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Feature: SAF Reshapes it's Vision as the Association of Future Alumni



  • Author:
    Dan DiMaggio
  • Published:
    Summer 2013
The Student Alumni Foundation undergoes a major rebranding, beginning with a descriptive name change that makes its mission crystal clear.
 
From the beginning, the MSUAA’s Student Alumni Foundation has evolved in step with the university.  Since its creation in 1986, the SAF has earned well-deserved honors for best practices in leadership, programming and our world renowned mascot, Sparty.  This fall, the SAF will again transform.  MSU’s largest student organization will have a new name and a deeper commitment to binding traditions into the hearts and minds of students. 
 
This summer SAF will embark on a reinvention.  The goal is to preserve the best of the storied past while launching new initiatives to become the central source for leadership development, mentoring, internships and the preparation beyond MSU’s outstanding academic education that will position graduating Spartans for a successful launch into the Spartan Nation. 
 
It begins with the name.  “The Student Alumni Foundation” moniker has always been a source of confusion.  Is it a charity?  What are student alumni?  How exactly does the name square with the mission?  These are the questions that served as a catalyst for a new brand—The Association of Future Alumni.  That’s what the organization is, a group of future alumni who are dedicated to modeling the service ethic that has been at the root of the MSU Alumni Association’s growth over the past three years. 
 
“The Association of Future Alumni much more clearly articulates the heart and soul of the former Student Alumni Foundation,” says Scott Westerman, executive director of the MSU Alumni Association. 
 
“Where we may have been competitive with other registered student organizations (RSOs) on campus, we intend to become collaborative.  Just as the MSUAA provides leadership training and strategic support for 168 clubs around the world, we will do the same thing for MSU’s more than 600 RSOs.  We will help spread great ideas, create an environment that fosters greater communication between student leaders and work closely with our partners in student government and Student Life to enhance the Spartan experience in every corner of campus.  We will teach our future alumni the importance of the Spartan Network and how to properly utilize the vast resources they have available to them through the MSUAA, our global network of clubs and our thousands of active volunteers.”  
 
A core group of alumni is eager to engage with students and a campus population that has begun to realize the importance of leveraging all of the resources that come with an education at MSU.  The Association of Future Alumni will be the bridge that facilitates relationships to last a student, young alum and new professional a lifetime.
 
The goal of the transformation is to better align the philosophy of student programming to that of the overall MSU Alumni Association.  Students at the onset of their college careers will be exposed to the vast Spartan Nation that is ready to help them throughout college and upon graduation.  Historically the SAF has served as the keeper of many Spartan traditions—such as the world’s greatest mascot, Sparty.  It organizes three student spirit teams that have set the standard across collegiate athletics—the Izzone, the ATeam for ice hockey and the newly formed Boss Town for baseball.  
 
These traditions will continue, but they will be enriched and further improved.  The goal is to broaden a perception of an organization that students think “runs the student sections and Sparty” to one that develops leaders, offers mentoring opportunities and is the gateway for becoming an active Spartan alum.  Relationships will be leveraged and new partnerships forged to promote Spartan traditions from the moment a freshman comes to campus.  This aligns with the larger mission of the MSUAA. 
 
“Since MSUAA is the primary organization which celebrates Spartan traditions throughout the Spartan Life, it made perfect sense for Dan DiMaggio and his team to focus the efforts of our affiliated student organization toward deepening those Spartan values we hold dear within the student population,” says Westerman.
 
So why make changes to an organization that would seem to have withstood the test of time and is flourishing?  Because the time is right.  The biggest challenge of service organizations today is to remain relevant in the Facebook age.  Students’ lives are busier than ever; they are more carefully assessing the value propositions of every activity.  This trend is not only being seen in the alumni/student relations world, but in student life, residential housing and all facets of the student engagement spectrum.  MSU boasts tremendous students—outstanding leaders anxious to make an impact in the world.  Through more meaningful engagement, the primary goal of the Association of Future Alumni is to help prepare Spartan leaders for the world awaiting them after graduation.  There is a secondary goal too—early identification of Spartans who are most likely to become “leaders, lifesavers and world changers,” individuals who will answer the call to Spartan service, engage in club leadership and rise to the top of their organizations while remembering the crucial role that their MSU experience played in making them the productive adults they have become. 
 
