The CTY Alumni Association: What it Should Be

Mailing List
Other Stuff- Mentoring, Fund raising, and Networking


Throughout these pages, I call for an effective alumni association. Here, I will discuss what an effective alumni association should do.

The first thing that an effective alumni association has is a set of clearly defined goals. I discuss why an alumni association is important on this page; however I believe a brief rundown is also useful here. The primary goal of the alumni association should be to reestablish and maintain contact between CTY and CTYers, and to foster relationships between CTYers after they have left the program.

To this end, there are several main components of an effective alumni association. They include regular reunions, an extensive webpage, a newsletter, a mailing list, and special programming including mentoring, networking, and fund raising drives. I will discuss each of these components in depth, including possible implementation, costs, and organizational requirements.

Besides the services an alumni association would provide, it also needs a structure, and people to organize and implement it. To this end, I believe there needs to be a staff member at CTY whose primary job function is to organize the alumni association. This staff member could either be part time, or a full time staff member who also has other secondary tasks. He or she would be in charge of organizing reunions, creating content for the webpage and, depending on how the official CTY webpage is run, updating the alumni section, editing, producing and distributing a regular newsletter, moderating the mailing list and any other interactive components such as message boards, organizing any special programming such as mentoring or networking efforts, and spearheading alumni related fund raising. In addition, they would be a contact person for alumni, listening to alumni concerns, gauging the mood and opinion of alumni, and funneling alumni feedback to the proper parties. In the past, some alumni have felt that their concerns were not listened to, and having a staff member with a job function of listening to the concerns of alumni might help alleviate this feeling and ensure that alumni do not grow disillusioned with CTY. This staff member should both consult with other CTY staff members, especially in the Development department, and with a group of responsible alumni in the Steering Committee who will assist with the implementation of the tasks of the alumni association. The reasoning for this structure is outlined in more detail on this page.

Ultimately, all of these components work together to provide a connection to CTY. Reunions are advertised on the webpage and mailing lists; information from the mailing list is used in the newsletter and on the webpage; having CTYers connected by the first four components makes networking, organizing mentoring programs, and fund raising much easier. Together, all of these components lead to an effective alumni association, and while several of them can be put on hold until things are more stable, I think it is necessary to eventually implement all of them.


The focal point of any official alumni association, or unofficial one for that matter, should be an extensive webpage. I have modeled my current webpage after what I think an official CTY webpage should be like; however I recognize there are things that I can do as an alumni that CTY cannot do, and things that CTY or someone more technically suave can do that I cannot.

As I see it, there should be five sections to any major official or unofficial CTY webpage: News and information, Friends, Culture, Beyond CTY, and Getting Involved. I will discuss each section in turn, including what is on my page, what I think CTY should add, and what it is impractical for CTY to host.

The news and information section should provide a place for CTYers to find out what is going on with CTY right then, to find out general information about CTY that they might not know, and discuss CTY as an institution. On my page, it contains essays, alumni association information, history, contact information, information on sites and classes, and links to information about scholarships and CTY news. I think that all of these elements can be included on an official site. Perhaps the best structure for it would be to divide the section into static and interactive content. In the static section, there would be archives of newsletters and the mailing list (as discussed later on), updates on CTY news, a history of CTY, and a collection of essays about CTY. Interactive sections could include message boards to discuss CTY classes, sites, and CTY in general.

In the Culture section of my page, I have a canon, the hall of fame, the CTY purity test, an on-line poetry reading, CTYers on CTY, things we like, jargon file, photos, links, and some random stories. Some, but not all of these things, should be included in an official page. Certainly, an on-line poetry reading, a jargon file, links to other pages about CTY, a photo archive or links to photo archives, and a discussion of CTY traditions and culture can be included. Some of this content could be interactive, but other parts should be static. The biggest question mark is the liability of posting canon information. While it would defiantly be okay to post information about the canon, providing lyrics, like I have done, might be iffy for copyright reasons, and posting sound files or information on how to acquire canon CDs would definitely be out of the question (unless CTY worked out a deal with the record companies to produce a CTY Canon CD, which I think is unlikely.) The biggest part of this section would be ensuring that none of the discussion of culture reflects an unprofessional image on CTY. As I discussed in the problems section, anything on the official CTY webpage will probably be looked at by prospective CTY parents, and some might not take to kindly to Drag Tuesday, for example. Furthermore, I have no problem with posting curse words in the poems on my site, but CTY might. The creator of the webpage and CTYer higher ups would have to sit down to discuss what would be acceptable. It might make sense for alumni to create an unofficial page that holds a lot of the stuff CTY can't or won't post, which could be linked to in the links section of the page.

