. I feel I have accomplished this. I am proud of the YAA senior leaders and staff, each of whom I admire for their professionalism and dedication to our mission “to enhance and renew the lifelong Yale experience for all alumni, whoever they are and wherever they may be.”
What are some of the programming enhancements YAA has introduced during your tenure?
Cheng: There are a number of resources and opportunities that YAA now offers to alumni that we’ve introduced based on feedback from the 2017 all-alumni survey. They include:
- more learning programs online, on-campus, in several U.S. cities, and through travel with Yale Alumni Academy and in communities with Yale Alumni College;
- new career mentoring and networking opportunities. For example, more than 23,000 alumni and students have joined Cross Campus [Yale’s online networking, community-building, and mentoring program];
- expanded support for our increasingly diverse alumni communities (including for regional clubs, Yale College classes, shared interest groups, and graduate and professional school alumni associations);
- increased engagement among recent graduates and students; and
- enhanced support of alumni service programs locally and abroad.
What has been your favorite part about serving as executive director?
Cheng: It has been a joy to connect with alumni around the world. I am so impressed by how much they care for and are concerned about Yale and each other. Ties to Yale are lifelong, and I look forward to continuing these connections at alumni gatherings and volunteer activities in the future.
What would you be looking for if you were searching for your own successor? What makes for a good YAA leader?
Cheng: In my opinion, the next executive director should have managerial/administrative experience, strong interpersonal skills, a commitment to diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging (with a willingness to learn), negotiation skills, be a relationship builder, and the ability to have difficult conversations. It’s also helpful if the person is a Yale alum and has had Yale volunteer experience.
How would you describe the current state of the YAA?
Cheng: As we celebrate the 50th anniversary of the YAA, it’s amazing to look back on how much the organization has evolved and accomplished. Our alumni community — now over 180,000 strong — is engaged, and I am consistently in awe of the time and efforts our volunteers put into supporting off-campus programming and the university at large. The future is very bright!
What are you looking forward to after you retire?
Cheng: Quarantining for one and a half years during COVID made me realize how much time I have spent away from home in my 30-plus years at Marriott and Ritz-Carlton, and in the last seven-plus years traveling to and from New Haven. Special thanks to my husband Brad Dobeck and son Stephen Dobeck [Yale College Class of 2010] for supporting my over 40 years of service to Yale as a volunteer and most recently as YAA executive director. My family is ready for me to reduce my commitments. And of course, I am very much looking forward to spending more time with my adorable baby grandson (photos available on request)!