MERCED — Even with participation from 100 percent of its graduates, University of California at Merced's alumni association has just three members.
But university officials say that's not stopping the association — launched just before June's inaugural graduation — from starting strong.
"We're small now," said UC Merced Alumni Affairs Coordinator Stefani Martinez. "But we're really excited and optimistic about how we're going to grow."
Martinez said the three graduates have made commitments to help establish the association.
"We're just getting started, but I'm really trying to be involved," said Eve Delfin, who graduated in June with a bachelor's degree in social and cognitive sciences. "It's important to pave the way for future graduates and give back to the university."
Martinez said the establishment of an alumni association is an important step for the fledgling university.
"The benefits of having an alumni association are huge," she said.
Alumni networks serve as an important source of funding for universities. Many alumni choose to give back to programs — such as campus sports teams, student government or particular majors — that played a role in their college experiences, Martinez said.
According to the UC office of the president, about 10 percent of private support to UC system's 10 campuses comes from alumni.
Help from other alums
Past graduates serve as valuable advocates for their alma maters in state politics, Martinez said, and they can provide networking opportunities for recent graduates looking to start their careers.
Perhaps the biggest supporter of UC Merced's new alumni association is the San Joaquin Valley UC Alumni Network, an organization started seven years ago to connect local graduates from campuses throughout the UC system.
"With just the three of them, this year's alumni are kind of orphans at this point," said Roger Wood, president of the network. "So we're doing what we can to help them get going."
The network assisted UC Merced's first graduates in establishing the tradition of a class gift by sponsoring a fund-raiser that brought in $2,500 to purchase a 100-gallon fish tank for the university's library.
"The San Joaquin Valley network has been really helpful to us," Delfin said. "We're going to be relying on them until we get some more members."
Delfin said UC Merced's graduates are beginning to work with the network at its monthly meetings to implement some of their ideas.
Starting new scholarships programs and developing workshops to prepare next year's graduates for the real world are some of the projects UC Merced's alumni association hopes to see through, Delfin said.
University officials say they expect about 100 graduates next year, and Martinez said she hopes those students will build on the foundation being created by UC Merced's first graduates.
"Anything we can do to make our current students more successful and to make them feel more connected to UC Merced will increase the chance that they'll want to stay connected with us after graduation," Martinez said. "It would be great if we could continue to see the interest from our future alumni as we're seeing now."