By James Irwin
Organizations as large as the GW Alumni Association, which grew to more than 270,000 members this spring, tend to have extensive networks. And of all the GWAA programs held every year—including reunions, service events and opportunities for alumni to connect vocationally—perhaps none demonstrate the expanse of that network as well as a series of summer sendoffs held every year to welcome incoming students, and their families, into the university community.
Nearly 50 sendoff events, hosted from June to August in more than a dozen countries around the world, give incoming GW students a first glimpse of life as a Colonial.
“It’s a great opportunity to meet other new students, their families, current students and even some faculty members,” said Shane Ryan, a rising senior in the Elliott School of International Affairs. “It's a time to learn more about getting and staying involved on campus, while understanding that your connection to GW lasts far beyond your four years here as an undergraduate.”
Mr. Ryan, a member of Colonial Ambassadors, served as a volunteer last summer in Boston—one of 26 domestic cities that will host sendoffs this year from July 16 to Aug. 10. Overseas events in Taiwan, Brazil, France, Greece, Saudi Arabia and the United Kingdom have already been held. Sendoffs in South Korea, Hong Kong and Shanghai are scheduled for this week.
Some of the international events are part of larger GW programs, said Katie Ray, assistant director of international alumni programs. The sendoff in Paris included 14 School of Business students traveling through France as part of an M.B.A. class. Last year nearly 200 incoming students attended the sendoff in Beijing.
Incoming GW students and their families gather at the home of GW parents Buddy, B.B.A. '80, M.B.A. '82, J.D. '87, and Laurie Lesavoy in Allentown, Pa.
GW alumni Shawn Raymond, B.A. ’94, and Carrie Potter, B.B.A ’99, M.B.A. ’01, have been hosting the sendoff event in Houston since 2012. They make personal connections with incoming students and their families, Ms. Potter said. The event, she and Mr. Raymond agreed, is an opportunity for incoming students and families to understand GW’s existence in the local community.
“I think the presence of alumni of all ages and backgrounds provides incoming students with a better appreciation of the GW alumni presence in Houston,” Mr. Raymond said. “It allows the students to get a sense of the diverse professional and community pursuits of our alumni.”
For Carol Conchar, a GW parent and regional director of admissions for the Southeast in the Office of Undergraduate Admissions, summer sendoffs also provide logistical value. The events, she said, can provide relief to anxious incoming students leaving home for the first time, especially those from towns and cities several hours or more from campus.
“While we do see about 14 percent of our student body coming to GW from the Southeast, many of the applicants from this region wonder how they will fit in at GW,” she said. “The events we host for admitted students in the region prove that they are not alone and they already have ‘hometown’ Colonial connections.”
Many of those friendships are formed in the summer leading up to a student’s first year. Mr. Ryan said reconnecting with incoming students he met a month earlier at Colonial Inauguration was a highlight of his 2013 summer sendoff experience. He plans to volunteer again this summer, either in Boston or another East Coast city.
“I think the primary benefit of attending these events is it jumpstarts the connection to the university,” he said. “You gain an understanding of your role in the greater Colonial family.”