Alumnus tackles young alumni engagement with grassroots efforts
Dan Surber is a problem solver.
But the Virginia Tech alumnus, who graduated in 2010 with a bachelor’s degree in industrial and systems engineering, saw a problem he alone couldn’t fix: he thought more young alumni should be engaged with the university.
So when Eileen Van Aken, interim department head of the Grado Department of Industrial and Systems Engineering, approached Surber and other young alumni with an idea to start a young alumni communication network for the department, Surber enthusiastically agreed to help.
It didn’t take long for the department's most recent graduates, starting from the class of 2010 to 2017, to organize into the VT ISE Class Coordination Initiative. Surber helped coordinate efforts with class representatives to launch a system of Google Groups, which allow users to communicate en masse via forums and email groups.
As people eagerly signed up for the class coordination effort, Surber said they realized that, with their numbers, they had something powerful.
“Then it started molding into, ‘OK, what else can we do?’” Surber said. “We now have this giant pool of alumni that are really passionate about giving back to our ISE department, so what else can we do?”
The group organized efforts to connect with current students to mentor them and conduct practice job interviews with them. They began networking with each other, helping their fellow recent alumni make connections inside and outside of the group, and they began philanthropically supporting the university.
“Even if we’re talking small donations here, together we can make an enormous impact,” Surber said.
Today — with the help of Kyra Vila and Leigh Mathewes, the 2016 class coordinators and young alumni behind the idea of an ISE young alumni board, and Don Meier, a 2013 class coordinator — the group is on its way to being the first young alumni board within the Virginia Tech College of Engineering, as they formalize procedures and nominate inaugural board members to what will be known as the ISE Emerging Leaders Board.
“It started as just communication, and now it’s a real young alumni board that we’re putting together,” Surber said. “We’re hoping that, now, as a unit, we can make even more of an impact.”
Through all of this, Surber has reaffirmed a commitment to giving back to Virginia Tech.
“I’ve thought about this a good amount: why would anybody give back, especially even at a young age?” Surber said. “There’s no way I would be to where I am right now had I not gone to such an incredible university, Virginia Tech, but specifically [an] incredible College of Engineering, and then [an] incredible department, the industrial and systems engineering department. [They] really set the stage for my entire career.”
Surber acknowledges some credit for his success comes from his own work ethic: he had to work hard to earn his degree and secure internships and co-ops that would lead to the beginning of a successful career. Knowing the effort it takes to earn a degree from Virginia Tech is partially why the company he founded and currently leads as president and CEO, Alpine Consulting Partners, is 100 percent Hokie-run, with nine full-time employees — two-thirds of whom are ISE graduates.
But he also takes it a step further in asserting that it was Virginia Tech that built the foundation he stands on.
“You know, I paid tuition, paid room and board, all this — that is peanuts compared to how I feel this university has really provided,” Surber said. “I am convinced — and I’ve thought about this — if I were to take all of that time, effort, and willpower and applied it to another university in the exact same manner, I am convinced that I would not get nearly the opportunities and the possibilities that I was offered here at Virginia Tech.”
It’s why Surber gives back. Not only does he “feel incredible” about giving back to his university, he says, he’s also solving a problem. By giving philanthropically and of his time, he’s showing other young alumni how they can do the same.
“We want to be able to continue giving back, even as young alumni,” Surber said. “When I donate even just a small amount, I know that it’s actually making a difference. Maybe just a small piece of the greater difference, but it’s actually making a difference.”
Written by Erica Corder