The CTY Alumni Association: A Brief History

At one time, there was an active, effective CTY Alumni Association. It published a magazine called the CTYer and organized CTY alumni events. However, it has been inactive for about 5 years. In this section, I will briefly discuss some of the changes and developments in CTY's Alumni relations. My sources for this information are the CTY-L mailing list archives and my personal recollections, as well as my observations and discussions with CTY staff members and active alumni. Because the CTY-L archives only go back to about 1995, and I wasn't really aware of CTY alumni issues until about 1997, I will not be discussing things that happened prior to 1995 in detail.

The primary contact person for Alumni Relations at CTY is the Assistant Director for Development. She (the past four individuals to hold this job have all been women) is a part of a four person development department that consists of a director, an assistant director, a coordinator, and a secretary. The development department is not only in charge of alumni relations, but also in charge of fund raising and dealing with major donors. This is, of course, a very important task; it allows students who would not otherwise be able to afford the program to attend CTY. However, it is also a very time consuming task, and as the program has grown, I am under the impression the workload for this department has also grown, leaving the staff little time to focus on alumni relations.

In the past 10 years, there have been four different Assistant Directors for Development at CTY, and each of them brought different strengths and priorities to the table with regards to alumni relations.

I have heard reports of an alumni assiocation that sent out newsletters as far back as 1990, and a report of an alumni association that sold tee-shirts and laundrey bags at registration in the mid-80's. However, information is somewhat sketchy about these early days of alumni activity.

By July of 1995, Robin Steckler was the Assistant Director for Development at CTY. At this time, there was also a CTY Alumni Association, with an Alumni President, that worked closely with the Development Office to create an alumni program which included a newsletter called the CTYer and CTY alumni events such as a trip to Great Adventure theme park in New Jersey and ice skating in New York City. Tina Wu, a biology student at Johns Hopkins University and a CTY Alumnae worked with Ms. Steckler to organize these events. At the same time, Matthew Belmonte, an early CTY student and a summer staff member for many years, was also working closely with the CTY Alumni Association. He created the CTY-L mailing list around this time, and was maintaining an excellent CTY page with alumni listings.

In the summer of 1995, Robin Steckler left CTY. Towards the end of that year, a new Assistant Director of Alumni Relations was hired, Kelly Brown (nee Mansfield). Also at this point, it appears that CTYer Neal Scoones was acting as president of the CTY Alumni Association, though I'm not sure. During this time period, at least one official CTY alumni event was organized- a picnic in Central Park in the spring of 1996- and as far as I can tell the CTYer was still being published.

However, in 1996 and 1997, staff upheavals lead to a disappearance of official alumni events. Wendy Ginsburg, the Director of Development and Alumni Relations (the position one step above the Assistant Director of Development) left in the first half of 1996, and I am under the impression that there was a time lag before she was replaced with Dr. Julian Jones. Ms. Brown left sometime 1997 and was replaced by Holly Brandt. As far as I can tell, between the spring of 1996 and the end of 1997, there was a long period of time where the Development office was not fully staffed or was staffed with new people, who were probably swamped with learning a new job and catching up on a backlog of work. In addition, CTY was going through a a reorganization, making the switch to IAAY, which I'm sure further added to the confusion. During that time period, official CTY events stopped happening, the CTYer stopped being published, and the student-run CTY Alumni Association with the alumni president disappeared.

In February of 1998, the relationship between CTY and Matthew Belmonte, the CTY alumnus who I at least had found to be the most active and informed, was officially severed. Matthew had attend CTY back when it was OTID in 1982, and returned to the program as a staff member during 1987. He continued as a summer staff member until 1997, during that time starting the CTY-L mailing list and creating the OTID and CTY webpage, The Unoffical Official CTY webpage. For a time, there was talk of this webpage being merged into the official CTY webpage, though that didn't end up happening. In a lengthy e-mail entitled On Leaving CTY Matthew explained the circumstances under which he left CTY, and explained where he thought CTY was going wrong. In my mind, at least, this e-mail marked a turning point in Alumni Relations with CTY.

The years between 1998 and 2002 were a period characterized by stagnation at best and marked alienation between involved alumni and the administration at worst. With the student run CTY Alumni Association no longer active and Matthew Belmonte no longer involved with CTY, there were no alumni (that I know of) in close contact with the CTY administration, creating a vacuum of alumni leadership. In addition, there was a marked difference of opinion between the Assistant Director of Development, Holly Brandt, and a large number of alumni about what the goal of alumni relations should be. This difference of opinion was characterized by a thread on the CTY-L mailing list between Ms. Brandt and several alumni. (Ms. Brandt's original message can be found here. Unfortunately, the CTY-L archives are not sorted by thread; more of the discussion can be found on this page.)

At this point, I was becoming significantly more involved in alumni relations. My webpage was becoming more elaborate and better know, and I started organizing regular reunions open to all CTYers in the DC area. As a result of this, I was contact with a large number of alumni from sites and sessions different than my own, and had a chance to learn a lot about many CTYers' experiences with the program and the alumni association. During this time period, I exchanged several sets of e-mails with Ms. Brandt, volunteering to help coordinate official alumni activities, and making suggestions. However, my offers received little response; similar propositions from other alumni I talked to also seemed to fall on deaf ears. At the same time, I and other alumni were hearing continual promises of updated webpages and alumni steering committees and so forth that would increase alumni involvement and get the alumni association back on track. None of it came to fruition.

I am not sure how much of this was Ms. Brandt's fault, and how much was just the situation. Personally, I didn't get along with her, and that of course colors my judgement of the situation. However, I also understand that getting anything done in a corporate setting is very difficult. When I want to organize a reunion, I organize one. When I want to update my webpage, I do. I report to no one but myself. However, employees of CTY have to have their official actions approved by higher ups, and that can take time. As far as I can tell, Ms. Brandt came into CTY at a time when Alumni Relations were forced to take the backburner for a number of reasons, and by the time she could focus on them, she was essentially starting from scratch, a difficult proposition.

In 2002, however, things seemed to pick up somewhat. Ms. Brandt left CTY, and was replaced by Erika O'Brien. Ms. O'Brien started her term as Assistant Director of Development on a good note- introducing herself to the CTY-L list, contacting alumni who had previously been in contact with Ms. Brandt (including myself), and quickly setting up a Steering Committee of Alumni to help out. There seems to be progress being made in the direction of once again having an active alumni association, though I also understand that Ms. O'Brien has a daunting task ahead of her. Only time will tell if all of the goals of the CTY Alumni Association can be reached.

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