“The beauty, the scale, everything happening—that’s what struck me early on,” says David Bambrey, the University of Illinois Alumni Association’s newly appointed president, recalling his first time visiting the
U of I campus.
At age 37, Bambrey is the second-youngest president to lead the UIAA since 1942, when the organization hired its first full-time executive. Nevertheless, he’s ready to tackle the challenges facing all college and university alumni associations, as well as those specific to public and land-grant universities such as the U of I—big schools that serve tens of thousands of students who, with the turn of the tassel, become alumni.
This changing demographic landscape presents Bambrey with one of his biggest hurdles: Millennial and Gen-Z alumni have overtaken the Baby Boomers in sheer numbers, and their comfort with and attachment to ever-changing digital technologies requires new and different engagement strategies.
“The challenge, post-COVID, is finding the balance between the digital world people live in and in-person events, which is a lot of what alumni relations is about,” Bambrey says. “It’s an exciting but uncharted path.”
Career services offer one promising avenue for reaching younger alumni, he believes. The UIAA, for example, could help recent graduates progress in their careers by deepening their connections to seasoned alumni and offering online continuing education to help explain major changes in the workplace, like generative artificial intelligence.
Bambrey emerged from a national search conducted by the UIAA following the passing of President Jennifer Dillavou, ’82 ED, on April 29, 2023. Dillavou was a longtime mentor to Bambrey at the University of Pittsburgh, Ohio University, and since 2018, the U of I, when he came on board as vice president of alumni and student engagement. Bambrey had served as interim UIAA president since last May, following months of shared leadership duties with other UIAA executive team members.
With an undergraduate degree in business administration from Washington & Jefferson College and two-thirds of his MBA studies completed at Pittsburgh, Bambrey is taking a businesslike approach to his first year at the UIAA helm and is committed to achieving five key objectives:
- Create and set in motion a three- to five-year strategic plan, with 12-to-18-month action segments within the plan’s structure.
- Develop reliable methodologies for tracking and assessing the organization’s progress to ensure that its efforts remain purposeful and focused on improvement.
- Determine what various demographic segments of alumni want and need in terms of digital and in-person activities and services, and tailor programming accordingly for each segment.
- Grow the UIAA’s paid annual membership program, which was reinstated in 2021.
- Further strengthen the UIAA’s collaborations and partnerships with athletics, student affairs, and the colleges and their units.
“It’s an absolute honor to be in this role,” Bambrey says. “I understand the UIAA’s long history and know there’s only been a select few who have been in this role. And I certainly don’t take that lightly.” —Lex Tate
The Bambrey File
Favorite campus place: “Hard to narrow down, but the Alice Campbell Alumni Center, the Krannert Center for the Performing Arts (KCPA), the State Farm Center on a big basketball night and—hard to beat—the Quad” (Image by L. Brian Stauffer)
Best entertainment: “The KCPA and all Illini sports” (Image by L. Brian Stauffer)
Fave watering holes: “Watson’s in downtown Champaign and the Rose Bowl in Urbana”
Favorite or most astounding fact: “That the U of I has the longest continuous Homecoming celebration” (Homecoming, 1915, Image courtesy of UI Archives)