Have Plans for Homecoming?

Kristin Simonetti (@KMSEditor) is a senior editor for CURRENTS magazine.

Homecomings: They’re a hassle, a budget drain and attract dwindling numbers of graduates each year, according to chatter among many alumni professionals. But several institutions are creatively tackling these challenges—in some cases completely reinventing traditional fall reunion weekends. Consider these examples.

Family Matters

The University of Connecticut’s homecoming still centers on football, but fans watching this year’s halftime show will be treated to more than just the crowning of the king and queen. They’ll also meet the winners of the Biggest UConn Family Contest sponsored by the university’s alumni association. To qualify, entrants could include immediate and extended family members—but only individuals holding UConn degrees or certificates, or those currently enrolled at the university, could be counted toward the total. (Your aunt attended for only a semester? Sorry, no dice.) The family with the largest number of UConn-connected relatives would be declared the winner.

More than 200 families vied for the title of largest Husky clan and the winning family has a “great UConn Legacy,” says Julia Chianelli, UConn’s alumni communications manager. She’s not allowed to give more details until the homecoming game on Oct. 12. But she did spill that the entire clan will receive complimentary access to the official UConn Alumni Association tailgate party, tickets to the football game and on-field recognition during the intermission.

Back to Campus…and Beyond!

When California State University, Chico, underwent reaccreditation a few years ago, the team conducting the accreditation study kept hearing the same phrase: “The Chico Experience.” Curious, CSU Chico’s leaders looked into exactly what that term meant. They discovered the experience encompassed nine attributes, including the university’s location near downtown Chico and its proximity to the city’s Bidwell Park – an outdoor enthusiast’s dream.

Building upon that knowledge, CSU Chico expanded and rebranded its annual homecoming into the Chico Experience Week—10 days of “reconnecting with friends, the campus and the wonderful city of Chico,” says Susan Linders Anderson, director of alumni and parent relations and commencement. The week’s events showcase the cherished attributes of the Chico Experience, including tours of Bidwell Park and organized outdoor activities like whitewater rafting and paddleboarding, hosted by Adventure Outings, CSU Chico’s student-led recreation organization.

The week has become so popular, Anderson says, that her alumni board “doesn’t even use the ‘H’ word anymore!”

No Football? No Problem.

Bob Saltzman would have gotten a pass from his alumni relations colleagues if he lost a little sleep after Hofstra University dropped football following the 2009 season. After all, what’s homecoming without the gridiron?

Hofstra calls it the Fall Festival, says Saltzman, executive director of alumni affairs at the New York institution. The university combined its family and alumni weekends with homecoming to create an event the entire Hofstra community could take part in. Highlights of the weekend include a parade, concert and carnival and a comedy show headlined by a nationally renowned performer. The 2013 concert’s headliners are Ke$ha, Sugar Ray and ’80s tribute band BonJourney. The comedy show will star Aziz Ansari of NBC’s “Parks and Recreation.”

The event, Saltzman reports, has attracted many more alumni, students and families than past events focused on football.

Overhauls Aren’t Obligatory

Spicing up homecoming doesn’t require a complete redesign of the program. Adding a signature event to traditional offerings can succeed in giving fall reunions new life.

A few years ago, the University of West Georgia partnered with its hometown, Carrollton, to sponsor Wolves in the Square—a massive pep rally on the Friday night of UWG’s homecoming weekend. The event, held in downtown Carrollton, features bands, a spirit contest, games and more. Frank Pritchett, UWG’s director of alumni relations and annual giving, says the event has drawn an average of 3,000 people yearly during its first three years.

Westridge School in Pasadena, Calif., is celebrating its Centennial Homecoming in January 2014 by initiating a new tradition. The school will induct the first members of its athletics hall of fame during the reunion weekend.

Have a unique program you’d like to share with fellow CASE members? Share it in the comments below.

One response to “Have Plans for Homecoming?

  1. Love the article. Ran across it totally randomly. I get that homecoming doesn’t have to be about football, and I think you have given good examples of how to do it without it.

    However, as a guy who puts on alumni football games for a living, there is nothing better than a truly GREAT football program putting on homecoming. It’s just an electric feeling that can’t be recreated with a fair-like event. Just my opinion.

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