On Saturdays, Vince Belusko, BS ’78, wears Washington University gear. As an alumnus, parent of two graduates and chair of the Alumni Board of Governors (ABG), he has amassed a considerable collection of WashU T-shirts, sweatshirts and baseball caps over the years. A decade ago, Belusko’s sartorial spirit went largely unremarked in his Southern California hometown. But as the years pass by, more and more friendly strangers stop to tell him about their grandson who went to WashU or their daughter’s friend who is a current student or even their own student days. WashU may be in St. Louis, but its alumni — and their friends and family — are everywhere now.
While the university’s official motto is “Per Veritatem Vis,” or “strength through truth,” its unofficial motto could just as easily be “strength in numbers.” There are more than 150,000 WashU graduates living across the globe. The ABG partners with the Office of Alumni and Constituent Engagement (ACE) to foster ties between these alumni and the broader community of WashU leaders, students and parents. The advisory board, which numbers 48 active and 17 emeritus members from all seven schools, acts as a critical bridge, simultaneously representing the interests of alumni and the university’s strategic priorities.
Susan Cohen, associate vice chancellor of ACE, is grateful to the ABG members whose volunteer time and participation enrich the alumni network. “The feedback we receive from the board is indispensable,” she says. “Their input helps us enhance our programming and forge stronger bonds between WashU alumni and the university.”
WashU Reunion and Founders Day are two marquee events for which the ABG reliably lends assistance. Each year, members of the ABG review nominations for the Distinguished Alumni Awards and choose the recipients honored at Founders Day. The selection process is a humbling affair for Belusko and the rest of the board, one that pulls into focus the incredible and wide-ranging accomplishments of the university’s graduates.
Although the influence of WashU alumni never fails to impress, Belusko remains even more amazed by students. Like many alumni, he jokes that he would never gain admission to WashU now. “The quality of the student body is so high, and it continually gets better,” he says.
Today’s students represent the next generation of Founders Day honorees, and the ABG is committed to helping them establish a meaningful lifelong relationship with the university. One of the board’s major goals is to grow the alumni network by engaging students before they graduate. They urge students to consider themselves part of the alumni community and, perhaps most important, to take advantage of it as they enter a new chapter of their lives.
In order to achieve this, the ABG is increasingly trying to meet students and recent graduates where they are, which is often online or on social media. WashU CNX, a virtual networking hub for alumni, students and parents, is one step in this ongoing work. Developing a professional mentoring platform like WashU CNX has long been a top priority for the group. ABG members beta tested the site and helped rally the first wave of subscribers.
Since it launched in early 2020, more than 5,700 people have signed on to WashU CNX. It is a solid start, but Belusko would like to see the number multiply at least tenfold in the coming years. He sees WashU CNX as an accessible way for younger generations, in particular, to tap into the experience of alumni and parents. That might mean using the site to seek out professional advice, explore internship and career opportunities, or make contacts in a new city. WashU CNX is also a means for alumni, wherever they are in life, to share their knowledge with the WashU community.
Some young alumni are also offering their perspectives by serving on the ABG as associate members. Associate members are under the age of 35 or have graduated within 10 years of their nomination. The board added this membership level to “keep a pulse on and provide the viewpoints of young alumni to the larger group,” explains Chisom Uche, AB ’14, who recently completed a three-year term. Uche was excited to be a part of the ABG’s efforts to add more alumni voices to the mix.
Giving voice to a wider range of student and alumni experiences is equally important to April Mickens Jolly, BSBA ’02, an ABG vice chair. She found her voice at WashU, and she continues to use it to champion institutions and causes that matter to her. To Jolly, WashU is more than just a beloved alma mater. It is an engine for advancing issues like educational equity and health-care access. “WashU is an anchor of the St. Louis region,” she says. “I appreciate being able to help expand the university’s role as a regional partner through my ABG involvement.”
Although Jolly deeply values her relationship with WashU, she is honest about areas where the university can improve. That includes creating a more inclusive environment for students and alumni alike. During her undergraduate years at WashU, Jolly met people from all walks of life. She credits the ABG for diversifying its own ranks by recruiting more alumni from outside St. Louis and even the United States. And she is encouraged by the university’s willingness to examine the current student experience through multiple lenses, including race and income.
Jolly says she can draw a direct line from her work with the ABG to improvements happening on campus today. “Through the ABG, I have been able to connect my past as a student to the university’s future,” she says.
WashU provides students with a foundation for success. Once alumni, they become the university’s most powerful supply of renewable energy.