Campus News

UB’s 237,000 alumni a powerful force for the university, volunteer leaders told at summit

Volunteer Leadership Summit

Attendees at the Volunteer Leadership Summit were briefed on significant campus programs and progress on university initiatives. Photo: Douglas Levere


Published May 7, 2015


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Alumni volunteers key to UB's success.

Raising awareness of the vital role played by volunteers in the UB community. Elevating the notion of volunteerism. Defining what it means to be a UB volunteer.

These were the key goals of the university’s first Volunteer Leadership Summit, held April 30 to May 1 in the Center for the Arts.

The event provided an inside view for alumni — many of whom connect to the university as volunteers — on significant campus programs and progress on university initiatives. The summit also served as a forum for volunteers across UB to network, learn from each other and inspire a continued spirit of volunteerism for the benefit of UB students.

President Satish K. Tripathi told the gathering of volunteer leaders — both alumni and friends — that they are valued partners, critical to the university’s long-range success: They engage in public service on behalf of UB and as donors, teachers, student mentors, volunteers and policy advisers.

“As we advance our vision of excellence and work to deepen and extend our impact even further, building strong relationships with our alumni worldwide will continue to be critical to our success,” Tripathi said. “You are part of the core of our university community and this event is a valuable opportunity for us to listen to and learn from your insights as we move our university forward.”

For the first time, the summit allowed volunteers from across the university to meet on the same day, providing a forum for discussion among key thought leaders on a range of topics, with a focus on major UB initiatives and how they benefit from the university’s network of volunteer opportunities and programs.

The wide-ranging volunteer organizations represented included the UB Council, UB Foundation Board of Trustees, UB Alumni Association Board of Directors and chapter leaders, deans’ advisory councils, UB Parents Advisory Board, Center for Entrepreneurial Leadership Advisory Board and UB Medical Emeritus Faculty Society. Also participating were representatives of the board of the Science, Technology Transfer, and Economic Outreach (STOR), UB School of Management Accounting Advisory Board and Center for Leadership and Organizational Effectiveness Advisory Council.

Importance of volunteerism for UB

In welcoming remarks, UB Council Chair Jeremy M. Jacobs, ’6o, said “the key question is, how do we keep a college education affordable?”

“Never has this been more important than today,” he said. “Not one of us can solve it alone. Our alumni and volunteers are a key strength and a powerful resource for us. We need your involvement, and your thoughts and insights to meet this challenge.”

The summit was hosted by Jacobs, chairman, Delaware North Companies, and owner, Boston Bruins; Francis M. Letro, JD ’79, chairman, UB Foundation Board of Trustees, and partner, Francis M. Letro Attorneys at Law; and

Carol A. Gloff, ’75, president, UB Alumni Association Board of Directors, and founder and principal, Carol Gloff & Associates.

With its reputation for outstanding academics and research, UB clearly is positioned to continue providing solutions and strategies for the complex social, technological and cultural challenges of our time, Provost Charles F. Zukoski told the volunteer leaders.

“Communities of Excellence, an exciting new UB 2020 initiative, will harness our faculty strengths to approach the major issues that face our world and region. The communities will bring together scholars from across disciplines to conduct research, offer innovative educational opportunities, engage the public, participate in policy development and change human behavior in response to the issues of focus,” Zukoski said.

He also highlighted UB’s new Curricular Distinction initiative. “Students in the program will engage in experiential learning, interprofessional education, become globally aware citizens and learn to think critically,” he said.

Zukoski said students will engage in experiential learning through a variety of activities that can include internships, service learning, undergraduate research, study abroad and professional work experiences. “The numbers of students who will be participating in this are vast,” he noted. “Our volunteer network can play a critical role in this area, assisting us as we expand this key aspect of our new general education program.”

Nancy Wells, vice president for philanthropy and alumni engagement, told the group that the best public universities have the highest levels of private support, as well as volunteer involvement.

“It’s all about engagement, it really is,” she said. “We want to measure engagement across all levels of alumni and volunteer involvement. We want to know what you are doing and what you are thinking. We are on the cutting edge of universities doing this kind of outreach — to engage our alumni in ways that are both meaningful and fulfilling.”

Athletics Director Danny White told the group UB’s community of volunteers is a key part of growing the athletics program and increasing resources and facilities for UB teams.

“Partnerships are critical to us,” he said, “and that includes partnerships with our alumni and volunteers. Alumni are traditionally the largest part of our fan base — over 80,000 of our alumni live within a short drive of the university.”

Strong interest in UB’s brand and identity

Nearly 50 of the volunteer leaders participated in a focus group with the UB Identity and Brand Strategy Initiative.  The initiative is focused on marketing UB’s unique strengths at a time when higher education is undergoing a period of significant change and there is increased competition for students, faculty and funding.

“Against this backdrop, branding and identity are increasingly important,” Nancy E. Paton, vice president for communications, told the group. “It is critical for the university to tell its story in a way that not only establishes distinction, but also inspires. We are seeking to create a distinguished, distinctive and compelling brand identity for the university.”

Ken Pasternak, managing director of Marshall Strategy, one of the firms helping UB complete this initiative, also spoke to the group, noting that UB is poised to tell its story. “This initiative is really about strategic identity,” he said. “We will advance UB’s reputation and brand position by highlighting the talents and achievements of faculty, staff, students and alumni.”

Led by Paton and Pasternak, the volunteer leaders engaged in a wide-ranging focus-group discussion, offering questions, insights and direct statements on key elements of the UB brand research. Agreement among the group was unanimous on three UB strengths confirmed in the strong response to the initiative’s survey last month of students, faculty, staff and alumni:

  • UB is established as a great value in education, offering top-notch academics.
  • UB is a world-class research university.
  • UB is nationally ranked among public universities graduating students with low amounts of debt.

The volunteer leaders agreed on the need to build a stronger university brand that capitalizes on UB’s strengths. Agreement also came on a point made by many in the room: Lack of high cost in higher education does not equate to a lack of high quality. The volunteer leaders favored building a narrative to tell UB’s story.

Vice Adm. Robert Murrett

Keynote speaker and UB alumnus Vice Adm. Robert Murrett spoke about the value of volunteering in government as well as higher education.

In the summit’s keynote address, “Leadership and Public Service,” Vice Adm. Robert B. Murrett, ’75, spoke about the value of volunteering in government as well as higher education. Murrett, deputy director of the Institute for National Security and Counterterrorism at Syracuse University, noted that from a security standpoint, “we are so dependent on people who take assignments and do things on either a volunteer basis or in terms of their careers, where they make sacrifices — financial, in their own safety or often for their families.”

“This is important not just in the military, but also in the civilian leadership,” he said. “Two of our presidents, Abraham Lincoln and Franklin Roosevelt, illustrate in terms of the most acute threats to the United States, the importance of having a strong sense of civic engagement and public service. This is further illustrated by the Volunteer Leadership Summit that you are having here now and by schools such as the University at Buffalo and the Maxwell School at Syracuse.

“I think we should have a lot of confidence in the future. Nothing will make you feel better about looking at the many challenges I have described here tonight than working with the young people who are going forward to meet them.”

Murrett was formerly director of the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency.