Jan. 31, 2011

Students, alumni energize leadership conference in D.C.

Ernest Meadows '11 went the Cornell Alumni Leadership Conference (CALC) to network and bond with others on the Class of 2011's senior class gift campaign.

He left with having had face time with a rock star in his chosen field.

At the conference he talked shop about the media industry with Robert Rosenberg '88, senior vice president at Showtime Networks and president of the Cornell Association of Class Officers (CACO), who promised to pass Meadows' resume on to industry colleagues. "He had a lot of insight and gave me good career advice ... to just be patient and really stick to what I want to do in media," Meadows said.

Students and young alumni came out in force for CALC, the Office of Alumni Affairs' flagship volunteer event, Jan. 28-30 in Washington, D.C. Of the 810 attendees, more than 60 were students and 150 were alumni who graduated in 2000 and later. And 500 more young alumni from the Washington, D.C., area attended a concert Friday night with Kinetics & One Love (Jeremy Dussolliet '09 and Tim Sommers '10), who performed free of charge.

"It is a strategic priority of ours to do more programming for young alumni. They are critically important. As for our student leaders, they're going to become our alumni leaders. This is a way to expose them to more than 700 alumni who love Cornell and who can pass on that torch," said Chris Marshall, associate vice president for alumni affairs.

A conference highlight was a luncheon with President David Skorton, who gave a campus update and then answered questions from the audience. About 75 alumni watched it online from around the country, through a live stream and chats on the Cornell Alumni Association's Facebook page, technologies that the Office of Alumni Affairs plans to use more of in the future, Marshall said.

After lunch, the Cornell Team and Leadership Center's David Moriah '72 led an exercise in which small groups tried to build the tallest tower in 15 minutes using only string, dry spaghetti, tape and a marshmallow. (He later noted that kindergarteners, engineers and architects build the tallest towers; recent MBA grads -- on average -- perform the worst.) "This is an exercise to point out how you work with people in groups. As a volunteer leader, this is an acute version of what you do all the time," said Marshall.

The conference featured nearly 40 other sessions -- from faculty and staff presentations, student theater and alumni-led discussions to trustee insights and networking opportunities. Sessions covering campus updates featured several Cornell vice presidents and deans, including Vice President for University Communications Thomas Bruce, who led a faculty discussion that deconstructed President Barack Obama's State of the Union address.

Communication-oriented sessions included What's Next With Social Media? with Adam Hirsch '04, COO of mashable.com; Laura Fitton '94, author of "Twitter for Dummies"; and Lee Humphreys '99, assistant professor of communication. Other events focused on how to be a more effective volunteer. Risa Mish '85, J.D. '88, director of the Johnson School's Leadership Skills Program, led Volunteers Leading Volunteers -- one of several sessions that the Office of Alumni Affairs plans to offer as a webinar, Marshall said.

New Cornell-affiliated groups represented this year include the Cornell Hotel Society, Human Ecology and Cornell Engineering Alumni Associations, Fraternity and Sorority Advisory Council and Cornell University Council Committee on the Arts.

"Having the opportunity to interact with alumni who have diverse volunteer interests has enhanced my volunteer engagement," said Cornell Alumni Association President Nancy Abrams Dreier '86. "I am leaving feeling empowered and energized."