The Rainier Scholars Alumni Council: Reaching Back and Moving Forward

by Tom Moore

Although May-Lannie Lozano and Miles Welsh (Cohort 4) and Menbere Kebede (Cohort 5) graduated from college several years ago and are many years removed from the Rainier Scholars educational baptism by fire that is the Academic Enrichment Program (AEP), in some ways, that experience feels not so far removed. As rising 5th and 6th-graders, the concept of becoming college-bound was unprecedented and AEP was both an incredible challenge and an exciting new experience. Now, a decade or more later, they face the similarly new and exciting challenge of being out on their own and building careers. Miles works for Amazon Web Services, Menbere for a private investment company and May-Lannie as an Academic Counselor at Rainier Scholars. They each agree that becoming a young career professional is exhilarating, but also poses new opportunities and questions. The Rainier Scholars Alumni Council was created to help alumni navigate this new life stage.  

 May-Lannie and Menbere are co-presidents of the Council and Miles is the vice president/secretary. They, along with ten other Rainier Scholars alumni, meet every month to find new ways to replicate AEP’s mutually supportive cohort model to benefit over 200 Rainier Scholars alumni from seven different cohorts. Their strategy rests on three pillars: friend-raising, fun-raising, and fundraising.

Friend-raising uses social capital and networking to forge professional and personal connections. As Menbere noted at a recent Rainier Scholars Luncheon, our network is our net worth.” Using its social media and other platforms, the Council provides opportunities for alumni to support Rainier Scholars and each other through activities, ranging from bringing a friend or colleague on an AEP tour to sharing job openings and professional contacts or giving advice to undergraduates on what courses and majors are important as they consider career paths.

Fun-raising focuses on two major social events each year: a summer gathering with Rainier Scholar Board Members and an alumni winter holiday event where alumni and their significant others celebrate with current and former Rainier Scholars staff. In 2020, the Council plans to continue its tradition of participating in the high-five line on the first day of the summer AEP session and engage in more low-key activities, like sharing recreation time with AEP scholars. They are planning a basketball tournament to commemorate Rainier Scholars’ 20th anniversary and have other ideas in the mix too, like organized hikes and maybe even learning how to play golf!

As for fundraising, at a time when most alumni are still getting used to the shock of how much of their paycheck goes to taxes, rent, food and health care, the Council focuses on the percentage of participation, not the size of the check.  Currently, nearly 25% of alumni give back to Rainier Scholars. In 2020, the Alumni Council hopes to increase that to 35%. These are solid early numbers, and as alumni salaries increase, so will their ability to support Rainier Scholars.

Whether it is fund, friend or fun-raising, the Council seeks to understand what alumni want, not just from the Rainier Scholars program, but from each other. Alumni grapple with an array of issues, such as family expectations and how it feels to make more money than your parents. As May-Lannie points out, who better to provide support and advice than someone with similar experience of what it takes to make it to and through college, and then confidently out into the world?

The alumni experience brings with it a unique perspective, one that the Council hopes will help perpetuate and amplify the impact of Rainier Scholars. It is an appreciation of how time, culture and experience can remain fluid, moving back towards to the younger generations and forward to the future with the ‘elders.’  Alumni are living examples of the program. They embody Rainier Scholars and grow as it grows. As Rainier Scholars enters its third decade, alumni are poised to help lead it into the future