At John Carroll University, Formation Continues Beyond Graduation

By Dave Vitatoe, Executive Director of Alumni Relations, John Carroll University

As a Jesuit Catholic university, John Carroll inspires individuals to excel in learning, leadership, and service in the region and in the world. The University finds the source of its inspiration in the experience of Saint Ignatius of Loyola and the centuries-long commitment of the Society of Jesus to academic excellence and service to the common good. The Jesuit Catholic character of John Carroll University is a single reality based on the integration of faith and culture. It represents a commitment to a church within the world, serving the human search for truth and value, and for justice and solidarity. It also represents a reverence for the transcendent vision that Christ preached and lived as the final best expression of human fulfillment. This Jesuit Catholic character inspires and guides the intellectual, professional, and ethical labors that make John Carroll a university.
Dave Vitatoe (Photo by John Carroll University)

Dave Vitatoe (Photo by John Carroll University)

This is the mission statement of John Carroll University (JCU) and this is the formation that occurs during the undergraduate years. But what happens after students cross the stage, are handed their diplomas and depart campus to begin the next phase of their journeys? We believe that the Office of Alumni Relations has an obligation to steward this formation and maintain strong ties with our graduates throughout their lives.

The word that often comes to mind when talking about John Carroll is “family.” As a student body and as an alumni association of more than 40,000 graduates, we act very much like a family. In fact, it is not uncommon to see upwards of 30% of an incoming freshman class composed of legacy students! Our familial history speaks to the special connections and experiences that our graduates have on our campus and take with them throughout life. 

This experience is not unlike that of students at other Jesuit colleges and universities across the country and around the world. The inherent benefit of alumni associations at Jesuit institutions everywhere is that care for the person and the overarching mission allow outreach efforts and programming to have a greater purpose. That is precisely how we operate in alumni relations at John Carroll. 

The traditional approach to this relationship between alumni and the University emphasizes what the alumnus or alumna can do for the University. We have all heard the pleas, “give to the annual fund,” “volunteer to recruit students,” “hire a graduate or mentor the next generation.” All alumni associations make these requests because they are critically important to the sustained health and success of our institutions. Our alumni must continue to give back in these ways, understand how their efforts help the university, and feel appreciated. There are, however, different ways to demonstrate to alumni that they are appreciated. 

In other words, what can the university do for its alumni? How can the university continue to support alumni in living out its mission? Ultimately, we view the relationship between the graduate and the university as a two-way street. There is much that a university can do for its alumni: through a clear vision, dedication, and a little creativity, the mission will live on. 

At the beginning of this decade, John Carroll leadership made the strategic decision to invest in and bolster its alumni outreach efforts. We believe that decision was not only the right thing to do, but has also paid off in many ways. Since 2012, the Office of Alumni Relations at JCU has:

  • Re-structured the Alumni Association Board and established committees devoted to engagement, marketing and communications and student outreach.
  • Recruited over 200 new alumni volunteers across the country to become involved with various new initiatives.
  • Established 18 alumni chapters from Denver to Washington, D.C. and many places in between.
  • Launched a lifelong-learning initiative offering alumni opportunities to travel the world, learn directly from our faculty and grow spiritually.
  • Created an award-winning e-newsletter to interact and engage with members of the Alumni Association rather than simply push out information about the University.
  • Surveyed alumni for their feedback and, in turn, responded with new programs and services to offer support such as the JCU Alumni Business Directory for small business owners, affinity groups for alumni couples, young alumni, military veterans and diverse alumni, as well as creative programming for alumni with young families.
  • Increased opportunities for alumni to engage with the University and each other through Ignatian spirituality programs, service, retreats and pastoral care.

The last bullet point is not a stand-alone initiative, but a thread that we weave throughout the preceding six bullet points and all of our alumni programming. Everything goes back to mission, community building, mutual support and service to others. Our efforts aim to provide alumni with opportunities to build community, grow professionally and spiritually, and never stop learning.

With each event, new idea or program, our staff discerns whether the endeavor is supporting our alumni and supporting the mission of the University. Doing so puts our staff in the best position to succeed and feel as though they are making a difference in the lives of our graduates. The programs, services, communications and events that emerge allow our alumni to live out the John Carroll mission after graduation and throughout their lives.