NIU Nexus connects alumni to the university

Alum Vinay Mullick

When Vinay Mullick, ’00, thinks of Northern Illinois University, he remembers it as the place where he learned how to study, work with others, become a leader, and handle adversity and failure.

Because Northern changed his life personally and professionally, Mullick gives back by volunteering, from mentoring students to serving as a member of the NIU Alumni Association Board of Directors.

Like Mullick, alumni can easily volunteer through the NIU Alumni Association’s new volunteer program, NIU Nexus. The program was created as a one-stop shop so alumni can serve in areas that they’re interested in either on or off campus. Volunteers can make an impact by giving as little as three hours a year as an NIU Cares Day volunteer or an hour a week as a social media ambassador.

“I’ve heard from so many alumni who want to reconnect, but they’re not sure how to start,” said Reggie Bustinza, executive director of the NIU Alumni Association. “This will provide a perfect avenue for finding a way to volunteer.”

Opportunities for involvement include referring a student, participating in a letter-writing campaign for prospective students, welcoming new graduates to the alumni community and hosting interns at a workplace. Alumni are encouraged to sign up for NIU Nexus and explore volunteer opportunities at the web page.

The next opportunity for alumni to volunteer is NIU Cares Day, which runs from 9 a.m. until noon Saturday, April 21. Alumni can sign up as project site leaders to supervise students, who help DeKalb area groups and residents by weeding, planting, cleaning, painting and making other improvements.

Sue Trump and fellow NIU Cares Day volunteers

“It’s amazing to see the number of kids who get up early and go out to help people in the community,” said Sue Trump, ’74, who enjoys helping at NIU Cares Day with her husband.

As a retiree, Trump has also mentored students by sharing her NIU experiences and providing guidance.

“I think it’s worthwhile to connect with the students and stay in touch with what’s going on at the university,” she said.

During the last year, the NIU Alumni Association has forged partnerships with the Division of Student Affairs and the Office of Undergraduate Admissions to connect alumni and students. One result of those efforts is an externship program that began last semester through a partnership between the NIU Alumni Association and the University Honors Program.

The externship program was one of the most rewarding volunteer experiences for Mullick. He hosted an education major at his company, UpMetrics, which provides data and analytics to schools, nonprofit community organizations and foundations.

Mullick, who was in the University Honors Program when he attended NIU, enjoyed showing the student how his company could support her efforts when she becomes a teacher.

Another way Mullick has contributed as a volunteer is through NIU’s letter-writing campaign to prospective students. The last campaign reached more than 5,000 students.

Writing a letter “was not a huge time commitment, but it was a way to make a huge impact quickly,” he said.

Bob Gallagher, ’91, ’92 M.B.A., president of the NIU Alumni Association Board of Directors, and his wife, Christy Gallagher, ’91, give back as project site leaders at NIU Cares Day to connect with students. He has also helped students as a mentor, an instructor of NIU accountancy classes and a speaker for the Delta Sigma Pi business fraternity.

“NIU was a stepping stone to my career and has led to a successful outcome for me,” Bob Gallagher said. “And I’d like to see others be able to have the same opportunities.”

One of his favorite events is the annual Alumni Awards Luncheon, where he has had the opportunity to introduce alumni award winners and student scholarship recipients.

“Hearing the great stories of some of our most successful alumni is incredibly inspirational,” he said.

Sandra Gonzalez

As a young alumna, Sandra Gonzalez, ’15, has volunteered for Northern since she was a junior. When she was an undergraduate research assistant, she began promoting the Center for Latino and Latin American Studies.

Today, she still finds time outside of her career as a high school Spanish teacher in Aurora to speak to incoming students about her experience as a first-generation college student. For example, she shares how she was almost on probation her first semester at Northern but learned how to study and worked her way up to a 3.80-grade point average. She makes students feel welcome by telling them how to get involved on campus, how to find scholarships and what to expect as a new student.

To further her efforts to help students and grow her network, Gonzalez is a member of the NIU Latino Alumni Council, which sponsors workshops, raises funds to support Latino students and connects the Latino alumni community. The council recently held a workshop for students who will be graduating in May to talk about what to expect after graduation. On Sunday, April 15, the council participated in a 5k run/walk in Pilsen, IL, to raise funds for students.

Gonzalez also brought high school girls to campus on Saturday, April 7, for NIU’s Women Empowerment Conference, which provides women of color with personal and professional development and teaches them leadership skills.

“Ultimately, I just love helping people,” Gonzalez said. “At the same time, I’ve made connections [as a volunteer] so that when I need them, they are there because I’ve established relationships with these people.”

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