Photo: SFA Alumni Association staff members, back row, from left, are Derek Snyder, coordinator of marketing and communications; Samantha Mora, director of alumni events and engagement; Heather Hawkins, assistant director of alumni relations; and Craig Turnage, executive director of alumni relations; and front row, Alicia Roland Chatman, gifts and records specialist; Jennifer Sowell, assistant to the executive director; Hannah Franks, accountant; and Amie Morton, scholarship coordinator. (Photo by Sarah Wylie)
Feature Story by Sarah Wylie, Chamber Intern, Summer 2015
Samantha Mora, director of alumni events and engagement for SFA, tells a story that starts with a small beginning, but finishes with an amazing legacy.
“The association first started in 1928 as the ExStudents Association with 20 former students,” said Mora. “Their main goal was to create a homecoming where ex-students could come back and reminisce about their time at SFA.”
According to a Pine Log article from 2013, the first homecoming was May 27, 1930, the anniversary of the date the current campus opened. The main event for that first homecoming was a luncheon at the Liberty Hotel — which is now the Nacogdoches City Hall on Pilar Street. Several hundred exstudents attended, and the event was deemed a success.
Homecoming is a big deal that involves the campus and the community. Last year, there was a full weekend of events including a social mixer, 5K run, golf tournament, a flapjacks breakfast and a downtown parade. The event draws returning alumni who stay at local hotels, go out for entertainment and eat at our community’s restaurants.
“During homecoming, people from all over come back to visit campus and see lifelong friends made at SFA,” said Derek Snyder, coordinator of marketing and communication at the SFA Alumni Association.
In addition to drawing graduates back for visits, the SFA Alumni Association tries to influence students to stay in Nacogdoches after college to help build the community. Engaging students in their association events and town events creates a feeling of belonging in the community.
The Tracie D. Pearman Alumni Center was constructed in 1998, giving graduates a physical connection back to their university. The association now has eight full-time employees, plus student workers, graduate assistants and interns. Karen Gantt, SFA Alumni Association board president, serves with 19 board members. The SFA Alumni Foundation board handles all scholarships available to students. All are working with a purpose to increase membership and connect graduates to the university.
SFA alumna Charlotte Ashcraft works at BancorpSouth and is a member of the association’s board of directors.
“The SFA Alumni Association is all about reconnection,” Ashcraft said. “It serves as the conduit for alumni, friends and former students to engage and reconnect. Those reconnections bring them back to SFA and to Nacogdoches for events such as homecoming, sporting events, golf tournaments and reunions. In addition, the association sets the foundation to spread Lumberjack Pride through local and regional events by engaging alumni and building loyalty to the university.”
While the association has 8,000 members currently, the university reached an alumnimilestone this past year.
“The university reached 100,000 alumni at the end of 2014,” Mora said.
Membership is a good opportunity to give back to the university, and includes annual and life options. This is a way to stay connected to the university, uphold traditions, build pride and stay in the network. Plus, there is always room to grow.
A revised alumni directory is in the works, with help from publisher Harris Connect.
“Members can submit photos and accounts of their time at SFA,” Mora said. “That personal information is included with current contact information. There is no charge for updating information and the directory is sold as a hardback or softback printed book and a CDROM. The last directory was produced in 2011.”
Another strategy for membership growth is to go to various cities to reach alumni. Networking events allow the association to engage alumni and get their opinion on what they would like to participate in, such as happy hour, family-friendly events, sporting events, etc. The first event for this year is the Dallas Business Network in September.
“We hope by going to other cities to reach alumni, it will spike interest in their Alma Mater and build membership and engagement for the association,” Mora said.
The majority of the funds to operate the association come from what Mora calls “bricks, rings, membership and donations.”
Engraved bricks are sold year-round for the Walk of Recognition, a gift commemorating time at SFA and showing Lumberjack Pride forever. “Bricks are placed on campus at Sesquicentennial Plaza near the ‘Surfin’Steve’ fountain in front of Steen Library; a great gift to family members or any Lumberjack,” Mora said.
The SFA students nearing graduation purchase their school ring from the association and are invited to participate in the ever-growing Big Dip ceremony. The association gets a percentage of the sales through their affinity program with Balfour.
Mora explained that “a ring is like a diploma for your hand. Your diploma hangs in your office or at home, but you are showing your ring to the world wherever you go.”
The association is always looking for partnerships or sponsorships. “It depends on the event itself,” Mora said.
She also mentioned that getting sponsors is very important, because we want to be “good stewards” of the association’s funds. They always want to do more for alumni by making the event bigger and better.
Mora said she becomes emotional at the annual Alumni Awards banquet where Distinguished Alumnus, Distinguished Professor, Hall of Fame, Outstanding Young Alumnus and, a new category, Lumberjack Pride award recipients are recognized.
“It is great to listen to the award recipients’ stories of how SFA helped shape their lives and their love for the university,” she said.
The association joined the Nacogdoches County Chamber of Commerce in March 2000, and Mora commented that the chamber has been “amazing in promoting the SFA Alumni Association’s purpose and events. In addition to alumni activities being placed on the chamber’s online calendar of events, the association is included in ribbon cuttings, the chamber’s newsletter and monthly mail outs. We also like it when we are invited to the local Alive After Five business receptions because we get to talk to other business members who are SFA alumni members.”
For information, visit the SFA Alumni Association website at www.sfaalumni.com or call 936-468-3407.