Shenandoah University’s Black Alumni Network is going strong as it celebrates its first year. After being established in 2020, the group is closing in on 200 members and is presenting its first Homecoming events this year.
Those events include a Black Alumni Network Panel, at which members will share information about their careers and professional experiences, and a Black Alumni Network Dinner & Awards Ceremony – the group’s first major in-person event. Both events are on Thursday, Sept. 30. (The full Homecoming schedule is available at su.edu.)
The panel and the dinner/awards ceremony mesh perfectly with the mission of the Black Alumni Network, which is to unite “Black alumni, students, and the Shenandoah University community to promote an interconnected network of support, cultivate university engagement, and facilitate personal, professional and economic empowerment.”
Black Alumni Network President Rippert “Rip” Roberts III ’08, ’09 (BBA/MBA), has been adept at creating connections since his days as a Shenandoah student. As an undergraduate, Roberts, who was also a football player, served as president of the Black Student Union. As a graduate assistant, Roberts helped create a grant-funded program for first-generation college males.
“We took upperclassmen and paired them underclassmen to create the mentor-mentee relationship,” he said, “and then we took those who were being mentored to the Boys & Girls Club, and they became mentors there.”
Roberts also didn’t hesitate to connect again with Shenandoah, when he felt the time was right, by reaching out to Shenandoah University Vice President for Student Affairs Dr. Yolanda Barbier Gibson in 2020. “It had been on my mind, especially with everything that was going on in the country with racial issues and police brutality issues,” Roberts said. “I was thinking, ‘What if we did a black student alumni type deal?’ I just had this thought of needing to be more engaged with the university. I’ve had a kid, and I’m working, but I need to plug back in.”
“She (Yolanda) reached out to me to let me know that Rip was interested in helping get a group like this off of the ground,” said Emily Burner ’16, Shenandoah University’s executive director of donor and alumni relations. “This is something that our office had been wanting to do for a while now. The conversation between Rip and Yolanda definitely brought it to the forefront, and gathered much momentum behind the move to create the group. I’m really excited for what is in store.”
Roberts says he envisions the Black Alumni Network as being a place where people can share everything from business tips to birth announcements.
“We want to create that environment where people can plug back in,” Roberts said. If they want to get back involved with SU, here’s an avenue.”
Members can also mentor and guide current students. “I wish I had someone like myself speaking to me when I was in college,” said Black Alumni Network Vice President Bryce Mitchell ’14, ’17 (B.S. Exercise Science/M.S.Ed.), who was also a Hornets athlete (basketball), and who, like Roberts, met his wife at Shenandoah. “I feel like my eyes would have been glued on that person.”
Staying connected to the university is also meaningful to Mitchell. “I do love Shenandoah,” Mitchell said. “It’s where my wife and I met. My brother and I became closer being at Shenandoah together. We were able to make a difference in the athletics department there. I’ll have two degrees and a certification from there. It’s a huge part of my life. And to be able to help make a difference there, that’s important to me.”
Interested in learning more about the Black Alumni Network? It’s easy! Email firstname.lastname@example.org; submit this Google Form to sign up to join the group; join the Shenandoah University Black Alumni Network Facebook Group and/or follow the Shenandoah University Black Alumni Network Instagram.
– Shenandoah University Black Alumni Network member Chris Lassiter ’98 contributed to this piece.