The University’s Black Alumni Network endeavors to foster a supportive community and opportunities such as professional development and community service for alumni as well as current students.
June 2, 2021
When the University of New Haven’s Myatt Center for Diversity and Inclusion opened its doors in the fall of 2016, Ronald E’an Pierce ’16 wanted to find a way to support the new space and the students who would be using it. As a recent graduate who was beginning his career, he wasn’t yet sure how to do that, but he remained interested in fostering opportunities for his fellow Chargers.
While attending Homecoming in 2019, Pierce didn’t see as much engagement from the University’s Black alumni as he had hoped, and he had an idea: recreate the Black alumni association that had existed many years earlier. He and some of his fellow alumni began exploring how to do just that. Now he is president and a proud member of the University’s new Black Alumni Network (BAN).
“I have a great passion for the success and health of the University, the equity of Black and Latinx students, and the success of alumni post-graduation,” said Pierce, who now works for Travelers Insurance as an account executive. “These ideas help all of us move forward positively. It works in a cyclical manner: The more equitable and successful Black and Latinx students – all students really – are, the greater the probability that they will be successful alumni, which contributes to the University’s reputation, success, and health. It’s a cycle in which we all win.”
‘It is important to stay connected to other alumni’
Launched officially this spring, the BAN comprises three committees that focus on community, development, and engagement. Members develop programming, such as networking opportunities, student support, and community service events. The BAN fosters ongoing service and engagement with Black alumni while creating a sense of community.
With a focus on increasing alumni engagement, including participation in alumni events and community service, the BAN offers opportunities for professional development, such as opportunities to mentor current students. The BAN collaborates with departments at the University, such as Admissions, the Myatt Center, Student Affairs, and the Career Development Center.
“One element of the network we have emphasized is sustainability,” said Pierce. “We want this network to be a part of the foundational culture at the University as we move forward. We believe the opportunities to impact the campus community are infinite, and we look to make a positive impact wherever we can."
Mackenzie Upshaw '17, '19 M.S., vice president of the BAN, hopes it will enable current students to network, find internships and jobs, and develop as professionals, providing the same meaningful opportunities that she had when she was a student.
“My University of New Haven experience was shaped by the connections I made with Black alumni and with current students,” said Upshaw, a juvenile justice case manager at SCO Family of Services in Brooklyn, NY. “Many alumni return to support current students. It is important to stay connected to other alumni and to assist current students.”
‘A space created by us, for us’
Upshaw, Pierce, and their fellow BAN organizers conducted surveys that included alumni and current students to gauge their interests and assess their needs. They then developed their plan for the BAN, which they envision as a supportive community for alumni that will also serve students and student organizations.
“If there had been a Black Alumni Network during my college years, I believe it would have made a world of difference to me to know I had access to alumni who understand my experience and can give me advice and mentorship on how to best navigate the rigors of college,” said Pierce. “Alumni are spread across so many industries and business sectors, and they have found success and can offer so much insight. That alone makes the BAN incredibly valuable.”
The BAN is already connecting alumni on Instagram, through its Facebook group, and through the BAN LinkedIn group. Organizers hope alumni will continue to get involved with their fellow Chargers through the new organization.
“The Black Alumni Network needs the participation of our alumni of color,” said Upshaw. “This is a space for us to network, engage, support, and foster a community of professionals. If you have a skill or opportunity for alumni/current students that you feel would greatly benefit our network, we would love your involvement. This is a space created by us, for us.”