Find A Need and Fill It

alumni Sydney McRae '09 and Rhett Buttle '07


One size doesn’t fit all. When Rhett Buttle, 25, joined the Alumni Association board last year, he wanted to find a way to connect young alumni like himself back to the university. Nearly 25 percent of USD’s alumni are under 30, and he knew it would take a targeted approach to engage that base.

“What common things are we all dealing with?” he asks, sitting outside a Starbucks on the northwest side of Washington, D.C., where he now lives and works. “How do you create that pipeline that brings us all together?”

He’s been wrestling with those questions since last summer, when he became the point person on a new Alumni Association project called the Young Alumni Council. It’s an experiment of sorts, a step away from generalized alumni services and a step toward more laser-focused programming designed to meet the needs of specific groups. While Buttle sees the council as a networking resource for alumni who’ve spread out across the country after graduating, he also envisions it as a resource for the kind of questions that pop up in the first few years out of college, like the steps to buying a car, getting a mortgage or saving for retirement.

For help, Buttle turned to Sydney McRae, a 2009 alumna who’d also ended up in D.C. after graduation. The two are a lot alike: She and Buttle are both past presidents of Associated Students, and they’d both chosen George Washington University for their master’s degrees and both, so far away from San Diego, were feeling a little disconnected from USD. They were taking a class together on political campaigns last summer when Buttle told her he wanted her opinion on something. He emailed her his proposal about the Young Alumni Council later that night.

“I loved it,” McRae says. “When I graduated and moved out to D.C., I had a hard time. I was trying to stay as connected as I could, and he understood my frustrations.” She told Buttle she wanted to help and their discussion about the council soon turned into weekly planning meetings. They talked about creating webinars and hosting social events and set up a Facebook group to start reaching out to other alumni for help and ideas.

“We’ve really tried to stress how can we involve other alumni,” McRae says. “We don’t want this to be just a Sydney and Rhett project.”

Last August, they held focus groups in San Diego with students and other alumni to get feedback and they recruited about 30 other people to form a working group. They also held their first event – a cheese and wine happy hour at another young alum’s city home .

They both feel they’ve received a lot of support from the university during the planning stages – a factor they believe will be key to the council’s success. The plan for this spring is to present their efforts to the alumni board for approval.

“One of the things we really wanted to do is to make sure we are hearing from a diverse group of young alumni so that the end result serves its intended purpose – making sure young alumni know that they are and will continue to be an integral part of the Torero family.” Buttle says. — Justin McLachlan

For more, search for “USD Young Alumni Council” on Facebook.