Q&A: Northwestern Alumni Association president talks plans to diversify alumni experiences

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Graphic by Carly Schulman

Larry Irving. Irving became president of the Northwestern Alumni Association’s Board of Directors in September.

Rayna Song, Reporter

Larry Irving (Weinberg ’76), CEO of the telecommunications and information technology consulting business Irving Group, became president of the Northwestern Alumni Association Board of Directors on Sept. 17. The Daily talked with Irving about his future plans for the NAA.

This interview has been edited for clarity and brevity.

The Daily: According to the University’s website, the NAA Board will launch a plan to better engage a Northwestern community whose demographics have shifted. Can you tell me more about this plan?

Irving: The plan was started by my predecessors. The University has changed dramatically. The alumni base has changed dramatically. I graduated from Northwestern University in the 1970s, and at the time, the University was 80 percent American-born White students. When you walk on Northwestern’s campus now, when you look at the students, they reflect the world. Fewer than 50 percent of the students at Northwestern today are American-born White students. We have gone from a regional university that reflected the Midwest to a great national university. And we’re now one of the great global universities, with international students making up (around) 11 percent of the undergraduate student body.We want to make sure the NAA reflects and works toward the interest of all of our graduates, wherever they are.

The Daily: Can you give me an example?

Irving: If you were a Northwestern graduate in Beijing, you might get a flyer about a football game in Evanston. You are not going to fly for a football game. Instead, we can tell you about a cultural event or an Alumni Association meeting in Beijing. When you buy things online these days, the person selling knows a lot of personalized information about you. Right now, the NAA does not have this level of personalization. We are not focusing on you as an individual, we are focusing on you as the Class of 2023. We want to modernize the Alumni Association to meet you where you are, and reflect what you care about, as opposed to what we think you should care about. Here are some of the questions we are asking: How do we make sure that you, as a Northwestern student, now alumni, are connected to the University for a lifetime? How do we keep you in touch with the things you care about at Northwestern?

The Daily: What do you hope to do as president of the NAA?

Irving: I want to get a sense of what students think. How do I make sure that when they graduate, they feel as much ownership and as much relationship with the NAA as I feel today. I am going to try to be accessible and as available to alumni as I can. The connection between alumni and Northwestern University starts with the student experience. So what can we do? Can we do more with mentoring? How do we make the Northwestern experience a lifelong experience, and make you feel that Northwestern is part of your life, not just four years of education?

The Daily: What role do you think the NAA plays on campus or in the NU community?

Irving: I hope that students, faculty and alumni consider it as a resource. If you are a student, you can look for mentorship or for ideas from people who have gone through what you are going through. If you are an alum, you might want to learn more about jobs or connect with classmates. If you are a faculty member, it should be a way that can help you understand what the Northwestern community wants.

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Twitter: @RaynaYu_Song

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