April 27, 2022 was a cold and windy day in Waterloo. As they arrived at Laurier’s Alumni Field, Wilfrid Laurier University Alumni Association (WLUAA) board members warmed up with a hot drink, voices muffled by the oversized purple and gold scarves they were wearing. Despite the blustery conditions, the excitement of change was in the air.
Soon, the WLUAA representatives headed onto Alumni Field, joined by Laurier President and Vice-Chancellor Deborah MacLatchy, Vice President of Student Affairs Ivan Joseph, Vice President Advancement and External Relations Jason Coolman, Acting Director of Athletics and Recreation Kate McCrae Bristol, and the presidents of the Wilfrid Laurier University Students’ Union and Graduate Students’ Association (GSA). The group gathered around a small pile of dirt supporting six shovels.
While the shovels weren’t literally going to break through the turf that day, their symbolic meaning energized everyone: the renovation of Alumni Field was soon to begin.
– Ryan Smith
Support for the redevelopment of Alumni Field is one of the WLUAA’s most recent and most significant contributions in a long history of philanthropy and engagement. The association has provided $800,000 toward the current project, which will increase Alumni Field to FIFA-regulation size, as well as add stands, a video scoreboard and press box. In addition to WLUAA’s contribution, Laurier’s Students’ Union and Graduate Students’ Association provided a combined $1.25 million in funding.
“Laurier alumni remain engaged after graduation because of that special Laurier experience that extends beyond the classroom,” then WLUAA president Ryan Smith said during the ground-breaking event. “A big part of that experience is Alumni Field, which is a centre of Waterloo campus life. As an alumni association, we are proud to partner with the Students’ Union, the GSA and the university to revitalize and improve the field for the next generation of students.”
The Wilfrid Laurier University Alumni Association was formally incorporated in 1994. With 113,000 alumni members around the world and a vision of a thriving community of engaged alumni who champion the Laurier experience, the WLUAA is on a mission to provide leadership and value to the university, its alumni and students. Membership in the WLUAA starts at graduation and lasts for life, though the association also works to reach current students, who Smith refers to as “alumni of the future.”
The WLUAA’s leaderships starts with a committed and passionate board of directors that works in close collaboration with the university’s Advancement team and more broadly with stakeholders across Laurier, including providing representation on the Board of Governors and Senate. The association’s many initiatives have a significant impact on the university and its alumni.
These initiatives include the Gradvantages alumni benefits program; professional development and networking events; volunteer opportunities for alumni in and beyond the classroom; awards opportunities; social events; and access to Laurier’s Career Centre and Alumni Employment Services.
“WLUAA brings together a diversified network of former alumni, who through their experiences and reflection aim to help Laurier continuously improve the experience of current, future and past students,” says Sandeep Lehal (MBA ’17), who has served as a member of the WLUAA board of directors since 2021.
“I have had a very positive experience being a member of the WLUAA board. Our members and university staff work as a collaborative team and keep a growth mindset in all the work we do.”
The giving of “time, talent and treasure” is at the heart of WLUAA activities.
Philanthropically, the association is a major driver of student success at Laurier, giving a total of nearly $3.5 million since its inception. Highlights include a $1-million donation to Catalyst: The Campaign for Wilfrid Laurier University, which included $750,000 to support student mental health initiatives, social innovation and social entrepreneurship, and student financial support; an $800,000 pledge in 2019 in support of enhanced sexual violence counselling for students, the redevelopment of the Waterloo campus Indigenous Student Centre, the Library’s innovative Makerspace, and a renewal of student financial support; and recent support for the redevelopment of Alumni Field.
This level of giving is made possible by the Gradvantages program. Partnering with organizations such as BMO Mastercard, Manulife and TD Insurance Meloche Monnex, the WLUAA connects alumni with exclusive benefits and offers. These mutually beneficial partnerships result in revenue which the WLUAA uses to support student and alumni programming, as well as philanthropic initiatives that support Laurier students and enhancements to the Laurier experience.
Giving back means more than financial contributions. The WLUAA is an engaged organization that works with Laurier’s Student Alumni Association and Alumni Relations team to present Toast to the Class, an event that celebrates the university’s newest alumni. The association also works with the Alumni Relations team on Homecoming, as well as the annual Wilfrid Laurier University Alumni Association Awards of Excellence, which recognize successful and impactful Laurier alumni. The association also supports Partners in Excellence, which provides both funding and guidance to support student initiatives.
