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A Letter to the Next President & CEO

Dear 9th President & CEO of the WVU Alumni Association,

Congratulations on your selection as the next President & CEO of the 148-year-old WVU Alumni Association! The position you sit in is one of hallowed ground, shaped and formed by Mountaineer legacies such as Marmaduke Dent, David Jacobs, and Steve Douglas. You lead a team who serves and represents over 220,000 living alumni—the university’s only permanent constituency and its largest. Our alumni are inextricably bonded to each other and their alma mater for life; your role is to steward these relationships to ensure each prospers. 

Your position is one of service and I urge you to view it as a calling, not a job. While you will undoubtedly be consumed from day one with issues surrounding organizational schemes such as governance, structure, and funding, what our alumni will care most about is how well you’re supporting the advancing their lives and professional careers while enhancing their emotional and intellectual ties to fellow alumni and to their alma mater.

Time will go by quickly. It’s hard for me to believe that it was almost six years ago my family and I stood on the 10-yard line of Mountaineer field as Bill Nevin introduced us to Mountaineer nation. As I reflect on my time, I’m proud of our team and what we accomplished. My sense of gratefulness rivals that of my career serving our nation as an Air Force officer and I’m hoping some of my reflections will help to inform you as you build your plan for our future.

I was caught by surprise when I discovered that Mountaineers lead some of the largest companies in the fashion industry. I had no idea that our academic programs include those in fashion and textiles, let alone that we had some of the top industry leaders in the nation. Yet, there I was at an alumni event in Los Angeles speaking to John Parros, who had never been connected to WVU since his graduation. A leader in the industry attending his first alumni event ever, John would later return to Morgantown to serve as an Executive in Residence for a semester and host events for us in Los Angeles.

I learned valuable lessons from this chance meeting with John that focused my efforts from that point forward. First, we have alumni in top positions in every industry you can imagine. Second, many alumni in these positions are eager to be reconnected with their alma mater in a meaningful way. Third, to find those you don’t know, you have to be innovative in your approach to reaching out to them; in this case it was a LinkedIn invite and our first use of the platform for inviting alumni to an event.

On January 25, 2020, Chloe Beth Robertson, a WVU senior tragically passed away from injuries sustained in a car accident caused by a drunk driver. Chloe was from Clermont, Florida and her memorial service was to be held in her hometown. When we learned the details of her funeral at the last minute, we reached out to Kim and Joe Abel, the leaders of our Central Florida Chapter. They, along with many local Mountaineers, attended Chloe’s funeral representing Mountaineer Nation and the power of their presence was deeply appreciated by her parents and family. Our alumni made a difference in the lives of people who were going through a very difficult time.

As you can see, the important role our alumni chapters play in the lives of Mountaineers cannot be underestimated. In August of 2017, the Houston area experienced over 50 inches of rain in just four days. Thousands of homes were flooded, and roads were impassable. Heather and Chris Dishman, the leaders of our Lone Star Chapter, went right to work. They checked-in with all Mountaineers in the Houston area and learned that over 20 Mountaineer families had to evacuate their homes. Over the course of the next several months Heather and Chris, along with members of the chapter, led an effort to ensure these displaced Mountaineers had places to stay and food to eat. In many cases, Mountaineers gathered at a flooded home, helping to remove ruined furniture, tearing out damaged drywall, and preparing these spaces to be livable again. It was an extraordinary effort, all led by volunteers!

Last May, Michala Luck, a 2020 graduate of our Supply Chain Management program, received notice that her job offer had been rescinded due to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. When we learned of this, we immediately sent an SOS to our alumni with her story and credentials. Within two weeks, two of our alumni at the Hershey Company reached out to her and shortly thereafter, she accepted a position at their company. Over and over, I’ve witnessed our ability to overcome challenges through the power of the alumni network. Connecting people in ways that are valuable to them is one of your most important roles.

You’re going to receive a lot of calls, letters, emails, and texts from alumni all over the globe. Some with good news, some with bad news, some with critical feedback about the alumni association and/or university, some with requests about what’s going on in Morgantown, and some who just want to know their opinion is being heard. All are important.
The alumni association serves as a safe haven for our alumni to ask questions, provide feedback to university leadership or solve issues they might be experiencing. This role is vitally important. I received a letter from an alumnus who walked on the WVU Swim Team in the 1980s to fill the role of our star diver, who had been injured and out for the season. Kevin went on to play an important role for the team, but circumstances prevented him from receiving his varsity letter. We informed our athletic department, and they verified the story was true. That Christmas, our team at WVU Athletics worked with his wife to ensure that Kevin had a surprise package under the tree. When he opened the package, he found his long-ago earned varsity jacket and letter.

I am confident that each day you will have experiences just like these. What makes this position rewarding are the people—your team, our alumni, those you collaborate with at the university and beyond. It has been an honor and privilege for me to serve in this position and I’m sure you will feel the same way. I look forward to watching our Alumni Association grow and prosper so that we can continue the tradition of serving our alumni and the institution we all love and cherish in a manner that is valuable to them. 

Our future is bright!

Sean, ‘89
8th President & CEO of the WVU Alumni Association