For what will undoubtedly be one of the greatest experiences in the lives of new Wildcats, University of Arizona alumni across the nation are helping to orient thousands of incoming students in advance of their first year on campus.
From Seattle to Miami, members and officers of UA Alumni Association chapters, along with some UA parents, are hosting dozens of Summer Sendoff events, informal gatherings for new Wildcats and their families.
With support from the UA Alumni Association and the Parents and Family Association, the Summer Sendoff events have a manifold function: to answer the questions of parents and families while enlivening the new Wildcats in a way that helps endear them to one another and strengthen the existing nationwide UA network.
"It's a good way for them to feel that connection and to get excited once again. We want to help them create that," said Kathy Adams Riester, the UA's associate dean of students and the Parents and Family Association director.
While the association co-hosts Summer Sendoff events nationwide – some of its board members volunteer and the association offers materials and helps with planning – Adams Riester and her collaborators are heading up the Phoenix-area sendoff. With more than 1,200 people expected to attend this year, it will be the largest of all sendoff events.
"This year, Phoenix will be bigger and better," Adams Riester said. UA Dean of Students Keith Humphrey is scheduled to host the event, which will be held July 29 at the Scottsdale Plaza Resort Hotel in Scottsdale, Ariz. Also, Rich Rodriguez, the UA head football coach, will be the guest speaker. And during the event, a question-and-answer session will take place, and students will receive UA memorabilia.
Adams Riester also acknowledged student development research indicating that students are more likely to be successful on campus when they feel a strong connection and when they feel welcome.
"Students get a little nervous, especially if they are coming from along way and if it has been a long time since they attended orientation," Adams Riester said.
Nick Pierson, director of alumni chapters for the UA Alumni Association's Phoenix regional office, said that 38 chapters exist, with one in Japan and the most recent chapter being in northwest Arkansas.
"They love sharing their experiences of their time at the University and providing their insights and being a local connection," Pierson said about some of the reasons why families of Wildcats and UA alumni choose to get involved.
"The parents know all the way in Miami and in Dallas or wherever else the students are from that there is a support network," Pierson also said, adding that the association encourages individuals to get involved with the Parents and Family Association.
As for the sendoff events, two dozen chapters held them and expect to reach more than 2,000 incoming UA students, Pierson said. The South Florida chapter is holding its first sendoff this year, and the Atlanta chapter, which held its first last year, is hosting another.
Among them, Houston is hosting a Texas-style barbecue, San Diego is hosting at one of the parks, El Paso is holding its event at a hotel and, in St. Louis, the sendoff will be held at a country club. And thanks to the UA's connection to Macy's CEO and UA alumnus Terry Lundgren, the New York City chapter is hosting its event at the department store, Pierson added.
Certain chapters have been organizing Summer Sendoff events for the last 20 years. Registration is still open for some of this year's events. This year's sendoffs are:
July 13, Albuquerque, 5-7 p.m., New York City, 5:30-7:30 p.m.
July 14: Kansas City, 1-3 p.m.; Houston 2-4 p.m.
July 15: Northern California, noon-2 p.m.
July 21: Chicago, 2-4 p.m.; Seattle, 11:30-1 p.m.
July 22: Denver, 1-3 p.m.; South Florida (Miami), 1-3 p.m.; Portland, 2-4 pm.
July 28: Boston, 3-5 p.m.; Los Angeles, 3-5 p.m.; Las Vegas, 3-5 p.m.; Dallas/Ft. Worth, 5-7 p.m.
July 29: San Diego, noon-2 p.m.; Phoenix, 2-4 p.m.; Atlanta, 1:30-3:30 p.m.
Aug. 4: El Paso, 2-4 p.m.; Sierra Vista, Ariz., 11 a.m. to 1 p.m.; Philadelphia, 1-3 p.m.
Aug. 5: Orange County, noon to 2 p.m.; St. Louis, 1-3 p.m.
Hank Helley, who earned his UA degree in 1971 having double majored in government and history, has been involved with the Northern California chapter since his early days in San Francisco – albeit, with a brief hiatus after moving to Los Angeles for about five years.
Now treasurer for the chapter, also known as the San Francisco BayCats, Helley said: "The Wildcat family is something we take seriously, and we want to make them feel at home."
"These kids – they have their whole lives before them. It's very refreshing being around young people who are just starting off with what I know will be the best time of their lives," Helley said. "It's very rewarding and brings me back to when I was there."
In that way, the benefit is two-fold, Helley said, noting that while students and families benefit from the events, so too do the alumni and other volunteers.
A Phi Sigma Kappa member, Helley went on to earn his master's in business administration from Arizona State University in 1978.That same year, he moved ot San Francisco and both the UA and ASU joined what was then called the Pacific-10 Conference, part of the reasons why Helley felt compelled to retain a connection to the UA and get involved in the chapter.
Like other chapters, Northern California chapter members throughout the year also host tailgating, professional development events, cultural events, community service, help with student recruitment and also fundraising to support future Wildcats. This year, the chapter awarded about $5,000 in scholarships to students, money raised as part of its $110,000 endowment.
And social media has proven to be quite beneficial to many of the chapters, especially those who keep in touch through blogs, like the MetroCats in New York City, and also sites like Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn.
This year, the chapter is hosting a lunch on July 15 during which members, club representatives and UA recruiters will speak. Parents and students will then split into groups, having their own question-and-answer session about issues most important to each group.
"They may not know anybody," said Helley, who has held almost every single chapter office at least once and has coordinated the chapter's sendoff events for about 10 years.
"But if there are 25 to 30 students who attend this event and break bread together, talk about high school rivalries or whatever they choose, at least they have some faces when they are on campus and know that they share the same experience," Helley said. "It could be the start of a lifelong friendship."