A Seat at the Table

August 1, 2008

Pelham: New DAA president encourages personal connections.

 

Megan Morr

With a full-time job as the publisher of Legal Times, an award-winning weekly newspaper and website that reports on law and lobbying in the nation's capital, and two young children in school, Ann Pelham '74 didn't have spare time to attend various evening and weekend events sponsored by her local Duke club in Washington. But when she was invited to attend a D.C. Women's Forum luncheon geared to women interested in business and social networking, Pelham saw the perfect opportunity to reconnect with her alma mater.

Now, as she takes the reins on July 1 as president of the Duke Alumni Association (DAA), Pelham says she wants to do her part to create multiple entry points for alumni to get engaged with the university. "Seeing old friends is fun but meeting new people, including recent graduates, is just as interesting and rewarding," she says. "We have to spread the word about programs like the Women's Forum or museum exhibit openings in places like Dallas and Boston or the sendoff parties for incoming students held around the country."

One way she would like to encourage greater participation among alumni, she says, is to encourage people to reach out to other Duke graduates and supporters. During a conversation with fellow volunteers recently, she discovered that most had become reconnected with Duke because someone had asked them to come to an event, interview a prospective student, or help plan a program.

"Invite someone to come along with you to a Duke event," she says. "You might not even know the person well. Maybe it's a colleague at work that you happen to find out went to Duke or someone from your Duke dorm who moves to your city."

With Duke's growing international presence and emphasis on civic engagement, the reciprocal relationship between the university and its nearly 125,000 alumni has never been better, Pelham says. "Alumni have seen their degrees from Duke get more and more valuable as the university keeps improving, getting stronger, and aiming higher. And the university values alumni as friendly allies in its efforts to be more externally focused," including the institutional mission of generating knowledge in service to society.

A former Chronicle editor, Pelham has blended her undergraduate interests with her professional expertise in her role as chair of the Duke Student Publishing Company Inc., which publishes The Chronicle and the law school paper, The Devil's Advocate. She also served as vice chair of Duke Magazine's Editorial Advisory Board before being named to the DAA's executive committee. As president, Pelham will serve a two-year term.

Pelham also brings the added perspective of being a Duke parent; daughter Catherine Cullen '06, following in her mother's footsteps, earned a bachelor's degree with a major in history. Cullen also earned her teaching certificate and is now in her second year as a fifth-grade instructor at Malcolm X Elementary School in southeast D.C. Pelham says her daughter's transition to a demanding inner-city school hasn't been easy, but she is impressed with how well Duke prepares students "to approach issues with creativity, flexibility, and a curious mind. Engagement across lines of race, ethnicity, religion, and national culture will become more important as training for an increasingly interconnected world."

"What's fun about Duke is that no one pretends it's 'done,' " says Pelham. "It's a growing, organic, evolving entity, guided by the notion that maybe there is a better way to do something. It's why Duke does so well at collaboration and at fostering entrepreneurship. Alumni have a seat at the table for those conversations about how to do things better. It's my job to help keep us there."