The barrier of student membership dues needs to be removed to encourage broader participation.  The focus will be on collecting data about the needs of an evolving student population and targeting programming to appeal to Spartans with big dreams and high expectations.  Staying more closely connected with the most engaged students and demonstrating the value of an association with MSUAA will create an unbreakable bond that will follow them wherever they go. 
 
Many of the changes that need to take place to make this transition a reality are well under way.  Over the past three years, SAF was one of the largest providers of student internships on campus.  In 2012-2013, the organization had 31 interns running 11 different programs.  The students involved with that leadership were provided the experience now be opening to all student leaders on campus within the next two  years.  In the upcoming year, the Association of Future Alumni  has downsized to 19 student interns with four marquee programs.  To offer a more realistic world and professional experience, students will become experts in a topic/major and work in teams to hold events, run initiatives, and interact with campus partners and alums. 
As a member of the former Student Alumni Foundation Board of Directors, Sarah Holden has been involved in the reinvention process and lives the experience we will be creating for the greater Spartan community. 
 
“This past year on the board has exceeded all expectations I had coming into the program,” says Holden.  “I was placed in an environment where I had the opportunity to further develop my leadership skills in ways I never would have imagined. As a former associate director of Alumni Engagement, I had the chance to begin working with hall directors this past spring and I am beyond excited to continue in that direction with the changes this upcoming year. 
 
“I think it is imperative that we build relationships with other student leaders on campus to help promote involvement and participation. This upcoming year as an associate director of Undergraduate Engagement I look forward to teaming up with those student leaders to connect the student body with the resources we have available.”
 
The MSUAA welcomes any help from active and interested alumni, whether it is to serve as a mentor or return to campus to share one’s Spartan story with students.  The Association of Future Alumni will actively seek out and facilitate these partnerships.  All alumni—young ones who graduated two years ago or seasoned Spartans with a lifetime of experience—have something of value to offer today’s Spartans.  With alumni help, the Association of Future Alumni will instill in today’s student leaders that the notion of “Spartans Helping Spartans” is alive and well.  Hopefully this will inspire MSU’s best and brightest to go out in the world to pursue the objective of ensuring that the MSU legacy is accessible for generations to come.
 
In the very near future, the MSU Association of Future Alumni will become the key place on campus that high-potential students will turn to for leadership development and training, access to engaged Spartan alumni and to coalesce the resources young Spartans will need to help accomplish their personal and professional goals.  By leveraging the wisdom and experience of the Spartan Nation, the “Spartans helping Spartans” mantra that is at the center of everything the MSU Alumni Association does can soar to new heights.    
 
Dan DiMaggio, ’00, is the director of the Association of Future Alumni, which oversees the Sparty Mascot Program, the Izzone, Spartan Ambassadors and other student programs.  He lives in Haslett with his wife and two daughters.  In his spare time, he enjoys golf and watching the Detroit Tigers.
 
QUICK FACTS
The MSU Association of Future Alumni is a self-funded program.  All donations to the program go directly to support initiatives that enhance student leadership opportunities.  Through the generous support of sponsors and donors, this programming is made possible.  
 
To support the organization, contact Dan DiMaggio at (517) 355-4458 or dimaggi2@msu.edu.
 
The MSUAFA is a member of the Council for Advancement and Support of Education, Affiliated Student Advancement Programs (CASE ASAP). There are more than 60 member institutions from around the Midwest district.  The Association of Future Alumni has received many awards, including:  2009 Outstanding Internal Program; 2009 Outstanding Organization; 2009 Outstanding External Program; 2010 Outstanding Advisor; 2011 Outstanding Organization; 2011 Outstanding Internal Program; 2011 Outstanding Tried & True Program; 2013 Outstanding Advisor; and 2013 Outstanding Internal Program.