When Harvard Alumni Association (HAA) President Teresita Alvarez-Bjelland ’76, M.B.A. ’79, took office last year, she had a specific goal in mind: bring together the network of Harvard alumni worldwide to highlight the important role that public service plays in the Harvard community. Over the past year, the HAA joined with thousands of alumni, students, and faculty to celebrate Harvard’s long-standing commitment to public service.
“Service is a unifying cause for alumni,” said Alvarez-Bjelland. “As the umbrella organization for all Harvard alumni, the HAA focuses on public service that enables us to participate in worthy projects while also showcasing University-wide initiatives.” Alvarez-Bjelland, who is the HAA’s first Hispanic president and only the second international leader in the role, emphasized the need for Harvard’s continued commitment to service, not just in Cambridge, but nationally and abroad. During her tenure, she met with alumni around the world and spoke with students on campus, spreading the message about public service opportunities available through the HAA.
Under the banner “Harvard Serves,” the HAA worked through the year on public service initiatives, including a “Global Month of Service” in April. The HAA travel office integrated this theme into its activities, collaborating with the Phillips Brooks House Association-Alumni (PBHA-A) on a service trip to New Orleans. In addition, the HAA Alumni Education office partnered with the PBHA-A to develop a series of Cambridge-based panel discussions that featured Harvard alumni working toward positive social change.
To spotlight Harvard’s commitment to public service while making use of new technologies, the HAA partnered with the Harvard Office of Public Affairs and Communications to create “Public Service on the Map” an interactive Web site where members of the Harvard community list their public service activities and connect with others engaged in public service. Launched as a beta test in April, the map already lists hundreds of public service activities, from all Schools, and on six continents.
“For me,” said Alvarez-Bjelland, “it has truly been an inspiring year. Alumni around the world embraced the theme of public service, from recent graduates to alumni who have never been actively engaged with the HAA before.”
Incoming HAA President Robert R. Bowie Jr. ’73 plans to continue strengthening the alumni community by exploring some untapped power in the Harvard network. He believes that members of Harvard’s alumni community “are instantly part of a worldwide network of shared experiences and a common history. The HAA is a platform for leveraging the power of that network to help one another, to support lifelong learning, and to engage with the University.”
Bowie, a founding member of the law firm Bowie & Jensen LLC and an active participant in the HAA, has served as vice president of both the University-wide and College clusters, as a member-at-large of the executive committee, and as co-chair of the schools and scholarship committee. He is the current first vice president of the HAA. He is also a playwright and poet.
Alvarez-Bjelland highlighted key attributes that Bowie will bring to the HAA. “Bob is a loyal alum with years of involvement,” she said. “His dedication and his drive will strengthen the HAA and bring the alumni closer together.”
Bowie looks forward to continuing his collaboration with Alvarez-Bjelland in the coming year, as well as with the other past HAA presidents on the executive committee, the HAA board, committees, and staff. “Teresita has included me in a very generous way throughout the past year,” said Bowie, “and I am grateful to be able to draw on the wealth of resources that she and all of the past HAA presidents bring to the HAA.”
Bowie plans to combine his commitment to Harvard with his passion for storytelling in the coming year, collecting and sharing alumni experiences through engagement activities across the HAA. These stories will highlight the unique, yet inextricably linked, threads that alumni contribute to Harvard’s social fabric and emphasize the untapped resources that each alumnus/alumna’s experience can provide. The HAA will serve as a conduit through which the diverse members of the alumni community can enrich their own connections with the University and with one another.