Organizing a trip to a Major League Soccer game for 100 people could intimidate anyone. Not to mention a community garden, a networking meeting for young alumni, or even a WSU football viewing party. Fortunately, there’s an engine that drives the Cougar nation and its events: volunteers.
Ashley MacMillan ’05, president of the Oregon Chapter of the WSU Alumni Association, has seen that engine work. “We have so many people here who are passionate about being involved with other Cougs, we’ve been able to diversify our events,” she says.
That includes the hottest sports ticket in Portland: MLS soccer team the Timbers, which is one of the chapter’s family-friendly events. Her chapter also partners with the southwest Washington chapter on everything from Cougar football viewing parties at Tom’s Pizza and Sports Pub to regional wine tours.
One volunteer, Jenna Newcomb ’03, has taken on annual wine tours as her project. “She’s learned the logistics, so every year she has the contacts and know-how. She’s also mentoring other volunteers,” says MacMillan.
Kim Mueller ’91, director of alumni engagement at the WSUAA, says the sheer volume of alumni events is only possible with dedicated people like MacMillan and Newcomb.
“The Alumni Association runs on our volunteers,” she says. “We plan about 500 events a year. There’s no way our team of four could do that, so we rely on people who want to connect with Cougars.”
More volunteers are always needed at chapters all over the country, says Mueller.
A volunteer leadership conference offered twice a year keeps people connected to campus, she says. They see what’s new and hear about research—such as WSU Spokane Chancellor Lisa Brown on the medical school, and a visit to concussion researcher Kasee Hildebrand’s lab.
“We pay for travel for our chapter leaders to come to Pullman,” says Mueller. “They can go back to their communities and say, ‘You won’t believe what’s happening on campus!’”
The conference also imparts ideas for how to plan and promote events, and how to bring in more volunteers.
“The training has been wonderful in expanding our chapter,” says MacMillan. “We’re really learning how to seek out new volunteers and how to plan for the coming years.”
Mueller loves to hear about the events: “I get chills from seeing pictures of community service projects, from Habitat for Humanity to a garden for a food bank.”
MacMillan says everybody can help, no matter how much time they give. “Don’t be afraid of the time commitment. With a one-year-old daughter, I understand it’s as much or as little as you can.”