It’s not boasting to say that U-M alumni go places. In 1971, they went as far as the moon.
The all-UM Apollo 15 lunar mission (James Irwin, MSE’57, HSCD’71, Alfred Worden, MSE’63, HDAS’71, and David Scott, ’49-50, HDAS’71) left behind a certificate establishing the U-M Club of the Moon. (Contrary to school lore, however, they did not plant a Michigan flag on the surface—just an American one.)
Even within the gravitational field, the University’s reach is no less impressive. Currently, more than 575,000 living degree holders are spread across 177 countries, giving the University one of the largest alumni networks in the world. In fact, the University currently recognizes 153 alumni communities. China is the largest, with 5,127 counted members, and tiny Grenada, the smallest, with only four Wolverines.
Until he moved from Gibraltar, a one-person chapter comprising Andrew Karonis, ’91, unofficially held the “smallest club” distinction. In 2005, Karonis moved to the 2.6-square-mile British territory on the southern tip of Spain to work for an internet gambling business. Alumni coming from England would occasionally get in touch, but “the scene was basically me,” says Karonis. When he first arrived on “the Rock,” as the tiny territory is nicknamed, the diehard football fan had a hard time keeping up with the Wolverines. But as broadband became more available, he was able to catch more and more games.
For many of the bigger international alumni chapters, the scene could not be more different. The Shanghai chapter is so large (over 1,000 members) that it was able to sponsor its own 5-kilometer M-Run this year.
To make the Shanghai community more manageable, Ross graduates often hold their own events, says Melody Zhang, ’08, who has been co-president of the Ross Shanghai Alumni Club since 2013. Apart from getting together for holidays and football game-watching parties, the group has frequent happy hours and hosts welcome parties for admitted U-M students who live in the area. Yet it is not always easy. The Chinese government blocks Facebook, which makes it harder for alumni in Shanghai and Beijing to organize informal get-togethers.
There is a similar flurry of activity in the large Mumbai club. That chapter normally meets monthly, but during the football season, alumni try to meet weekly, says Bindi Dharia, MA’07, general secretary of the U-M Alumni Club of India. Last season, they co-hosted a Michigan-Ohio State game-watching party with the local OSU alumni. This fall, they are holding a conference commemorating the University’s bicentennial.
These active global U-M hubs are on the University’s radar. “We have a lot of alumni all over the world, in many corners of the planet,” says Eun Ja Yu, ’90, the University’s director of international alumni engagement and communications. “We look at the data that show where big pockets of alumni are living.”
That research resulted in outreach efforts in eight key cities, including Shanghai, Hong Kong, Tokyo, Seoul, Beijing, Singapore, London, and Mumbai. Yu works with these large alumni groups on strategic initiatives in their region, coordinating social activities, welcoming prospective and admitted students, and organizing events featuring U-M professors and other speakers affiliated with the University. (The Alumni Association also supports initiatives in Taipei and many other cities around the world.)
Alumni clubs can also serve as welcoming committees for visiting U-M students. “When the U-M Solar Car Team came to Abu Dhabi, a group of us drove down from Dubai to watch them compete and connect with them after the race,” says Fatima Makhzhoum, ’06, MA’07, a Dubai resident and committee member for U-M’s Middle East Alumni Association.
In Dubai, like most places, football games provide a ready excuse for get-togethers (in that case at the Buffalo Wings and Rings, a Buffalo Wild Wings knock-off, which streams ESPN). But Saturday morning kickoffs in Ann Arbor can turn into middle-of-the-night watch parties overseas. “It’s hard to watch the football games due to the time difference, but a Wolverine has got to do what a Wolverine has got to do,” jokes Makhzhoum.
Adam Rosen, ’05, works in academic publishing in Asheville, North Carolina.