New presidents took office this month for both VCU Alumni and the MCV Alumni Association of VCU. Michael D. Whitlow (B.S.’74/MC) leads VCU Alumni’s board of governors, and Bronwyn Burnham (B.S.’89/P), sits at the helm of MCVAA’s board of trustees. Both bring deep connections to VCU and a strong passion to serve their alma mater and its growing alumni population as they share here.
Why did you first volunteer with the alumni organization?
Whitlow: In the decade following my graduation, I found that VCU was doing very little to connect with alums, so I worked with some graduates from the mass communications school (now the Robertson School) to put together a spreadsheet of the folks we knew who graduated from the program prior to the advent of ubiquitous email. It took a number of years to form the first universitywide alumni council, allowing me to get involved more directly. The ways to stay in touch have evolved quite a bit in all these years, but we still have the same challenges of connecting and staying engaged with one another and our alma mater.
Burnham: I began my appointment to the MCVAA board of trustees in the early 2000s. At that time, I volunteered for several nonprofits in the Richmond community, but never felt fully satisfied until I got involved with pharmacy, my true passion. I served as president of the VPhA Richmond local chapter and really enjoyed working with local pharmacists, providing programming and fundraising events. My connections with VPhA led me to serve on the board of MCVAA, giving me the opportunity to volunteer for another passionate cause! Serving MCVAA was an opportunity for me to give back to my alma mater while giving me true satisfaction in my volunteer efforts
In serving VCU and the alumni organization, what have you learned about the alumni community, and do certain themes emerge when you meet alumni?
Whitlow: Through all of the stuttering starts of an alumni program over the years, one thing has remained constant — alums are promoters of VCU. It’s not just the basketball program, though that helps, for sure. VCU grads seem to have a real love of the place, and even though my generation may complain about the destruction of Shafer Court and the changing character of the architecture, we are fully involved in a diverse army of over 200,000 who want to make VCU all that it can be.
Burnham: I have enjoyed working with all the schools on the medical campus and, most recently, with the Monroe Park Campus. I have found that most volunteers share a great love and loyalty to VCU, whether it’s supporting the Rams or sharing the rich traditions of the medical campus. My academic experience at VCU was very positive and helped to influence me as a leader and health care professional.
What are some key goals you hope to achieve during your tenure?
Whitlow: Sustainability. Alumni programs are faltering in an era of many distractions. We have to determine ways to deliver value to our alums, ranging from fellowship and social programs to career and lifelong learning. Continuing to do the research required and to interact with alums across the spectrum will help this happen. Impact. It’s tempting to point to the dollars raised from alumni in our recent campaign to support scholarships, faculty, facilities and other needs, but we also need to put alums around the decision-making tables at VCU. From the Board of Visitors to any of over 30 committees and task forces, alumni can help VCU make it more real by being active members of the family along with the administration, faculty and students. The independent voice of alumni is critical to the success of VCU.
Burnham: I hope to be successful in maintaining our responsibilities we (MCVAA) believe are most important: Continuing Reunion each year for the medical campus and overseeing and managing our funds to support future programs of interest. I would also like to work with the VCU Office of Alumni Relations to increase alumni engagement in the Richmond area.
What’s been the biggest motivating factor in your service to VCU, and why is it important to maintain that connection?
Whitlow: I want to be part of increasing the value of all VCU graduates to the world. Whether you lean to philosophy or science, VCU has a great laboratory to develop your strengths, and that is a special thing. Being a competitive person, I also want recognition of the powerhouse that VCU has become. Other universities in the commonwealth, for instance, have their place, but we should stand second to none of our peers in Virginia or across the country.
Burnham: I serve VCU to stay connected and to have a voice for the future of VCU!