“Friend-raising” program forms bonds between Fresno State and alumni

By ESRA HASHEM, Student Writer

“This is about making a change in the relationship between Fresno State and alumni. Being able to make a difference, even if it’s only in certain alumni’s lives — that’s why I do it,” said sophomore Samantha Sharp.

Sharp is one of 17 student ambassadors who are a part of the Discovery Program, an initiative launched by the Fresno State Alumni Association last year to engage with alumni. Student ambassadors from all academic disciplines reach out to alumni who live in the Central Valley and schedule face-to-face, phone, email or Skype interviews with them. The student ambassadors ask alumni questions about what they’re doing now, what their life and career journey has been since leaving college, what their college experience was like and what their passions, interests and hobbies are.

“The purpose of the Discovery Program is really to raise friends,” said Matthew Schulz, who oversees the program. “Student ambassadors meet with alumni to hear their story, get to know them and offer opportunities to get involved at Fresno State.”

“Our alumni are a significant part of the community,” Schulz said. “Of our 233,000 alumni, roughly 60,000 live in the Fresno/Clovis area alone — not even Fresno County or the Central Valley, just in the cities of Fresno and Clovis — and we realized we didn’t know much about them. We weren’t relating to them and engaging with them as much as we could. So this program was developed to help accomplish that.”

Sharp said alumni are usually pleased to share their stories with student ambassadors.

“They’re really excited that Fresno State has taken an interest in them and wants to hear their side of it, wants them to be involved again after so many years of not hearing anything and not being involved with the university,” she said.

As a geology major, Sharp is primarily connected with alumni from the College of Science and Mathematics. Her favorite interview she conducted was with an elderly alumnus last year.

“He graduated quite a while ago — I mean, back when Fresno State was at Fresno City College’s campus,” she said. “He graduated and hadn’t heard anything from Fresno State ever since, so he automatically agreed to do an interview with me and was really excited about it. He was really happy that Fresno State had finally taken an interest. I think it was 50-something years, 60-something years, since he had heard anything from us. It really made his day that we reached out to him and this shows alumni that we care.”

Student ambassador Tanner Melton said interviewing alumni does not only re-connect them with the university, but it is also a benefit to students. A sophomore majoring in biochemistry, Melton said student ambassadors can find role models in alumni.

“This program reminds us that there’s a life outside of college,” he said. “There’s a lot of things that people can do with one degree. For example, for me, being in the College of Science and Math, most students have a very hard mindset toward being a doctor. But I’ve only interviewed one medical doctor. All the rest have had science majors but do very different things. So it’s very interesting to be able to see what you can do with one degree; it’s not this one-track highway.”

Alumni have also shared that they enjoy interacting with the students, Schulz said.

“I think our alum are extremely generous and they want to give of their time and their talent and their expertise.”

The ultimate goal of the Discovery Program is to build quality relationships with alumni. Student ambassadors approach alumni to ask them questions about themselves and share time with them, rather than for fundraising or donations. Schulz said this resonates with alumni.

“Our desire is really to re-engage alumni and develop relationships,” Schulz said. “Even if there’s no immediate opportunity for the alumni to get involved with something — we’re OK with that. While there isn’t always an instant opportunity, the student ambassadors keep them in mind and reach out to them when they learn of new opportunities.”

Several alumni have served as guest speakers in classes since the Discovery Program was launched. Even more recently, fifteen alumni committed to attend a campus career fair this month; the opportunity was presented to them by student ambassadors.

If you would like to be interviewed by a student ambassador, email Matthew Schulz at mschulz@csufresno.edu. To learn more about the Discovery Program and the student ambassadors, visit www.fresnostatealumni.com/discovery.