The key elements of the friends section of my site is information about mailing lists and reunions, the searching for section, and passionfruit. This section would have to be somewhat restructured in an official CTY webpage- first off, mailing list information and reunions would probably go in news or getting involved. Passionfruit is a big question mark- a lot of the toasts on my page include curse words or sexual references. See the above discussion of professionalism on official CTY pages. However, there is one thing that CTY can do that I can't- create a huge searchable database of CTY alumni! This would be the highlight of any friends section, and could incorporate any sort of searching for system.

In the Beyond CTY section, I have information on gifted education in general, college information, and scholarship information. I think all of these parts should be included in an official webpage, though they should probably all be more interactive than they currently are.

I don't have a Getting Involved Section on my site. However, it should exist on an official page. Besides information about the alumni association and how to join, it should have information on how to donate money and where that money would go, information about mentoring programs, what to do if you want to be actively involved in the alumni association, and how to reach various notable people at CTY.

With a webpage that includes all of these things, either on the official CTY webpage, or split between the official CTY webpage and an unofficial webpage run by alumni, there will be a central location for alumni to gather information about the alumni association and CTY. It will also provide a jumping off point for other aspects of the alumni association.


When CTYers are asked what they want out of an alumni association, one of the things that comes up first is reunions. Reunions allow CTYers to reconnect with old friends and make new ones. By hosting reunions, CTY can show that it supports the social impact the program has on the students, as well as connecting with alumni. At a point in its history, the CTY alumni association organized reunions; it would be to the great benefit of both CTY and the alumni if it began doing so again.

When high schools and colleges hold reunions, the structure is usually fairly simple: member from the reuniting class gather at the school and participate in a mix of formal and informal events for a weekend or an evening. However, because CTY is spread out over many different locations, the logistics for organizing official CTY reunions are significantly more complex. There are three major questions that need to be answered about the structure of CTY reunions in order to ensure the maximum benefit from the reunions. First, should reunions be held in cities that have a large population of CTYers such as New York, Washington DC, or Los Angeles (Major-City Reunions) or in locations that hold special meaning to CTYers but do not necessarily have large populations of CTYers living nearby, such as Carlisle PA or Saratoga Springs NY (Specific-Location Reunions). Second, should all alumni interested in attending the reunion be invited (Open-To-All reunions) or should reunions be targeted to alumni from particular sites and years (site-year-specific reunions). Finally, should the reunions be structured in a formal manner, with speakers and little finger sandwiches*, or should they be more informal, with the attendees deciding the direction of the reunion based on the whim of the moment, or structured around some activity unrelated to CTY such as ice skating or going to an amusement park. I will look at the four options provided by the different answers to the first two questions, and then discuss the third question.

Two types of reunions, the Major-City/site-year-specific reunions and the specific-location/open-to-all reunions, face major problems that remove them from consideration. It is doubtful that there will be a high enough concentration of alumni from a specific site and year to make Major-City/Site-Year-Specific reunions worthwhile, especially when one considers that there would probably have to be many of these types of reunions held each year in order to serve even a small percentage of the alumni population. Specific-location/open-to-all reunions would probably have very low turn out; it is doubtful that alumni will travel long distances to visit with CTYers they have never met before. That leaves two options: Major-City/Open-To-All reunions and Specific-Location/Site-Year-Specific Reunions. Each of these two types have pros and cons.

Major-City/Open-To-All reunions are similar to the type of reunions I head in Washington DC. Any CTYer who wish to attend can, provided they feel it is worth it to make the trip. These reunions would ideally travel between major cities with a large concentration of CTYers, choosing cities based off of alumni data gathered about current residents and holding reunions in different cities once or twice a year. These reunions would allow CTYers to reconnect with a limited number of former acquaintances, but they would also allow them to meet previously unknown CTYers and form new connections. I met some of my closest friends at my DC CTY reunions. Furthermore, the low travel investment for most CTYers would mean higher attendance- people are more willing to commit an afternoon to go to a reunion in their hometown than a weekend to go to a reunion far away. However, some problems face this type of reunion. First, there are some organization problems, with CTY staff having to organize and travel to reunions in far flung cities they may not be familiar with. Second, the fact that the likelihood of seeing any old CTY friends at these reunions is slim may discourage some alumni from attending. Finally, CTYers in far flung places would probably not get a chance to attend these reunions.

