Keeping the network strong across the miles

Alumnae/i and friends enjoy a Phillies game in June 2014. Back row: Jeannine Suwalski, Arthur “Ace” Brinkmann ’05, Kate Miller Brown ’95, Andrew Brown ’95; front row: Marjorie Gelb Jones ’62, guest, Michael Oppenheim ’09 and Laura Naden ’04

Walking the Wheaton campus during Homecoming or Reunion weekend, it’s easy to share memories and connect with friends and former classmates. But what about all the time between the special events and all the miles separating you from campus? How do you keep that shared Wheaton spirit alive?

Two words: regional chairs. They are the behind-the-scenes volunteers spread out all over the country who lead regional groups that bring Wheaton into the communities where they live. Through social, networking and educational events (including lectures by Wheaton professors), and local volunteer opportunities, regional chairs engage alumnae/i across the span of class years, and help keep them connected to each other and the college.

“We always say that when you can’t come to Wheaton, we’ll bring Wheaton to you,” says Becky Ebeling, senior associate director of alumnae/i relations and the campus point person for regional chairs. “The relationship between alumnae/i and Wheaton is a lifelong one. Regional activities help maintain and strengthen that connection by being Wheaton in an alum’s ‘backyard.’”

Friends at happy hour in Philadelphia in April. From left to right: Jerah Smith ’10, Whitney Alves ’10, Laura Naden ’04 and Lisa Miccolis ’06.

“And who doesn’t love reminiscing about hanging out in the Dimple or taking that dip in Peacock Pond?” says Sarah Lenes ’05, the outgoing regional director for the Alumnae/i Association Board of Directors and associate director of the UVM Alumni Association at the University of Vermont Foundation. “Plus you stay young when you relive your Wheaton experience.”

Last year, regional chairs took the lead in hosting dozens of events nationwide, drawing several hundred Wheaton alums, parents and friends in cities like Boston, Philadelphia, Rochester (N.Y.), Portland (Maine) and even London. Ebeling and her office provide support for regional volunteers, helping them organize events and brainstorm programming ideas.

The Cape Cod alumnae/i group, which has been around for 60 years, supports the local community by encouraging Wheaton alums in the area to gather for volunteer work.

In Philadelphia for the past two years, regional chairs Laura Naden ’04, an administrative coordinator at the University of Pennsylvania, and Arthur “Ace” Brinkmann ’05, a recruiting specialist for Subaru, have been working to reignite regional activity. Through networking and outings—like attending a Phillies game as a group or taking a walking tour of Philadelphia—they have grown a core group of enthusiastic alums of all ages who regularly attend events.

Holly Mitchell Burleson ’85, regional chair of the Cape Cod group for the past eight years, enjoys the surprise meetings most.

“It’s like going to Reunion; you might make friends with people you never knew in college,” she says. “You never know who you’ll run into at events.”

For example, one spring Burleson reconnected with her former dorm mate, Debra “Debbie” Leonard Barrette ’86, at a Cape Cod regional event. Now their children—Ryan Barrette ’15 and Katie Burleson ’15—are close friends who graduated from Wheaton together this May.

Naden says she most appreciates the opportunities for inter-generational connections that regional events provide. “Our older alums are vivacious, strong and intelligent, and young alums benefit so much from talking with them,” she says. For example, author and historian Marjorie Gelb Jones ’62, who moved to Philadelphia several years ago, regularly hosts events with her husband, Jonathan, and both share their enthusiasm for Wheaton with the local alums, especially young alums.

Closer to campus, the Greater Boston Wheaton Club’s Boston Young Alumni Committee works to engage the many recent graduates living in the area through volunteering and social events. Regional clubs in Washington, D.C., and New York also do similar outreach.

“A strong, young alumnae/i network is not just about keeping in touch but about providing meaningful connections that help young alums along their journey,” says Amy Dumont ’09, a committee co-chair along with Emily Firment ’11 and Zach Agush ’12.

Start your own group

For more information on Wheaton’s regional groups, or to start a group in your area, email Alumnae/i Relations at [email protected].