Sara Lawer, left, with Mary Morgan and Ryan Renz in Breezedale.
When Ryan Renz ’05 came to Commencement in December to speak, he was deeply moved. “I remembered five years ago, sitting where those graduates were. I was wondering where I was going to go from there,” he said. “Would I go to graduate school? Would I get a job? I wondered what the future held for me. I realize now a lot of what I’ve achieved since then I have to credit to IUP and my education. I wouldn’t have gotten where I have in the last five years without that education.”
As a member of the Alumni Association’s Board of Directors, Renz has helped with Homecoming. He enjoys seeing the reactions of alumni who come back and see the campus. “It’s really moving forward. It’s a really exciting time to be part of the IUP family.”
When he was a student, Renz was a member of the Ambassadors, a student group that was formed in 1993 to promote interaction between students and alumni. Now, almost two decades later, many of IUP’s most active alumni are former Ambassadors.
“What makes the Ambassadors unique is how many call us and want to help after graduation.”
Ambassadors have acted as hosts to alumni returning to campus for reunions or to receive awards, have phoned top prospective students for recruitment, have organized efforts to promote “IUP spirit” and sports attendance, and have staged a mud volleyball tournament as a campus social event. They have organized a freshman yearbook and have held annual tuition raffles that are used to fund the group and provide donations for university projects, according to Sara Barnett Lawer ’06, M’08.
Lawer was an Ambassador and then a graduate advisor for the program. She is now a full-time staff member in the Alumni Relations Office, where advising the group is part of her job.
She estimates that at least thirty to thirty-five former Ambassadors living in larger cities are very active as alumni, while others, in smaller towns, help on an as-needed basis. She noted that IUP also has outstanding alumni volunteers who are not former Ambassadors.
“What makes the Ambassadors unique is how many call us and want to help after graduation,” she said. “They want to pay it forward. That’s what we hear a lot.”
Mary Morgan ’91, associate director of Alumni Relations, worked with the group for about a dozen years, until Lawer took on the role.
“Being an active alumnus is not just about looking back,” Morgan said. “You make new friends and new career contacts with alumni you didn’t know before. There’s that common connection, like being part of a big family.”
One of the students with whom Morgan worked was Kristen Stake ’03. After graduation, Stake helped organize alumni events in the Washington, D.C., area for a few years. Now, she helps her alma mater in another way—by passing on numerous internships and job leads.
“My professors knew my name,” Stake said. “People helped me and encouraged me.” Now, she sends her former Marketing professors and her contacts at the Robert E. Cook Honors College opportunities that will help current students.
A professor helped former Ambassador Alan Friday ’03, M’04 with some of his more difficult classes when he was a student. When he told her how much he appreciated it, she told him “Don’t worry. You’ll be in a position to help someday.” She was right. Friday has been active as a Pittsburgh region alumni volunteer and also in the career networking program.
“From the faculty to the secretaries, from the people I recognize in the cafeteria and the HUB to the support staff, the people make IUP great,” Friday said. “You appreciate it more after the fact.”
Before moving to North Carolina, Ryan Rearick ’03, M’06 also was active in the Pittsburgh area with career networking, and he talked to prospective students at a college fair in Monroeville. “I feel I have that responsibility to help IUP,” he said. “It gave me a lot of opportunity to explore my interests personally and professionally.”
From the day a student graduates, he or she is automatically part of the IUP Alumni Association, which boasts more than 100,000 members around the world, according to Matthew Konetschni ’95, M’98, who serves on the Alumni Association board and is a regional volunteer in the Washington, D.C., area.
“Being involved is fun. I think I’ve missed one Homecoming since I graduated.” said Konetschni, who was a founding member and graduate advisor of the Ambassadors. “It’s a great opportunity to reconnect.”
Tonya Anthony Hsiung ’00, M’03, also a former Ambassador and graduate advisor, said she enjoys staying connected to IUP through alumni events and has served as treasurer of the former Harrisburg alumni chapter.
“We [the alumni in her area] have gone to baseball games, to events at the Capitol, and to an IUP-Millersville football game,” she said. Though she now works at Millersville University, she wore her IUP sweatshirt to the game. “I’m proud to be an IUP alumna, and I’ll always show it,” she said.