The WLUAA hosts networking events for its members, too, locally, nationally and internationally. Members represent the WLUAA when volunteering their time as part of Helping Hawks – an annual volunteer event with alumni taking part around the world. Events and opportunities take place globally through the efforts of the WLUAA’s global ambassadors.
“Volunteering with the WLUAA is a terrific way to get involved and stay connected to Laurier,” says board member and alumni Senate representative Caitlin (Howlett) Smith (BA ’05, MBA ’10). “Members of the WLUAA care deeply about the university and the engagement of alumni. They are champions of the Laurier experience and embody the Golden Hawk spirit. It’s truly a privilege to volunteer with such a committed and diverse group of Laurier alumni.”
The WLUAA has proven itself an innovative and forward-thinking group, from past restructuring to future strategic planning, and the association has evolved a great deal over the years. The WLUAA is unique when compared to alumni associations at other Canadian universities, as it is one of only a few alumni associations that is a legally incorporated entity separate from the university.
When it was first incorporated in 1994, the association operated with a larger board and was more operational in scope. WLUAA events were completely managed by board members, right down to setting up chairs. Over the years, the WLUAA has evolved to serve a more strategic but equally active role in university life, reducing in size and focusing its efforts on providing an alumni perspective on key initiatives and challenges facing the university, such as diversity, the future of education and Laurier’s strategic plan.
“We worked with intention to focus the board’s efforts on strategic and generative thinking and empower the professional staff within the Alumni Relations office to determine how best to operationalize our shared vision.” says Marc Henein (BA ’04), who served as WLUAA president from 2012 to 2015.
It’s a different approach, but one that has been successful.
“We’re using the broad expertise that exists on our board to have a greater impact on the future direction of the university,” says Smith.
“We want to continue to partner very closely to engage students and alumni.”
What has stayed consistent throughout is the deep commitment and passion WLUAA board members have for Laurier, its students and its alumni.
“Involvement with WLUAA presents numerous opportunities to work together with Laurier to contribute to the success of the university,” says Tom Berczi (BBA ’88, MBA ’93), who served as president of the WLUAA from 2006 to 2012. “Nothing is more fulfilling than seeing the positive impact of WLUAA's support of student scholarships, bursaries, strategic initiatives and significant capital improvements across multiple campuses.”
WLUAA’s current president, Kyle Walker (BA ’11), started his term in July 2022, a few months after the Alumni Field groundbreaking. Walker has been a board member since 2018 and previously served as president of the Wilfrid Laurier University Student’s Union in 2010-2011. Moving forward, Walker sees the WLUAA continuing as a strong, independent voice in the Laurier community. Over time, he says, the association has found itself integrating more and more deeply into the university.
“Any time Laurier creates a committee – whether it be refreshing the strategic vision, campus security, diversity, or related to advancement – the WLUAA has been invited to contribute a committee member,” says Walker. “This goes well beyond us just donating resources or running events. Our alumni are given a voice in developing the university and its programs.”
The WLUAA has created a strategic plan that will guide it into the future. Closely aligned with Laurier Strategy: 2019-2024, the university’s strategic plan, the WLUAA’s plan contains three goals: providing an alumni voice and leadership to support the Laurier Strategy; being a bridge between alumni, Laurier, and the community; and strengthening WLUAA governance capacity.
A month after WLUAA members gathered with other Laurier leaders on that chilly April day to symbolically break ground on Alumni Field renovations, the real digging began. By late fall 2022, construction machines on the Waterloo campus site will make way for a brand-new, top-quality athletics space accessible to students and community members for varsity, intramural and community sport.
WLUAA members may find themselves sitting in new stands when cheering on Laurier student-athletes, but the deep and lasting connection they have forged with their school remains. Their contributions as alumni provide much to be proud of, and Laurier has much to thank them for.
“We’re really excited to see this central part of campus be revitalized for the Laurier community to use,” says Walker. “The WLUAA will continue to find opportunities to partner with the university to pay it forward to future alumni and invest in enhancing the student experience.”
To become involved with the Wilfrid Laurier University Alumni Association, visit laurieralumni.ca/wluaa-apply.