Alumni Relations Council

The Alumni Association of the University of Michigan formed the Alumni Relations Council (ARC) in 2016 for the University community to share transformative alumni engagement ideas, research, and strategies.

ARC offers a forum for networking, learning, and collaboration with peers and national experts on diverse alumni engagement topics. It is our goal that ARC members walk away with the skills needed to enhance alumni connections within units and across the University.

Quarterly Alumni Relations Council events bring national experts and University thought leaders together to share the latest thinking on high-impact strategies, while smaller working meetings facilitate workshopping ideas with peers. The opportunity to connect with both industry leaders and peers is just one of the reasons you’ll never want to miss an ARC offering. To find out more about our upcoming meeting,  join our mailing list.


Thursday, Dec. 5, 2019
9:30 a.m. – 11:30 a.m.
The Assembly Hall at Rackham

Networking breakfast and registration opens at 9 a.m.

Join us as thought leaders come together to discuss the changing nature of the workforce and how it’s impacting Michigan alumni, their careers, and overall educational programming efforts. This session will provide an overview of how the traditional career development trajectory has and is continuing to change across the nation. Our session will cover topics such as:

  • Increase in flexible, freelance, and contract work arrangements
  • Skill or competency versus degree-based recruiting
  • Less time spent in positions with the average at 2 – 3 years
  • Millennials and young alumni pivoting earlier and more often in their careers

We look forward to discussing how these trends, and many others, are making an impact on how we engage and serve our alumni and students every day.

Can’t join us in person? RSVP as an online attendee and a link for a live stream will be sent to you via email prior to the session.


Alex Cavoulacos

Alex is the Founder & President of The Muse, an organization that helps people better navigate their careers and help companies attract and retain great employees. She has authored the book, The New Rules of Work which comes recommended by the likes of Adam Grant and Arianna Huffington. In addition, Alex was named one of Forbes 30 Under 30 in Media, INC’s 15 Women to Watch in Tech and Business Insider’s 30 Most Important Women Under 30 in Tech. She is a frequent keynote on the future of work, productivity, and entrepreneurship. Prior to founding The Muse, Alex was a management consultant at McKinsey & Company. She graduated from Yale University, and is an alumna of Y Combinator.


Michael Steelman ’02

Michael Steelman’s career is closely tied to the growth of the Alumni Career Services Network, a national organization with representatives from over 200 national higher education institutions. Since 2011 he has served in various board positions including among others, serving as President of the organization. He currently serves as the Director of Alumni Career Management and Professional Networks at William and Mary and was formerly in a similar role at George Washington University. Michael has witnessed first hand, both growth and significant shifts in the career higher education landscape.

Ried Elenich ‘00

Ried Elenich leads the Customer Reference Program at Upwork, a leading online talent solution transforming professional staffing. She works with the companies and professionals working in Upwork to share the stories of how access to a global pool of proven talent empowers their teams to scale dynamically to meet business needs. Since graduating from the University of Michigan in 2000, Ried has worked in public relations representing global brand leaders including Dolby, IBM, Microsoft, and Owens Corning.

Nakia Johnson ‘97

Prior to her current role as a Senior Manager in Global Customer Care at Google, Nakia held multiple positions in clinical research and development at the University of Michigan and at two top 10 global clinical research organizations. She spent a year of her career as the Project Director-Grants Administration in the City of Detroit’s Office of the Emergency Manager where she accelerated the work of grants management reform for the city. Nakia enjoys contributing to the Ann Arbor community, which she calls home, and appreciates the range of ever-evolving arts and culture opportunities in Michigan. As one who delights in working with great people, ideas, and tools to solve problems, she has served on the Board of Directors of the Alzheimer’s Association, Great Lakes Chapter, and as a trustee of the Ann Arbor Awesome Foundation. She currently serves on the Board of Directors for the Ann Arbor Art Center.

Alumni Relations Resources

Academic Impressions Webinars

Academic Impressions (AI) serves higher education professionals by providing educational products and services that help institutions tackle key, strategic challenges. University community members can access free Advancement trainings and resources through the Alumni Association’s institutional membership. Contact Natalie Kittikul for U-M’s membership code, then log-in at to create your account.

Educational Advisory Board Research

The Educational Advisory Board helps today’s education leaders solve their biggest problems.

U-M staff can access the Education Advisory Board’s digital offerings on advancement and alumni engagement thanks to support from the Office of University Development.

  • Advancement Forum – The Advancement Forum provides advancement leaders with best-practice research and analytics to retain top fundraising talent, engage alumni, and increase philanthropic revenue.
  • Alumni Volunteerism and Leadership Resource Center – This resource center is a repository of implementation guidance and insights from our 2015 research initiative, The New Rules of Engagement. It is focused on the activation of millennial and Generation X segments: those elusive mid-career alumni who will constitute tomorrow’s key donor and leader pipeline. See The New Rules of Engagement infographic for five strategies for building the next generation of alumni leaders and volunteers.

