The social media posts and emails that Frank Dittenhafer kept seeing about fellow alumni at the College of Arts and Architecture at Penn State University piqued his interest several years ago.
Dittenhafer, FAIA, LEED AP of Murphy & Dittenhafer Architects, figured it was time to get involved. He wanted to help foster communications about initiatives and activities involving the alumni.
Openings occur every couple of years on the board of the College of Arts and Architecture’s subgroup for Architecture, one of the alumni groups for each of the college’s seven majors, which also include Music, Theater, Dance, Visual Arts, Art History and Landscape Architecture.
“I felt that the alumni could have a significant role in raising the visibility of the Department of Architecture, its profile, and the level of interest among alumni and recent graduates,” Dittenhafer says. “I was interested in seeing how I could enhance the visibility and profile of alumni getting involved.”
He wanted to learn how Architecture alumni were giving back to Penn State and find ways for alumni to be more engaged with students.
Taking a lead role
Dittenhafer submitted a profile, was nominated, and was elected to the Architecture Alumni group’s board. After a few years, he ascended to the presidency of the board. Now, following that two-year tenure, he remains on the subgroup’s board and is its representative to the College of Arts and Architecture’s Alumni Society board.
As he tried to get more Architecture alumni more involved with students and the university through service on the subgroup’s board, Dittenhafer heard a common refrain:
“What do you do besides hold elections every year?”
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It was obvious that more activities and better communication about those events and initiatives were necessary.
Joyce Hoffman, who works with the alumni groups in the College of Arts and Architecture as director for constituent engagement, credits Dittenhafer with helping to bring about needed change.
“Frank showed great leadership while president of the architecture group,” she says. “I feel that he raised the bar for overall leadership of the group.”
Hoffman says Dittenhafer’s term as president was marked by his interest in bringing alumni together for networking.
Linking alumni, students
When a national convention for architects was to take place in Philadelphia, Dittenhafer pushed for an Penn State Architecture alumni board meeting there, and the gathering was a success, Hoffman says.
The alumni group now holds open houses in Philadelphia and Pittsburgh for Arts and Architecture graduates to increase the department’s visibility with alumni in the state’s two major metropolitan areas.
“I sense that students really appreciate a higher level of activity and engagement with Architecture alumni,” Dittenhafer says. “They enjoy finding out what’s happening, what opportunities are out there, not just at University Park but in Pittsburgh and Philadelphia.”
Another alumni initiative is Penn State Archilink, a web-based platform to connect Architecture students and alumni. Through Archilink, they can get together for coffee, or students can arrange to visit an office or tour a construction site with a Penn State Architecture graduate.
Alumni have also helped establish a nearly $250,000 endowment for Arts and Architecture scholarships. They take part in career days and meet with the dean of the college to learn about new initiatives.
That involvement is what makes good ambassadors for Penn State, Hoffman says.
Alumni give their “time, treasure, and talent,” as Hoffman puts it, returning to campus to help review end-of-year student projects and to speak to classes. They meet with professors and often serve as mentors to students.
“I’ve seen growth in the time I’ve been on the two boards in a number of new initiatives and events, and increased participation by students, which is great,” Dittenhafer says.
Making it fun
Maybe the most anticipated activity for Dittenhafer and fellow alumni is the College of Arts and Architecture’s tailgater for the football team’s annual Blue-White Game at Beaver Stadium. Dittenhafer is one of the planners for the April 21 event.
The tailgater, entering its fourth year, is a sort of end-of-year send-off for seniors and a celebration for all A & A students, Dittenhafer says. It has become the university’s top alumni-faculty-student engagement activity, growing to include several hundred alumni from the college’s seven majors who return for a social and networking experience with students.
Many participants look forward to the tailgater even more than they do the spring game, Dittenhafer says.
Acting on those emails and social media posts paid off for Dittenhafer and his fellow alumni.
“It got me much more familiar with what alumni groups are trying to do and with the interests of Architecture alumni, at Penn State,” he says. “It has really been great.”