Specific-Location/Site-Year-Specific reunions would parallel the traditional high school or collage reunion much more closely. Invitations would be sent out to those CTYers who can be contacted from a specific site and year (or perhaps a spread of years) to attend a reunion held in a specific location. These reunions would probably be held for a specific year only once every ten years or so. So for example, all CTYers who were at Carlilse in 1996 and 1997 might be invited to attend a reunion at Johns Hopkins University in the winter of 2007, the ten year anniversary of their attendance. The advantage to these reunions is similar to that of college and high school reunions- they would allow people to reconnect with old friends they lost touch with many years ago, and find out how people have changed over the years. CTYers who are older and are basically guaranteed to see old friends are more likely to be willing to spend the time and money to travel to these reunions. They would also be somewhat easier to find space for; the logical places to hold them, such as CTY sites and at Johns Hopkins, already have existing relationships with CTY and the staff has familiarity with them. They would also provide an excellent way for alumni to reconnect with the program once their lives have settled down a bit- by age 26 or so most alumni will have graduated from college and be settled down into their grownup lives. However, they lack the meeting-new-people advantage of the Major-City/Open-To-All reunions. In addition, they would not work as a way to keep alumni involved with the program in the same way... if alumni are even going to be notified about the reunion, they would have had to already been involved in some manner with the alumni association. Ten years provides ample time to disconnect from the program. Finally, as the years go by, the number of these reunions that would have to be held would increase. Even if you combine sites and sessions- so for example you have a reunion for CTYers who attended Carlisle and Lancaster in 1996 and 1997, you still eventually end up with a huge number of reunions having to occur on a given year to cover everyone. A sample follows, starting with the year 2004:


2005:2006:2007: 2008: 2009: 2010: 2011: 2012: 2013: 2014: 2015:

As you can see, in just over 10 years, the number of specific-location/site-year-specific reunions needed to be held each year has doubled. While some of these reunions will probably drop off or can be combined down based on attendance as year go by- how many people are really going to go to a 40 year CTY reunion?- as CTY adds more sites, the logistical ability to hold specific-location/site-year-specific reunions increases the longer they are held. Furthermore, I am sure I have left some CTY sites off this list, nor did I consider Young Students, CAA, or any of CTY's other programs. While two of these reunions a year is reasonable, four or five is impractical.

Finally, how should the reunions be structured? I think that either the formal structure and the activity centered reunions work best for the Major-City/Open-to-all, thought it should be allowed to segway into the whim of the moment towards the end. For Specific-Location/Site-Year-Specific, a combination of formal and whim of the moment would probably work best- provide finger sandwiches, and open with a speaker who updates the alumni on what is going on with CTY, but after that allow the group to do pretty much whatever they want.

Given the vast amount of data I have just brought up, what do I ultimately think is the best plan for CTY-sponsored reunions? I'm glad you asked.

Initially, I think that CTY should sponsor four reunions a year. Two should be Major-City/Open-To-All Reunions, held in a different city each time. One of these reunions should be a more formal reunion, with speakers and finger-sandwiches- more a conference, that allows CTYers to find out what is going on with CTY these days. The other should be activity centered- ice skating, a picnic, or whatever. The other two reunions should be specific-location/site-year-specific reunions, held in Baltimore or another appropriate city. Which sites and years are invited should roughly follow the chart above. After a couple of reunions are organized, CTY can look at the success of these reunions, and reevaluate as necessary. If no one is showing up to the specific-location/site-year-specific reunions, than they can be discontinued or restructured. If people think formally structured reunions are dull, they can be replaced with activity centered reunions.

From experience, once administrative approval has been gained, organizing these reunions should not be overly difficult. CTY would have to send a staff member to each of the official reunions, to ensure they run smoothly and to gain feedback from alumni. Beyond that, the organization would entail three parts: securing a location, organizing any activities associated with the reunion or acquiring any additional materials needed, and advertising the reunion to the alumni.