Additional EAB resources are available to U-M staff who create a profile via U-M’s membership, or in the Alumni Relations Council folder in Box at U-M.

Previous Sessions

Did you miss an Alumni Relations Council event? Or are you curious about the type of information we provide? You can download a PDF of any of the files from our meetings.

June 2019: Lifelong Learning + Alumni Engagement

On June 20, we hosted thought leaders from across campus to explore multiple aspects of lifelong learning. This ARC session provided a modern look at lifelong learning as well as suggestions on how you can easily incorporate aspects of online education into your alumni engagement work (e.g., Alumni Education Gateway). We learned things from faculty who are newly entering the digital space as well as veterans who have internationally popular MOOCs. The panel also included faculty and staff discussing their strategies for sharing educational content with U-M alumni.

Resources from Academic Innovation and the Alumni Association’s Alumni Education Gateway (AEG) were reviewed. ARC members were encouraged to use campus resources, including the AEG Toolkit and sending content for the AEG.


Katie Doyle, MSW ’97, MBA ’13, School of Social Work

Katie Doyle shared her reasons for recently embracing digital learning and how the School of Social Work is intentionally creating in-person experiences, online courses, and blending the two.

Connie Lareau, MBA ‘93, Executive Education

Connie Lareau reviewed some of the thinking behind Executive Education’s strategy for online learners. She also shared a potential flipped classroom approach to Executive Education, where students learn the concepts first and work together to solve real-world problems.

Chuck Severance, Ph.D., School of Information

Dr. Chuck Severance discussed Michigan’s involvement in creating the first digital course platform as well as online courses today. He emphasized the importance of the user experience and relationship building within the digital space. Future opportunities in lifelong learning include creating assessments that require learners to master the content, instead of gaming multiple choice tests; creating digital patients to help train students and keep real patients safe; and finding effective ways to bring learning opportunities across interdisciplinary spaces.


See the ARC June 2019 Session Slide Deck

February 2019: Uncovering the Value of DEI + Alumni Engagement

Through a series of interactive exercises and discussions, attendees will uncover ideas and definitions of diversity that impact how we relate to each other and alumni we serve. Participants will also gain insight on the changing landscape of philanthropy, the business case for diversity, and the evolution of DEI in alumni engagement and philanthropy.

Rob Henry, keynote presenter, is vice president of education at CASE where he is responsible for creating an overall global strategy for achieving CASE’s vision and mission related to talent management and for guiding conference programming, diversity/inclusion initiatives, research and the CASE Library

See the ARC Feb. 2019 Session Slide Deck

November 2018: ARC Lunch & Learn - Online Communities 2.0

In today’s world, there’s no reason to limit our engagement with alumni based on where they live. We will expand our outreach to connect with them in deeper ways that are based on things like interests and shared experiences. From communities centered around everything from sports and culture to travel and tech, we can cultivate more meaningful engagement with our alumni.

Bottom line, we want alumni to feel that we are with them all the time, in whatever way possible, by expanding organic and structured points of connection.

Visit for more information about Online Communities.

See the ARC Nov. 2018 Session Slide Deck

September 2018: The Principles of Change Leadership with Patrick Doyle, Former CEO of Domino’s

Patrick Doyle has served as president and CEO of Domino’s since March 2010, an appointment that came after nearly 13 years with the company. He announced his plans to depart Domino’s in July 2018 after eight years of guiding Domino’s to industry-elite levels of sales performances, earnings growth, shareholder return and franchisee profitability. Patrick earned his undergraduate degree in economics at the University of Michigan, and went on to earn his MBA from the University of Chicago Booth School of Business. Patrick will share lessons learned from Domino’s, and applications for higher education.

See the ARC Sept. 2018 Session Slide Deck

May 2018: Expanding Alumni Engagement Through Online Communities

What We Learned

Heather McNair, VP of Engagement Technology for Higher Logic, shared industry trends on leveraging technology to maximize engagement and informed attendees on how online platforms can be a catalyst for creating and sustaining alumni connections. Steve Burns, Director for Global Engagement, walked through an online demo of the new Online Communities & Online Directory platform. The session concluded with a panel discussion on lessons from the Online Communities Pilot launch, which took place winter semester with the U of M Club of Washington, D.C., MLaw Entrepreneurs, U of M Club of Chicago, and Alumni Association Club Leaders. We’re excited to share that Online Communities will launch for all Michigan alumni in late summer 2018.

Visit for more information about Online Communities.
See the ARC May Session Slide Deck

March 2018: Is Alumni Engagement an Art? Or a Science?

