Winter 2024 Issue

Sharing Our Connection

By Abigail "Abby" Stern ’24
Chair, Students for University Advancement

When there is a tour walking around campus and the guide asks a student passing by what their favorite part about William & Mary is, their response is always “the people.” Every student and alumnus knows that the best thing about our university is the kindness of the people in our community and their excitement about our university, no matter where they are. I often feel a connection when meeting W&M alumni for the first time — whether I’m at a breakfast in Washington, D.C., attending a leadership conference in Colorado or taking a trans-Atlantic flight. Reminiscing about W&M traditions and freshman halls, strangers soon become friends through our love for alma mater.

I see this again and again as I connect with many W&M people through my position as chair of Students for University Advancement (SUA), through which I also represent students on the W&M Alumni Association board and the Annual Giving Board. SUA is a student organization dedicated to building a culture of engagement and philanthropy among undergraduate students. When we educate and engage current students, from first-year students to seniors, they will leave William & Mary with a better understanding of the importance and impact of giving back to the university as alumni with their time, talent and treasure.

I became involved in SUA while completing my freshman year online during the COVID-19 pandemic. At a time when it was difficult to connect to people in person, I wanted a way to be involved in the campus community. After learning more about the depth of impact SUA has on students and alumni, I knew I would be a part of it throughout my time as a student, and well beyond.

This year, SUA has strengthened W&M’s culture of engagement and philanthropy through new and reimagined initiatives. As one example, we took the lead on encouraging student participation in the 2023 Homecoming Parade. With support from the alumni engagement team, we worked hard to ensure student organizations showed their school spirit by walking, performing or organizing a float. While being a part of the fun, students also had the chance to win up to $1,000 for their organization. Also during Homecoming & Reunion Weekend, SUA hosted Cheers to Your Senior Year to celebrate our graduating seniors and introduce students to what they can expect from Homecoming as alumni. Both events were tremendously successful, with more than 40 student organizations participating in the parade and over 1,000 seniors attending Cheers!

SUA also encouraged philanthropic giving through the Senior Class Gift. When members of the senior class make a gift to any area of William & Mary, they receive a mug they can use to get discounts at local businesses. This year, we expanded our partnerships to nine businesses, including Green Leafe, Culture Café, Column 15, The Meadows and Aromas, and helped student organizations host events where attendees were encouraged to make a gift to W&M. Finally, to congratulate the student body on a wonderful semester, SUA hosted a study hall at the Alumni House the weekend before finals began. This encouraged students to learn more about the work that SUA does and make good memories with their classmates in a beautiful space they will, we hope, return to often as alumni.

These are just a few of the ways in which Students for University Advancement plays a key role in spreading the spirit of engagement and philanthropy across campus. Other examples include Cheers to Your First Year, which is a partnership with the Student Transition Engagement Program (STEP) and W&M Athletics to welcome first-year students to campus traditions; Tag Day, when we hang signs around campus showing all that our donors make possible; and Impact Week, which supports service projects by community organizations. Each of these shows just how deeply W&M people care about our alma mater and each other.

We look forward to continuing our work on campus in the years ahead, and I look forward to staying engaged with W&M as an alumna.