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The NAA Celebrates 140 Years

As the Northwestern Alumni Association honors the traditions and experiences that have shaped the association, it is looking ahead to new ways to engage all alumni.

Celebrating 140 Years Hero
NAA presidents, past and present, at the 2018 Leadership Symposium.

Fall 2021

“Take pride in your story and who you are.”

“You deserve to be here as much as your peers.”

A group of new students received cards with these uplifting messages at the start of the 2019–20 school year.

The encouraging words were for students who identified as first generation and low income — a population that has doubled at Northwestern in the past decade. Alumni with similar backgrounds shared the messages to welcome and support the new students at the beginning of their college experience.

Developed by the Northwestern Alumni Association in partnership with the Division of Student Affairs, the cards also featured career, networking and mentorship resources to help students succeed at the University. The award-winning project is a recent example of how the NAA is working to foster belonging and inclusion among alumni and students as it celebrates its 140th anniversary.

The NAA dates back to June 22, 1881, when the nascent organization hosted the University’s first Alumni Day. Since then, the NAA has created opportunities for alumni to engage with one another and across the Northwestern community. 

Today, 60 NAA regional clubs — 43 in the U.S. and 17 internationally — connect alumni with their peers. Nine additional clubs join alumni by affinity, including ethnicity, sexual orientation, and personal and professional interests. Time-honored traditions such as the Northwestern Alumni Medal, the NAA’s highest honor, celebrate distinguished alumni who have made a positive impact in their careers and communities. And annual events such as A Day with Northwestern and Leadership Symposium bring alumni together to enhance lifelong learning and build volunteer and leadership skills.

As the NAA honors the traditions and experiences that have shaped the association over the past 140 years, it is looking ahead to new ways to engage all alumni.

In September 2020 University Trustee Larry Irving ’76 became president of the NAA, leading the most diverse board of directors in the association’s history. Composed of alumni representing nearly every undergraduate, graduate and professional school at the University, the 21-member board includes Asian, Asian American, Black, Latinx and LGBTQ representation and alumni who have graduated from each of the past five decades. Their core focus is enhancing diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) within the NAA.

Together with the board, the NAA has developed several programs to create a more welcoming and inclusive association for all alumni and students. In October 2020 the NAA hosted the 56th annual Leadership Symposium. The virtual program for alumni volunteer leaders featured 10 sessions designed to help attendees deepen their knowledge of DEI topics.

In February the NAA launched Affinity Leaders and Learners, an identity-based mentorship initiative that connects undergraduate students with alumni and complements the broader Northwestern Network Mentorship Program. The purpose is to create a more tailored experience for students from underrepresented groups who might seek mentors who look like them or who have similar career interests and life experiences. The pilot program, which ran through June, included Black, Asian, Asian American and LGBTQ alumni.

The Alumni Community Census is an ongoing initiative to help the association obtain a more complete picture of the Northwestern alumni community. With more demographic information, the NAA can provide meaningful programming and personalized communications that represent the interests of all alumni today. After the NAA launched the census in April, board members reiterated their dedication to continuing DEI efforts. They wrote, “Our work isn’t done until all alumni feel welcomed, represented and valued.”

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