Wednesday, July 24, 2013
Most public universities have traditionally spent less time fostering relationships with alums than private universities, but some at UC San Diego think changing that is key to the long-term strength of the campus.
SAN DIEGO Fifteen-year-old Cory Aungle was on a kind of trip very few people — especially few teenagers — ever get to take.
"I liked the robotic surgery," he said. "I also liked the boat watch we did yesterday and seeing all the dolphins and we saw a Portuguese man o' war. I liked that a lot."
Two days into a visit to UC San Diego, Aungle's younger brother Cole, 13, was most excited about the experience they had just had trying out robotic surgery simulators at the school's Center for the Future of Surgery.
"Lifting up these tiny, microscopic pieces of nerve or something like that and manipulating it — it's such a satisfying feeling," he said.
Experiences like this are why their mother, Tanya Aungle, decided the three should come to the campus' trial run of summer vacations for alumni and their families.
"As they are making decisions about their future, we want them to have an ambition for themselves and to understand what's out in the world," she said. "And this kind of a program where there's an opportunity to actually be on campus and have hands-on involvement in some of the strengths of the university, it's wonderful."
Forty vacationers came to UC San Diego for what the school is calling the Triton Summer Experience. They paid $130 a night to stay in some of the campus' newest student apartments. Three days of touring research facilities, like the surgery center, taking a ride on a research boat and more resort-style amenities, such as daily meals and fitness classes, cost an additional $450 per adult and $325 for kids under 12.
Offering a unique family vacation option to alums is one way to fill up housing and keep the campus's self-funded housing program in the black while students are away for the summer, but more importantly it is one way to achieve leaders' long-term goals for the campus, according to Mark Cunningham, the school's vice chancellor for housing and dining.
"One of the interests that our campus has is building our relationship with our alumni," Cunningham said. "We're a fairly young campus, which means young alumni, which, in the long run, when you're a successful campus, your alumni support is super important."
Cunningham said his department recently ended a five-year stint of constant construction, which added 5,000 beds to campus housing. All of that new housing and additional staff time now that the expansion is over meant Cunningham and his colleagues had the time to develop a program to reach out to people they see as potentially persuasive ambassadors for the university.
"This is a growing campus and somewhere that we want to be — not just a state institution," he said, "we want to be international. And certainly your best advocate is the person who's been here and experienced it and sits down and talks about it. That sets those traditions that many of those other schools that have been around for 200 years have."
Madeline Sunga is another alum who was eager to reconnect with the campus, and the message UCSD is sending has been loud and clear to her during her visit.
"I'm understanding the growth now and the importance of the university also to the government, the relationship to the government and technology and medicine and science. I can appreciate it, even though I was a history major," she said.
In future summers, the program's organizers hope to have up to 250 vactioners on campus over four weeks.
The kind of relationships UCSD wants to cultivate with the alumni and other people with connections to the university who make the trip is like the connection that is more common for private university alumni according to Anita Trevino Neubarth, who works in business development for the campus and who organized the long-weekend's events. Trevino Neubarth said reaching out to alumni is also part of an increased focus on outreach on the campus in general.
Private universities, where family legacies and a reliance on alumni donations is more common, have a longer tradition of this kind of outreach, according to Peter McPherson, president of the Association of Public and Land-Grant Universities. But, he said, flagging state funding for public higher education across the country and an interest in pursuing ambitious programs has lead public universities across the country to develop support from other sources.
"They have important work to do," McPherson said. For the last two decades, public universities have increasingly reached out to private donors to make that work possible.
UC San Diego isn't alone in San Diego looking to develop more relationships off campus; across town, San Diego State University is just $100 million away from the $500 million goal set for its first-ever comprehensive fundraising campaign.
UCSD inviting alums back to campus is a smaller undertaking but that doesn't mean it won't have an impact. Tanya Aungle said bringing her sons to the school for a long weekend already has her thinking about her relationship with the university differently.
"My children already aspire to UCSD because my husband and I are both alumni," she said. "But I think I feel like I would be more inclined to yeah - potentially give money to the university, yeah, absolutely."