News from Alumni House

Call to service

Ellen McGinnis ’82 is a partner at the law firm of Haynes and Boone, LLP.


When asked why I got involved with the Association of Yale Alumni, I usually answer, “Because somebody asked me.” Jonathan Thalheimer ’79 called and asked if I would be the vice president of programs for the Yale Club of Dallas. I said yes—and approximately 17 years later I am nearing the end of my two-year term as chair of the Board of Governors of the AYA. Once I started volunteering for Yale, I couldn’t stop. I’ve made many new friends and have been intellectually stimulated and constantly inspired by the impact of the university and its graduates on the world.

Jonathan called me to service, just as Yale alumni have been called to service for over 300 years. In 1776, Timothy Dwight, later Yale’s eighth president, described Yale’s role in this way: “We owe it to inspire our students … to recognize that they are not to act like inhabitants of a village … but like citizens of the world.”

When I started my AYA volunteer service, delegates from classes, clubs, the Graduate School, and the professional schools assembled in New Haven twice a year to attend a thematic “assembly.” They returned home to convey what was happening at Yale to their constituencies. The AYA managed reunions and assisted classes throughout the year. Back then, alumni usually connected through affiliations with classes, clubs, the Graduate School, or the professional schools.

In 2006, the AYA embarked on an effort that led to a strategic plan, “Ambassadors for Yale,” approved by the Yale Corporation in 2007. Today, through the creative leadership and hard work of the AYA board, staff, and hundreds of volunteers, the AYA is more ambitious in serving all of our alumni. We not only reach out actively to Yale College and graduate and professional school alumni, but we also support the establishment of shared interest and identity groups (SIGs), like the Black Alumni Association, the Latino Association, Yale Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual & Transgender Alumni Network, the Life Sciences Association, and the Political Union Alumni Association, to name just a few. We encourage alumni to connect to Yale in the way that appeals to them.

In the last year, over 5,000 alumni came back to campus for SIG reunions, and another 1,000 attended off-campus events, like the Yale in Hollywood conference in Los Angeles, where 325 alumni of all ages and experience came together to share ideas, network, and connect to each other through their Yale affiliations. These events have engaged almost as many alumni as attended Yale College reunions last year.

And we continue to help regional clubs and classes flourish. We have focused club resources on the seven major cities (Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles, New Haven, New York, San Francisco, Washington, DC) where the majority of our alumni live. After successfully helping each of those clubs to implement strategic planning and to strengthen local engagement, we are turning to better support our next tier of clubs, in Maryland, Seattle, Philadelphia, Minneapolis/St. Paul, Georgia, Colorado, and Westchester.

The heart of the strategic plan, and what draws all of our efforts together, is a call to service. Alumni are called to serve each other, Yale, and, through their communities, the world. This is especially manifest in three new endeavors of the AYA. By the time you read this, Yale alumni all over the world will have participated in the second annual Yale Global Day of Service, on May 15, 2010. On the 2009 Day of Service, 3,500 Yale alumni and friends at 180 sites in 13 countries worked in their local communities to give back. Alumni in the Yale Global Alumni Leadership Exchange have traveled to Australia, Japan, and, soon, Turkey, to educate foreign universities and their alumni about alumni relations. The Yale Service Corps has brought alumni and students together to build homes, provide medical care, and teach arts and music to extremely poor communities in the Dominican Republic, Monterrey, Mexico, and Brazil.

All of these accomplishments are volunteer-driven. Many of them were conceived by volunteers who motivated other volunteers and the AYA to make it happen.

When you talk to a Yale alum about Yale, she will often say, “Yale changed my life.” It’s true for me. I’m proud and grateful to have been a part of the AYA as it engages alumni to change lives.

Thanks, Jonathan.



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