BY MARK HOUSER
Alumni who come back to campus say it all the time: Robert Morris University has gone through so many transformations they hardly recognize it.
That just adds to the challenge for Warner Johnson, but it also guarantees his work is never boring. As director of development and alumni relations, it's Johnson's job to ensure that all graduates — those whose Robert Morris experience was at a downtown business school or a regional junior college, as well as those who collected their diplomas at Sewall Center last spring — know they are equally valued. He wants them all to know they are all important to RMU's future and the path it's charting. That means finding ways to keep them involved.
The creation of a new Alumni Association Council last year was a big step forward, Johnson says. In fact, it is probably the most important development in his view since he came to RMU four years ago. The council, a volunteer steering group that currently numbers about 30 members, meets regularly and offers alumni the chance to take a personal role in building the community and network.
That can happen in a variety of ways. Some council members plan new alumni-only programs, like last year's “speed networking” event at a downtown club where more than 100 people stopped by for cocktails, some low-key practice at selfmarketing, and a chance to collect some new entries for their contacts folders. Other council members welcome folks at receptions, or even grill hot dogs at the Homecoming hospitality tent. Several members got to meet the next generation of RMU students in the fall, as the council started a new tradition — helping freshmen and their families on Move-In Day.
Jack Foster M'95 was one of the council volunteers handing out bottled water, reassuring nervous parents, and lending a hand with boxes. “It was a very nice day, and a great gesture on the part of the university,” says the U.S. Steel tax accountant, whose son, Patrick, is now a senior at the university. “Helping out on Move-In Day was just one of the benefits of staying involved, and I will be here next year and for years to come.”
“Move-In Day is something the council decided they wanted to do on their own, and I welcomed it,” Johnson said. “Who better to meet the new freshmen here than the people who already lived and breathed it, and who know the benefits of being an RMU graduate.”
A lot of Johnson's time is traveling, meeting alumni on the road at basketball games, receptions, dinners, and other events. This year he's already booked trips to Philadelphia, Washington, Florida, and Dallas, with more to come. After four years, he says he is getting a real picture of the diversity of RMU alumni stories, and an appreciation for the challenges they've overcome and the lives they've built. “The best part of my job is hearing their experiences from when they were students, and then seeing the successes they've had after graduation,” he says.
A commitment to service is a guiding principle for the Benedictine friars at St. Vincent College in Latrobe, where Johnson earned his degree and where he worked as director of alumni relations before coming to RMU. That attitude made an impression on him, he says, and it still motivates him each day. “I think that's kind of how I view my job at the alumni office,” he says. "We are here to serve you."
Recognize anybody from the cover? All the faces in our homage to the iconic Sgt. Pepper's album are alumni or friends of RMU, and most of them have been featured in Foundations.
Watch your e-mail this spring for eFoundations for the answers! If you didn't get the last issue at Thanksgiving, you can subscribe for free by sending us an e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org."