It has been 12 years since Mississippi State University last played host to alumni association representatives from its fellow Southeastern Conference schools.
Jimmy Abraham, associate vice president and executive director of alumni activities at MSU, said one SEC school hosts an Alumni Professionals of the SEC conference each year on a rotating schedule. After Kentucky hosts the APSEC conference next year, he said, a new, longer rotation will begin.
“Now it will be 14 years, because now we have 14 institutions in the SEC,” Abraham said. “We’re excited about hosting our newest sister institutions as well as the other schools in the SEC.”
The APSEC conference MSU hosts Tuesday and Wednesday will be the first to host Texas A&M University and the University of Missouri, added to the SEC this summer.
The APSEC representatives from each university came to town Monday, and Abraham said MSU staff gave them a tour of Starkville, sharing information about both the university and the city. The conference’s goal is for members to share ideas and address issues facing all the member alumni associations, he said. The SEC may be one of the nation’s most competitive sports conferences, he said, but at this conference, what is good for one SEC school is good for everyone.
“We want our alumni associations to be the best (they) can be,” Abraham said. “The way we do that is to learn the best practices from alumni professionals in the best conference in the land. We also have the opportunity to network with each other on a one-on-one basis while these professionals are on our campus, so we get to establish lifelong friendships and relationships with these alumni leaders.”
Kathryn Greenwade, vice president of the Texas A&M Association of Former Students, said she and other staff are excited about Texas A&M joining the SEC. Texas A&M has received a warm welcome to the SEC, she said, and so has its alumni association.
“There is a camaraderie that seems to permeate the conference,” Greenwade said. “When you’re not competing against another SEC school, you’re rooting for that school and for the conference as a whole. The nice thing about alumni associations is, we don’t compete with each other. We have our defined audiences, so we can learn from each other and share with each other.”
Greenwade said it has been about 30 years since she last visited Starkville, working for two summers at a camp near Macon. She said she has heard many good things about The Little Dooey, where the APSEC attendees will dine Tuesday night.
“It looks like Mississippi State has got a great schedule for us,” Greenwade said. “We like coming to Mississippi State, because you guys share our colors.”
Todd McCubbin, executive director of the Mizzou Alumni Association, said his last visit to MSU was in December 1992 as a basketball player at Truman State University, then known as Northeast Missouri State University. His team lost to MSU 72-48, he said, but he is still looking forward to returning to MSU, as he didn’t see much of the campus last time.
“Being in this role, it’s always fun to visit a new campus,” McCubbin said. “You can always take away little things that your university can improve.”
Like Greenwade, McCubbin said his university and its students and staff are excited to join the SEC. The move also benefits a large contingent of alumni, he said.
“Our alumni base — especially in the Southeast — has become very active and are looking forward to frequent trips south from their Tigers,” McCubbin said. “We are very pleased to be joining the top conference in the country.”
Keynote speakers for the conference include SEC Executive Associate Commissioner Greg Sankey, MSU College of Education Dean Emeritus Roy Ruby, MSU Campus Services Vice President Amy Tuck and Richard Shadyac Jr., CEO of ALSAC, the fundraising organization for St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. While Shadyac does not represent an alumni association himself, Abraham said alumni associations will be able to learn much from the way St. Jude markets itself.
“They do an outstanding job of marketing their services, and they are also experts on customer service and dealing with so many people they have to deal with,” Abraham said. “They also have a great story to tell on how they help kids. It’s also about how we interact with alumni and how we market our institutions to alumni in other ways as well. Our alumni are literally our voice around the world. The more they know about their alma mater, the better they are able to promote and help us.”
Each university gives one presentation during the conference, Abraham said. Sheri Pape, marketing and communication coordinator for Shared Advancement Services, will give MSU’s presentation on in-house communications.
“Our communication department serves the (MSU) Alumni Association, the (MSU) Foundation and the (MSU) vice president’s office,” Pape said. “We’re going to talk about how we’re very much set up like an advertising agency. We’re like any other company that would have their own communication department within their organization.”
McCubbin said members of his delegation will discuss Missouri’s homecoming ceremonies. He said he believes Missouri’s model can help other alumni associations understand the role traditions and campus partnerships play in their everyday goals.
“We have one of the oldest celebrations in the country, and it unites the entire campus community,” McCubbin said. “It is a tremendous alumni relations opportunity for Mizzou.”
Greenwade said one of her association’s primary responsibilities is maintaining Texas A&M’s Aggie Ring program. The association sells about 10,000 Aggie rings per year, she said, and other universities may be able to learn from the way Texas A&M manages this tradition.
“I think that we have a program that’s well run,” Greenwade said. “It’s not something that we created at the alumni association. It’s something that’s been created over 80 years at the university. I think we do a good job of making the ordering and receiving of the ring a true milestone for students. It’s something that’s very sacred to us.”