Securing a location for any type of reunion shouldn't be too difficult- for site-specific reunions, it would simply be reserving a room at the college where the reunion is going to be held. For major city reunions, it would entail finding an appropriate meeting location, and if necessary making arrangements to be allowed to meet there. Organizing the activity and acquiring additional materials should be similarly simple. For activity based reunions, it would involve choosing the activity, and then talking to the people who run the activity to secure group rates and permissions. For more formal reunions, it would involve picking speakers (probably the staff member hosting the reunion, plus some alumni,) and ordering finger sandwiches. For whim of the moment reunions, this step would not be needed. Finally, announcing the reunion would be made significantly easier with an already established alumni network. Open-to-All reunions can be announced on the webpage and in any newsletters or mailing lists associated with the alumni association, in addition to notifying major unofficial lists and online groups. If an alumni database exists, invitations to site-year-specific reunions can be mailed to alumni who attended the appropriate sessions that are in the database, with a comment that they are free to invite other CTYers they are in touch with from the appropriate sites and sessions.

The fiscal cost of organizing the reunions should be similarly small. In addition to the salary of the staff member working on the reunions (this assumes that CTY has a paid alumni coordinator), the costs would include travel expenses for the staff member to attend out of town reunions, costs associated with securing a location (if, for example, JHU requires a fee to use rooms on campus,) purchasing additional materials, such as finger sandwiches, and postage and printing costs to mail invitations to site-year-specific reunions.

*finger sandwiches- I am using this to refer to any sort of food or propaganda CTY would feel like distributing at reunions. Examples, besides, of course, finger sandwiches, would include donuts, soda, veggie platters with dip, cake, or pamphlets about CTY.


Not all CTYers who wish to remain in contact with CTY are going to take the time and effort to check a webpage or go to a reunion to find out what is new with CTY. However, this doesn't mean that they aren't interested. A regular newsletter, that provides updates and information about CTY, is one way to keep in touch with these alumni.

The ultimate debate over an alumni newsletter is if it should be internet based or printed on actually paper and sent through the U.S. Postal Service. An e-mail newsletter is definitely cheaper and easier than a postal newsletter, but a postal newsletter has a personal touch that I think works well. I say having both serves the alumni best. Some alumni would prefer to keep their e-mail boxes as free from clutter as possible and would rather have a hard copy of a newsletter; others would rather receive e-mail updates. Both groups are more likely to update their contact information with CTY if they are receiving a regular newsletter. Ideally, an e-mail/webpage newsletter should come out about once a month or every two months, based on the amount of material, while a postal newsletter should be sent out about four times a year, and include a compilation of material from the e-mail newsletters as well as some original material. Given the cost of a postal newsletter, I think that it would be reasonable to either have a small subscription fee associated with receiving a postal newsletter, or have it be a perk of making an alumni donation; however, if that is done, the editors should be sure to include original material in each newsletter that isn't available on the internet. The internet based newsletter should be free.

The newsletter should include a number of things. First and foremost, it should provide updates to the alumni about what is going on at CTY- if a new site is being added, or CTY is holding a big conference, or received a 100 million dollar donation, all of that should be included. Second, the newsletter should announce news and events specific to the alumni association- if the Steering Committee gains a new member or CTY hires a new alumni related staff member, or a reunion is going to be held in the near future, or a new feature has been added to the webpage. Third, the newsletter should profile alumni who have done something notable in the time period, such as winning awards, and it should include important announcements from alumni, such as wedding and births announcements. Finally, each issue should have one or two articles or essays written by alumni and staff, focusing on either issues having to do with CTY or on issues of interest to CTYers. A print version of the newsletter should shoot for 8 pages an issue; internet versions can be more flexible in length, being longer or shorter based on the amount of news. Print versions should be well laid out, all snazzy with pictures and the like, as should a web based version. E-mail newsletters should be plain text, to accommodate subscribers who use e-mail that doesn't respond well to heavy formatting. They could either send out the whole newsletter, or provide highlights and direct subscribers to the webpage version.

Producing the newsletter would the job of the staff alumni coordinator, who would collect information and articles from alumni and staff. The cost for the postal newsletter would be production and mailing costs- based on my previous publishing work, the cost including printing and postage should be about 50 cents per issue per subscriber, with that number fluctuating slightly based on the number of subscribers. The cost for the internet versions of the newsletter would be folded in with other alumni association costs, such as the cost of maintaining the webpage.

