BY JANET MANDELSTAM
When J Thomas Forbes became executive director of the Indiana University Alumni Association in 2010, he set out to meet his constituents. Not an easy task when you consider that there are more than half a million living IU graduates, 13,000 of whom are part of a global network of alumni in 154 countries from Afghanistan to Zimbabwe.
“The sun never sets on IU,” says Forbes, an alumnus himself, who traveled more than 43,000 miles “to meet and listen to alumni.” The trip took him across the U.S. and to China, Taiwan, and Korea. “When you live and work in Bloomington, you don’t often see what a difference the university has made in the lives of our graduates,” he says. “The travel helped me to see that.”
The Beijing chapter hosted “an eclectic mix of people from six Southeast Asian countries, all of whom shared an IU connection.” The get-together was held in China’s Great Hall of the People. Two days later Forbes found himself in Taiwan among bankers, doctors, and professors who “shared stories about playing golf in Bloomington. No matter where you go,” he says, “the feeling of affinity to IU transcends cultural differences.”
It’s not surprising that there would be Alumni Association chapters in China, or India, or Japan. But IU grads have organized in such countries as Kazakhstan, Ghana, and Macedonia as well. A chapter in Poland joined the network in 2011. For alumni, that means a personal connection almost anywhere in the world. Forbes notes that “when the head of the San Diego chapter moved to Singapore, she found an alumni club already there.”
These days, keeping everyone connected in “one unified community” involves electronic communication as well as the traditional print magazine, now a quarterly. The association’s website was updated in 2011 to include an online magazine, enhanced alumni directory, and social media feeds from all IU campuses.
No matter how far-flung its members, the association’s mission, Forbes says, “is to bring alumni together to serve one another and Indiana University.” Members, he says, “act as advisers and mentors to new graduates and advocate for the university with elected officials.” They also help with student recruiting; Forbes notes that everywhere he went on his foreign travels, “there were three to four hundred students aspiring to attend IU”—and to one day become Forbes’ constituents, too.