West Nelson '81 has purchased a lot of Metrocards for Kalamazoo College alumni and students new to the New York City subway system. It's just one of many ways he keeps connected to K, a bond he deeply values.

Staying Engaged

We members of the Alumni Association Executive Board (AAEB) spend a great deal of time talking about alumni engagement. The Get Engaged page on the College’s website lists several opportunities for alumni to continue to be involved, not only with the College but also with current students and recent graduates.

West Nelson ’81

Sometimes the engagement is not as direct as volunteering at a college fair or identifying a prospective student. It’s often the continuation and strengthening of bonds formed when we were on campus or afterward. Turner Lewis ’63 and I served together on the AAEB for a few years. In 1996, he put together a rafting trip down the Colorado River. There’s hardly been a day since when I haven’t thought about how great the experience was. Amy Mantel Hale ’66 and her daughter, Lauren, were also on the trip. Years later, Lauren has used photos of my father in her TED Talks (which for me feels almost as good as giving one).

When I was a sophomore, during a class with [Professor Emeritus of Sociology] Marigene Arnold, we discussed voting on school millage proposals—a choice or a duty? Dr. Arnold suggested the latter, because others had done that for us when we were in elementary and middle school. Without actually saying it was our obligation, she delivered the message.

Years later, on September 11, 2001, when I was living in New York City, the first person I heard from was the late Joe Brockington [Director of the Center for International Programs] checking to make sure I was all right. I was, and because phone service in lower Manhattan was intermittent, Joe called my father to let him know I was okay. I next heard from Gail Griffin and Ed Menta, respectively. I will forever be grateful to Joe, Gail and Ed for their kindness.

I’ve not yet had the pleasure of hosting an extern or an intern, but while I was in the New York City metro area, if a K grad, newly arrived in the city, reached out to me with questions about where to live or things to do, I would first buy them a monthly Metrocard. It was a small thing and didn’t cost me much, but it took one thing off their plate, and it allowed them to explore without having to worry about that part of their budget. The second thing: I would tell them to never sleep on the subway. They were always immediately thankful for the first, and understanding about the second would eventually follow.

Some of the best people I know are children of K alumni. They never cease to amaze me. Not all of them followed their parent to K, but if they did and they knew me, they always managed to find me when I was on campus and either give me a big hug or pass along greetings from their parents.

The light bulb moment long ago in Dr. Arnold’s class has stayed with me to this day. We owe those who come after us. I give back to the college because I want them to be able to have an opportunity to see their own light. Engagement with the college is both direct and indirect. Either way, the rewards are equally bright.

You can learn more about the Kalamazoo College Alumni Association and the many ways to become more engaged with the college. Staying engaged has certainly made a difference in my life.

West Nelson is an adjunct professor and freelance document specialist. He’s currently reconnecting with his east coast roots by sampling shellfish and fishing for bluefish in Rhode Island.

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