Mailing List

Mailing lists are very different from newsletters. Unlike the newsletter, which will only be sent out by the CTY representative in charge of it, anyone can send e-mail to the mailing list. It is basically a discussion group for CTYers.

Currently, the CTY-L mailing list is the primary mailing list for CTYers. Unlike most CTY related mailing lists run by alumni, CTY-L has subscribers from all sites and sessions. However, in recent years, it has become somewhat less active, I think as a result of fewer new CTYers joining. It would be beneficial for CTY to have a mailing list officially connected to the Alumni Association. Whether this mailing list is an incarnation of CTY-L or an entirely new list is up to the CTY alumni association and the owners of CTY-L.

Fundamentally, the goal of a mailing list is to provide a place for CTYers to have discussions with one another about topics of mutual interest. While clearly one of the topics of mutual interest is CTY, there are other topics for discussion. In addition, the mailing list provides a way for CTYers to connect with others who may have had similar experiences to get advices. For example, discussing college choices is always a popular topic on CTY.

The mailing list should be open to all CTYers, and moderated only to prevent flamewars and other abuse. Mailing lists are relatively simple and cheap to set up and maintaining.

As a side note, it is my personal theory that one of the reasons why CTY-L has declined in traffic in recent years is that, as technology evolves, more individuals are using message boards and webbased communities, such as live journal, to fulfill the same function that mailing lists used to serve. Therefore, it might be reasonable to simply mention the fact that CTY-L exists, but instead focus on some sort of interactive message board system on the webpage, though that is a discussion I don't feel like going into.

Other Stuff- Mentoring, Fund raising, and Networking

There are a number of other functions that CTYers (or CTY) have wanted the alumni association to serve, including mentoring programs, networking with other CTYers, and fund raising. In this section, I will discuss each of these topics briefly, as well as mention other possible uses for the alumni association.

There have been two main ideas behind mentoring programs- the first is older CTYers being put in touch with younger CTYers to give them advice and serve as sort of a Big Brother/Sister for them. The other is to organize CTYers to serve as mentors for gifted students in their area who have not attended CTY. I think both ideas have merits; however, I also think that there are significant drawbacks to both, including liability and organizational issues. CTY would have to decided if the liability risks are worth it. After that, volunteer mentors would have to be found, as well as people who want to be mentored. And the two would have to be paired together. It would probably work best to have a database of people who are willing to be mentors, and pair them with mentees based on a set of criteria determined by CTY and the alumni steering committee. However, I don't see this as one of the top priorities of the alumni association- it is something that would be much easier to do once the appropriate infrastructure was in place.

Networking is somewhat easier to implement that mentoring. Ultimately, I think that hosting reunions, having a searchable database on the web, and creating a mailing list provide many options for networking. If more is needed, it can be discussed after these first steps are taken.

Unlike networking and mentoring, which I feel can either be put on the back burner or initially accomplished through the goals stated above, fund raising needs to be implemented quickly if for no other reason that it is how CTY can justify the expense of running the alumni association. While simply having alumni in contact with CTY will increase fund raising options, I think that it is important for donations from CTY alumni to be recognized and seen as important. To this end, I think that the alumni association in particular should set up either an endowment or a set of scholarships. Money could be raised in an annual alumni fund drive, promoted through the alumni network described on this page. People who donate over a certain amount could be rewarded with, for example, a free subscription to the postal newsletter or a teeshirt. I don't know all that much about fund raising, but CTY has people whose primary job is to fund raise who I'm sure will be more than happy to help out.

While the following numbers are based on the slimiest of data, I estimate that there about 20,000 CTY alumni out there. If only one in five of those can be found, that still leaves 4,000 alumni in contact with the alumni association. If only one in ten of those donate, with an average donation of fifty dollars, that is still 20,000 dollars, enough to send 8 students to CTY on scholarship.

The last section of an effective CTY alumni association is a database of contact information for alumni, that can be used to promote reunions, send out newsletters, and raise funds. While this was mostly covered under the webpage, I feel that it is important to point out that if alumni are getting services out of the alumni association, they are more likely to keep their information up to date. This, along with all of the tasks discussed on this page, are well with in reach, if CTY and alumni are willing to put the time and effort into them.

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