On March 9, Jennifer Cunningham, a nationally recognized expert in alumni engagement metrics (and an Assistant Vice President for Alumni Relations at Lehigh University), delivered an Alumni Relations Council talk titled, “Is Alumni Engagement an Art? Or a science?”

“What we do is an art, but we also need to apply some science to it,” Cunningham told the crowd gathered at the Alumni Center on Friday morning. “ … Alumni engagement metrics don’t tell us what to do. Metrics guide our decisions and actions so we can be more effective.”


Cunningham emphasized quality interactions with alumni over planning more and more events, noting that while it’s easy to get caught up in the latter, alumni attendees are more likely to engage in a sustained way when they feel they’ve been heard.

One way to achieve this is by using short, simple net promoter surveys that consist of just two questions: “Based on your experience, how likely are you to recommend this to another alumna/us?” using a 0-10 scale from very unlikely to extremely likely, and “Why did you answer that way?”

Cunningham explained that the open-ended question allows alumni to cut to the chase and tell you precisely what they thought could be better, or what they loved about a program. “What you can learn from these two questions is fascinating, and it provides a great opportunity to follow up and call people and say, ‘Hey, I’m wondering what you thought about this.’ … Instead of someone becoming more and more unhappy, this allows us to ask ourselves, how can we turn it around and get them to come back? And if they’re happy, how do we get them to be an ambassador?”

Interestingly, Cunningham said that attendees who give an event a high score, and those who give it a low score, often offer nearly identical feedback on logistics or food. So what makes the difference? It’s the sense of being united with others. “People who got the group hug overlooked that stuff, because what was important is that they got to talk to each other,” said Cunningham. “ … It’s not about the chicken. It’s about the connections.”

Cunningham also talked about alumni relations methods that don’t work – relying too much on science, or too much on art; whining about colleagues who don’t get it; complaining about bad technology; complexity; and doing nothing – and the many benefits of upselling or cross-selling. By way of example, Cunningham showed a brief grocery list, followed by a photo of a full-to-bursting shopping cart.

“In one store, they put the bananas right by the cereal, making it really easy for you to buy something else,” said Cunningham. “And what do they do at McDonald’s? For forty cents, you can supersize your meal. … For us, when we get people to come to homecoming, we need to not only make them feel good when they’re here, … but we also need to actively go out there and supersize them. … While they’re here, why don’t we do everything we can to get them to come back for something else?”

Cristina Frendo, Director of Alumni Engagement at University of Michigan-Dearborn, thought Cunningham’s thoughts on cross-selling were among the talk’s most valuable takeaways.

“Because we’re so decentralized, cross-selling is what we do, and it’s not going away,” said Frendo. “We need to embrace that. … And the creation of the Alumni Relations Council helps us with cross-selling, giving us the opportunity to hear what Flint’s doing, and share what’s going on in Dearborn.”

Meanwhile, Beanie Zollweg, Manager for Student Engagement at the Alumni Association, was interested in Cunningham’s comments about how to transition students to be engaged alumni, and experienced an “ah-ha moment” while listening to Cunningham’s thoughts on short net promoter surveys. “If we don’t ask what they’re thinking about, we won’t know,” said Zollweg. “I really like the idea that if you keep it simple, they’ll tell us what we want to know.”

Finally, Brent Nickola, Alumni Relations Manager at University of Michigan-Flint, felt reassured by Cunningham’s talk. “We’re headed in the right direction, and we’re ahead of the game on some things,” he said. “It was heartening to see that some of the work we’re doing on our campus, in collaboration with everyone else, is in line with what a national expert came here to tell us.”

September 2017: Alumni Engagement in the Third Century

The Alumni Relations Council kicked off with a very provocative session, Alumni Engagement in the Third Century, in which three Michigan deans and the President of the Alumni Association challenged the 100+ U-M staff in attendance to reimagine the definitions of “alumni” and “engagement.”

Additional takeaways from the panel included:

  • Use an alumni-centric approach to learn how they define the University and the types of opportunities that are meaningful to them.
  • Give alumni entryways into the world of alumni engagement so that they can connect where they feel comfortable, and can access the many engagement opportunities in a coherent way.
  • Strengthen ties to future alumni (i.e. students) while they are on campus.

It was encouraging to hear the panelists express the value of alumni relations professionals and the role we have in transformative alumni engagement. We also welcomed many new faces to the ARC community and look forward to being a valuable network for you at Michigan.

ARC meeting topics for 2017-18 will include alumni engagement metrics, online alumni communities, and innovations in alumni volunteer boards. As we finalize event dates, I invite you to complete this short survey to share your thoughts on what topics you would like to see the ARC community explore further.

Read more about the distinguished panelists.

