UMSL Alumni Association celebrates new graduates, welcomes them into network

Staff and Board members of the UMSL Alumni Association stand outside a country club while the middle two hold a sign about the new alumni event

(Left to right) Phil Donato, executive director of UMSL Alumni Association, Elle Bianchi and Cameron Roark, UMSL Alumni Association Board members and co-chairs of the UMSL Alumni Engagement Committee, and Joseph Cavato, assistant director of the UMSL Alumni Association, organized the New Grad & Young Alumni Celebration last Thursday at Glen Echo Country Club. (Photo by August Jennewein)

The University of Missouri–St. Louis Alumni Association held its first New Grad & Young Alumni Celebration last week to celebrate 2022 graduates and give them an opportunity to meet other alumni.

Despite poor weather, more than a 100 people turned out for the Edward Jones-sponsored gathering at the Glen Echo Country Club.

The event was conceived by Cameron Roark, co-chair of the Alumni Engagement Committee and an UMSL alumnus, who wanted to create an opportunity to get new graduates involved with UMSL early on.

“Our big focus on the engagement committee was trying to get engagement from new graduates,” Roark said, “and kind of show them that the Alumni Association and the board is here for them, and to help them as they progress in their careers.”

Elle Bianchi, co-chair of the Alumni Engagement Committee helped to coordinate the event. She also thought bringing new graduates together to connect and network would be mutually beneficial for them and UMSL. Bianchi also wanted new alumni to know they have support after graduation.

“We wanted to do something for the students to get them into the board, let them know who we are and how to be engaged as an alum early,” Bianchi said. “That way, they’re not like, ‘Okay, I have my degree, but what do I do now? What can I do to go back to the place that gave me so much?’”

The night was festive with food, music and prizes. One lucky alumnus won a 50-inch Vizio TV. It was an optimal setting for new graduates to mix and mingle.

Man stands in front of TV he won at the alumni event.

Brynn Lauman (left), who received his BSBA in finance in 2021, won a Vizio TV in a raffle at the alumni event.

Recent graduate Anthony Taylor-El, who received a degree in accounting, attended the event with the intention to connect with fellow graduates.
“It’s always good to be back in person, off Zoom, to be able to see people and be back in action,” he said.

Other recent graduates like Sara Manley, who received a master’s degree in accounting, felt the same way and wants to remain involved with UMSL.

“I’m part of the early career advisory board now,” she said. “So, I plan to stay involved with UMSL throughout my career. It just feels like a great community.”

Two young women stand smiling into camera

Eric’el Johnson (left), a 2016 engineering graduate now working as a Radar IPT Project Lead at Boeing, visits with another recent graduate last week.

The UMSL network of graduates has added exponentially to the workforce in St. Louis, as nearly 75% of graduates from the university remain and work in St. Louis. Alexander Kerford, an UMSL alumnus and financial advisor at Edward Jones – the second largest employer of UMSL graduates – attended the event to support new alumni and further his and his company’s engagement with the university.

“We really value our partnership with the University of Missouri–St. Louis and everything that’s going on here,” he said. “There are a lot of opportunities at Edward Jones for employment for people who are looking to forward their work acumen that I’m really excited about. I love talking with students about it.”

The new alumni event topped off years of working toward educational, professional and personal goals for graduates. It represented the appreciation UMSL has for its students’ hard work and commitment and centered on themes of community, support and connectedness. Toni Douaihy, president of the Alumni Association, believed the event met its goals.

“We wanted the opportunity as an alumni association to really celebrate the new grads and invite them to be part of our alumni community in a more engaged and active way,” Douaihy said. “Because what we found generally – and I think this is true in many instances – is that people leave school, they start their jobs, they get busy, they get away from the Alumni Association. And we’re hoping to draw people in at an earlier stage than many of us ourselves got involved to really promote and help the students who will graduate next year and the year after. I hope we can continue this event on an annual basis. I talked to several grads tonight, and they were really excited about the event. They were really happy to meet other alumni. I think it was an outstanding event.”

A table of multiracial men sit at a round table chatting.

A group of new graduates mingle at last week’s New Graduate & Young Alumni Celebration.

For many, the event mirrored their experience at UMSL.

Taylor-El enjoyed the opportunity to see classmates and meet other UMSL alumni, as the bonds he’s made during his experience at the university have had a great impact on his life.

“You get to meet people that become your friends for life, like professors,” he said. “Everybody kind of grows you into a person that you never think you will become.”


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