ORONO, Maine — Between 5,000 and 6,000 graduates of the University of Maine will return to campus this weekend for Homecoming to reconnect with old friends, former professors, fraternity brothers, sorority sisters, ex-lab partners and the institution that helped form them.
The University of Maine Alumni Association, operated independently from UMaine, is the most active alumni group in the University of Maine System, according to Todd Saucier, the association’s president and executive director. Of the $16.8 million raised systemwide in the fiscal year that ended June 30, $12.6 million was raised by UMaine, a significant portion of it from its graduates.
Over the past five years, the university has stepped up efforts to help students bond with the institution beginning with their days on campus.
“We want our students to feel that they are establishing a lifelong relationship with the university,” Robert Dana, vice president for student affairs and dean of students, said Friday in an e-mail. “By fostering meaningful connections with others, including alumni, our students can realize tangible benefits that derive from being part of a thriving community that includes people at all stages of life. We find that many students really enjoy meeting alumni and gaining greater understanding of the institution’s heritage.”
While many alumni who graduated in the late 1940s and 1950s feel that kind of connection to the institution, many who attended college during the 1960s and 1970s do not, according to Saucier. Research has shown that men and women who came of age during those times associate the institution with the establishment, the Vietnam War and social upheaval.
“The Alumni Association has started meeting with first-year students after they’ve been in classes a month,” Saucier said. “We tell them that as a class, they need to take some leadership and build relationships while they are here.”
In addition, the association has started pairing current classes with alumni classes that will mark significant reunions the year the students graduate. For example, the Class of 2014 has been “adopted” by the Classes of 1954 and 1964.
“We also explain [to students] that without the contributions of alumni, the cost of attending UMaine might be much higher,” Saucier said.
Tuition pays about a third of the cost of a student’s education, he said. Another third is paid for with state funds, but the rest comes to the university through fundraising and philanthropy.
The fruits of that effort are paying off, he said. There will be a ceremony this afternoon to dedicate a garden donated by the Class of 2010 outside the entrance to the Buchanan Alumni House.
The university also is helped by the fact that its alumni, which number about 100,000, don’t move very far away. Between 55 percent and 58 percent live in Maine at least part of the year.
“If you draw an arc from Washington, D.C., to Erie, Pa., about 93 percent of our alumni live east of that that line,” Saucier said.
“Homecoming is Nirvana,” he said Thursday. “It’s the one time a year where alumni and students really mix. Everybody’s bleeding blue and showing their Black Bear pride.”
In addition to sporting events and programs honoring outstanding faculty and alumni, Homecoming activities include a craft show today and tomorrow in the Field House and a recital Saturday night.
On the Web: http://www.umainealumni.com.