Scott DeRue, Dean, Ross School of Business

With a background in private equity, management consulting, and academia, Scott DeRue, the Edward J. Frey Dean of the Stephen M. Ross School of Business at the University of Michigan, is a widely published thought leader in business education and action-based learning, as well as an award-winning researcher and instructor. He believes that business is the most powerful force for economic and social impact — and it is the responsibility of Michigan Ross to develop the next generation of business leaders.

DeRue joined Michigan Ross in 2007, taking on multiple leadership roles over time. Prior to his deanship, DeRue served as the associate dean for Executive Education, professor of management, director of the Sanger Leadership Center, and faculty director of the Emerging Leaders Program. He also led the creation and launch of Alumni Advantage, a new initiative connecting Ross alumni to the school and university. Offerings include free tuition for executive education programming, access to livestreamed school events, and the opportunity to attend #ROSSTALKS, a series of global events where faculty present TED-style talks on hot-button business topics.

Prior to joining Ross, DeRue worked at the Monitor Group (now Monitor Deloitte). He received his PhD in management from Michigan State University and his Bachelor of Science in Business Administration from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Andrew Martin, Dean, College of Literature, Science, and the Arts

Andrew D. Martin is the dean of the College of Literature, Science, and the Arts at the University of Michigan. He is also a professor of political science and statistics, and he is proud to be both an educator and a student advocate.

As dean, he leads the largest academic unit at U-M. In addition to overseeing its daily work, he has led significant new initiatives for diversity, equity, and inclusion, and for scholarships and internships. He has also driven the creation of the new LSA Opportunity Hub.

As a researcher, Andrew’s expertise lies in the study of judicial decision-making, particularly with regard to the U.S. Supreme Court. He is the co-creator of the Martin-Quinn Scores, which measure the ideology of Supreme Court justices and are routinely cited by academics and leading news outlets alike. His research has been supported by the National Science Foundation, the MacArthur Foundation, and the National Institutes of Health.

In addition to serving as dean, Andrew teaches courses in judicial decision-making and political methodology at both the undergraduate and graduate levels. He earned his B.A. in mathematics and government from the College of William & Mary and his Ph.D. in political science from Washington University in St. Louis.

Steve Grafton, President & CEO, Alumni Association

Steve Grafton is in his 23rd year as President and CEO of the Alumni Association of the University of Michigan. In this role, he ensures that the Association continually provides greater opportunities for engagement to Michigan alumni to involve them in greater levels of support for their University.

Beyond his responsibilities at the Alumni Association, Grafton has been actively involved throughout the University community, serving as a longstanding member of the Dean’s Council Development Subcommittee and for 10 years was chair of the Advisory Council for the University’s Museum of Natural History. He also served as a member of the board of the Ginsberg Center for Community Service Learning and in 2015 was a member of the Provost’s Committee on Diversity, Equity & Inclusion. In 2016, he served on the University Bicentennial Alumni Awards Committee.

Grafton is a charter member and past President of the Council of Alumni Association Executives (CAAE). He also served on the board of trustees of the Council for Advancement and Support of Education (CASE) and chaired CASE’s Commission on Alumni Relations. He has been a district director and faculty member for numerous CASE conferences, an author of articles on alumni relations, and an editor of the “Handbook of Institutional Advancement.”

Before coming to Michigan, Grafton was executive director of the Mississippi State University Alumni Association. He also served as legislative director for U.S. Sen. John Stennis, D-MS. He has a bachelor’s degree in political science and a master’s in public policy and administration, both from Mississippi State University. He and his wife Carol have two sons, who are both graduates of the University of Michigan.

The event was moderated by Ralph Johnson, MBA’92, Chair of the Alumni Association Board of Directors and Ombud for the Americas region, McKinsey & Company.

Ralph Johnson, MBA’92

Ombud for the Americas region at the consulting firm of McKinsey & Company. Ralph is the former chair of the University’s annual fund campaign, and also a former chair of the Ross School of Business’ Alumni Board of Governors.

June 2017: New Rules – Strategic Next Steps

Participants reviewed The New Rules of Engagement and brainstormed how to turn new alumni engagement ideas into strategic action.

May 2017: New Rules of Engagement

November 2016: Deeper Dive into Data for Alumni Relations

Meeting Recap

Professor Melville led participants in activities designed to provide a “deeper dive” into learning how data and metrics can support and amplify alumni relations. Attendees received a complimentary copy of Data Driven Nonprofits.

September 2016: How Data Can Optimize Alumni Engagement

Meeting Recap

Ross alum Peter Faricy, ’95, shared his Amazon insight at the September meeting to help attendees understand how data can optimize customer (or alumni) engagement. Professor Nigel Melville shed light on how AR teams can become more data-informed organizations. The School of Information previewed a Bicentennial App that will launch in January 2017.

April 2016: Storytelling and Creating Joy in Alumni Relations

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