Conference in D.C. draws more than 800 alumni volunteers

John Foote '74 has been attending alumni conferences for more than 30 years. But the diverse array of participants made this year's Cornell Alumni Leadership Conference, held Jan. 29-31 in Washington, D.C., stand out from the rest, he said. "There's no party line with Cornellians," he said. "You saw this really diverse set of opinions being expressed. It was an terrific microcosm of what Cornell's all about."

Foote was one of more than 800 volunteering alumni who attended the conference, which was organized by the Office of Alumni Affairs. Participants from dozens of Cornell Clubs, classes, associations and geographical regions attended to brainstorm and share ways to connect as Cornellians.

Many of the nearly 40 sessions offered a toolbox of solutions to the day-to-day challenges that all alumni groups share, from how to leverage social media to how to get alumni to open e-mails (and read them).

"The point was for successful clubs to share with other clubs but also with other classes, so we had this cross-pollination of volunteer activity," said Chris Marshall, associate vice president for alumni affairs.

Cornell was the main topic of the weekend -- but not the only one. One of the biggest draws was a session on "Obama From the Inside Out: Grading the Obama Administration," featuring Vice President and Dean Glenn Altschuler, M.A. '73, Ph.D. '76, and CBS TV correspondent Jim Axelrod '85. Faculty, staff, alumni and trustees also made presentations on topics from health care reform to this academic year's new-student reading assignment, John Steinbeck's "The Grapes of Wrath."

"All of these sessions are to train our leaders to know the institution better and be able to talk about what's relevant right now at Cornell," Marshall said.

The leadership conference builds on the success of the Mid-Winter Meeting, hosted since 1905 by the Cornell Association of Class Officers. That annual training weekend is open only to class officers, while the conference was open to all Cornell volunteers.

The most heavily represented groups were the Cornell Association of Class Officers, volunteers with regional clubs and members of the Cornell Alumni Admissions Ambassador Network. The alumni associations of the Hotel School, Johnson School and College of Human Ecology held their board meetings during the weekend, as did the Cornell Alumni Association and some University Council committees.

Marshall said that he hopes that eventually all Cornell affiliate groups will participate. "That will take a few years," he said, "but we're really happy with this first step out of the gate."

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Claudia Wheatley