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2021 Alumni Engagement Conference

The first-ever Alumni Engagement Conference was held in Lexington July 22-24, 2021.—Photos by Micalyn Miller, VMI Alumni Agencies.

Article | Keynote Speaker Videos | Photos | Breakout Presentations

The first-ever Alumni Engagement Conference hosted by the VMI Alumni Association wrapped July 24. Unlike previous Association conferences geared solely toward VMI’s hard-working alumni volunteers, the 2021 event was open to all alumni.

Alumni gathered for an early arrivals reception Thursday evening in Moody Hall. Friday began with breakfast in the Center for Leadership and Ethics, where the remainder of the conference was held. After breakfast, the Gillis Theater filled up, and Thom Brashears ’95, Alumni Association chief operating officer, welcomed everyone.

The group then heard from Maj. Gen. Cedric Wins ’85, superintendent, in Gillis Theater in a town hall setting. The superintendent updated alumni on many topics. The Honor Code, which is the cornerstone of VMI, is intact, he said. Wins spoke about listening sessions with cadets over the 2020-21 academic year, infrastructure and improvements on post, and the Marshall Arch display. VMI will always ask for alumni support, Wins said, and the focus is on cadets at VMI. Following his update, Wins opened the floor to questions, and alumni asked him about various topics.

Eight different sessions covering various topics ran throughout Friday and Saturday until noon. Session titles were Chapter Operations and Management; Check Your Bias at the Door; Leadership and Business Case for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion at VMI; Allyship: Unlocking the Power of Diversity; Communications Support from the VMI Alumni Agencies; VMI Admissions Updates/Red and Yellow Program; Philanthropic Support to the Institute; and Alumni Association Outreach to and Support of the Corps of Cadets.

The alumni volunteers, VMI staff, and Alumni Agencies staff designed the sessions to be an interactive format, and alumni could participate and ask questions in each session. The sessions were beneficial for alumni, Alumni Agencies staff, and VMI staff. Attendees were able to hear each other’s points of view and share insight on various topics.

After Friday’s lunch, the group gathered for a second plenary session in Gillis Theater and heard from Susan Swayze, Ph.D. Swayze spoke about her own experiences as a first-generation college student, her journey to a doctoral degree, and her career. Along the way to earning her Ph.D., she had people who helped her and others who could have but did not. She discussed her career and how she mentors young people who are striving to reach their goals. Swayze also spoke about examining systems to make sure every qualified person can succeed. She earned her bachelor’s degree from Washington and Lee University and was a Marshall Scholar. She also holds degrees from Duke University and the University of California at Los Angeles. Following her presentation, Swayze took questions from the audience.

The conference continued with breakout sessions after Swayze’s presentation. After a late afternoon break, attendees began the evening with a cocktail hour. Dinner and a video presentation about how alumni support helps cadets followed cocktail hour.

After breakfast Saturday, Ryan Koniak ’04 spoke in the conference’s final plenary session. Koniak works in human resources in both the military and his civilian job. He is in the National Guard, has held every enlisted rank, and recently became a warrant officer. On the civilian side, he works for Oracle. He spoke about the incredible value of mentorship to everyone and explained how helpful advice from alumni is for cadets and young graduates.

After Koniak spoke, conference attendees had the opportunity to attend three more breakout sessions before the conference concluded. Nearly 100 alumni and guests from around the country participated in the conference.

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Keynote Speaker Videos

Maj. Gen. Cedric Wins '85


Susan Swayze, Ph.D.


Ryan Koniak '04



Photos by Micalyn Miller, VMI Alumni Agencies.

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  • Molly Rolon

    Molly Rolon Editorial Specialist

    Christian Heilman

    Christian Heilman Director of Digital Content

    The director of digital content is responsible for creating original video and multimedia materials, as well as developing and editing web and digital content. The director is responsible for platform coordination and troubleshooting, to include the VMI Alumni Agencies’ primary websites, digital newsletter and other digital platforms.