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University students graduate with life-long friendships

University of Limerick Alumni Association’s executive director, Kilrush-born Majella O’Connell, tells John Rainsford why parting is no longer ‘such sweet sorrow’ for those leaving the establishment.

‘What’s another year?’ sang Johnny Logan all those years ago and now the University of Limerick’s Majella O’Connell reminds us that, for graduates at least, the passage of time can mean very little.
The head of University of Limerick Alumni Association (ULAA) is always enthusiastic in reminding graduates that they will never be former students but rather graduates for life.
Last month, over 250 graduates attended the annual alumni reunion party on campus. In late August, a similar number of graduates from the graduation class of 2009 attended the second annual alumni reunion event, aimed specifically at UL’s most recent graduates.
“We no longer wait five or 10 years for reunions as we find that the bond between graduates is so strong at graduation time that they want to come back to the campus sooner to meet up with former classmates.
“Therefore, we now coincide the annual reunion of previous year’s graduates with UL conferring days, which are held on campus each August,” said Ms O’Connell.
“Class reunions are truly one of the highlights on the ULAA calendar.
“My colleagues and I know that all our efforts in organising these events are really worth it when we see the happy expressions on the faces of returning graduates. The years just melt away and they very quickly relax into reminiscing with their old college friends. The years become irrelevant as people renew old acquaintances, rediscover old haunts and reconnect with former friends.”
As a UL graduate herself, Ms O’Connell remembers fondly her own time as a student. As Majella O’Malley, she first arrived at UL (then the National Institute of Higher Education (NIHE)) in 1987 to read for a BA in European Studies.
After graduating in 1991, she went on to work for a campus-based management training company as well as a multinational computer company in the National Technological Park.
She says she was drawn to UL’s pioneering use of cooperative education for its students and particularly enjoyed her own work placements in Dublin and Berlin.
Having loved her time in Limerick, it was a natural progression for her to work with the UL Alumni Association from 1996.
Today, as executive director, Majella’s mission remains the same, to nurture a real and vital link between graduates and their alma mater.
Indeed, she takes great pride in the fact that ULAA is regarded by its peers as a leader in the alumni relations area in Ireland. ULAA launched Ireland’s first online community for university graduates in 2006, called UniversaL, and membership has already surpassed 6,000.
ULAA currently has over 53,000 members, with membership being automatic and free to all graduates of UL, the former NIHE, Thomond College of Education and National College of Physical Education.
There are various benefits for members including discounted rates for the use of the university sports arena and library.
The UL Alumni Association is a limited company established in 1987 by a small group of graduates of the National Institute of Higher Education and the executive director. It reports to an elected board of directors.
While ULAA is not a department of the university, it does have an interdependent relationship with UL from which it receives an annual subvention to support its activities. The remainder of ULAA’s operating budget comes from the sales of official UL merchandise (which ULAA produces and sells directly both online and through its office on campus) and the revenue generated from Bank of Ireland through the use, by graduates, of its specially produced UL Affinity Visa Card. Ulster Bank also supports the work of ULAA through a specially created enablement fund, which supports key projects.
To help meet the challenges of financing its activities, ULAA is about to re-launch its Bank of Ireland Affinity Card, which has been a successful source of revenue for ULAA since it was first introduced in 1996.
Over 5,000 graduates, faculty and staff carry and use the card, which is specially designed with a picture of UL’s iconic Plassey House on the front. A further collaboration with Bank of Ireland resulted in the launch in 2006 of the hugely successful UL Alumni Awards programme, which honours outstanding achievements by UL graduates. To-date, 17 graduates have been honoured with the award.
Like all organisations aiming to reach a wide customer base, ULAA relies heavily on the internet.
“We aim to keep graduates informed of UL events, news and developments, through our website and our web-based newsletter. We interview two graduates, one from Ireland and one from abroad, in every issue. It is very well received,” said Ms O’Connell.
In 2009, ULAA launched a new lecture series through which an accomplished graduate of UL is invited back to the campus to speak.
The inaugural speaker was the prime minister of Georgia, Nika Gilauri, a business studies graduate from 1999.
The second speaker was Limerick man Hugh O’Donnell, who is the chief executive officer of Kentz and a mechanical engineering graduate from 1987.
While the annual class reunions are over for this year, dates are already being set for 2011 and ULAA is already looking forward to 2012.
Then, it will support the college’s efforts to celebrate 40 years since NIHE admitted its first students on September 26, 1972.
Central to the celebrations will be those original 100-plus pioneering students. ‘What’s another year?’ (or 40) after all.


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