UST’S PUBLIC Affairs and Alumni Office (PAAO) is tasked to manage both internal and external affairs—from image-making to alumni relations, to job placement for graduates.

However, with a “gargantuan” number of alumni unaccounted for and about 5,000 more added every year, and as the countdown towards Vision 2011 continues to tick, the task of PAAO to manage two important University affairs seems too burdensome.

Is it time for it to follow the steps of the Office for Student Affairs and Office for Community Development, which were in October 2001 separated?

According to PAAO Director Cristina Cabral, having a separate office each for the public affairs and the alumni concerns has not been discounted.

“For us to ‘fly’ barring constraints, there should be a separate office,” Cabral said. “We could nurture our alumni well if there is an office solely for them (alumni).”

But a separate office for alumni affairs would mean more investment in capital structure, new office space, and additional manpower, she said.

PAAO, UST’s image maker, currently occupies a cramped space in the main building, filled with UST souvenirs, memorabilia, posters, and freshman kits.

Cabral said the University is very supportive of her projects but the demands of her office are not simple. She, however, pointed out that PAAO is doing well.

Caretaking difficulties

Taking care of a 400-year-old university with about 30,000 students proves to be a difficult task.

“It’s a gargantuan task (taking care of) 18 colleges and faculties with massive populations,” Cabral told the Varsitarian.

Further, some projects bent on tapping alumni resources are snail-paced because of the low response, resulting in or caused by the lack of a comprehensive alumni database.

Cabral disclosed that only 2,292 alumni responded to PAAO’s profile survey this year, 208 short of the target. The survey is part of the Graduate Tracer Studies, which sees the mismatches between what the academe provides and what the industry needs, Cabral said.

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“Informing us, alumni, of our alma mater’s activities makes us feel that we’re being valued,” said Roger De Leon, a UST College of Commerce alumnus. “I haven’t received any letter or invitation to the school’s big events since I graduated in 1985.”

UST also lacks a website specifically for the alumni, as the Internet links in the University’s website are unavailable.

Other universities like Ateneo and De La Salle, which have strong alumni ties, have websites constantly updated with announcements of major events and activities. Both have alumni databases in their websites, where announcements are posted and invitations are sent through e-mail.

La Salle also publishes a regular newsletter that they send to media organizations to inform their alumni.

Jonette Imperial, a De La Salle Alumni Association (DLSAA) officer, said their alumni are not only important in terms of financial aid, but also in the development of a University’s various programs.

“The alumni keep us informed of what’s happening in the real world. They tell us the new developments related to the courses being offered in the school,” Imperial told the Varsitarian.

Imperial said its comprehensive alumni directory is “very helpful” in keeping track of alumni and establishing good relations with them.

Nevertheless, Cabral said hiring an independent public relations company to handle the public relations of the UST is out of the picture at the moment. Instead, the University is tapping its faculty members who are well-established in the media to help in project promotions.

Nurturing the flock

Aside from communication problems, the absence of an organized alumni structure adds to PAAO’s headaches.

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The number of alumni associations from the different colleges and faculties of the University makes the job of creating a formal structure more difficult.

“I want to involve them (alumni) because for so many years, they were not involved,” Cabral said.

“We are trying to propose to the incumbent local alumni presidents to create a coordinating body or council of presidents,” Cabral said. “The council of presidents will be the one to coordinate with the Public Affairs.”

Other than strengthening the alumni base, Cabral said they are also planning to continue the Job Fair, which started 11 years ago, and the Job placement programs, started by Cabral’s predecessor, Ana Maria Gloria Ward.

“The projects started by my predecessors should be continued and strengthened so the University will be able to progress at a faster pace,” Cabral said.

Cabral cited the success of the Job Fair when it posted a record-breaking 94 companies participating last January, including GMA, ABS-CBN, Philippine National Bank, Philippine Airlines, and other reputable companies.

“They believe in the Thomasian quality of education,” Cabral said.

She added that PAAO has been receiving letters from big corporations, asking for the names of the University’s graduating students as early as June.

Helping the alma mater

Keeping private universities well-funded is an enormous task. And the alumni also play an important role in this matter.

“De La Salle’s alumni have been helping the school by donating buildings, granting scholarships and raising funds among others,” Imperial said, adding that sponsorships are also given by alumni to varsity athletes.

Ateneo has various organizations that keep the school’s pool of resources full.

The organizations include the Order of the Blue Eagles, Amando F. Kapauan Chair, the Ateneo Alumni Scholars Association, which manages scholarship programs, and the Ateneo Sports Fund Campaign, which handles its athletic development program.

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But UST alumni also hand out donations and scholarship grants.

Some notable donations include the University of Santo Tomas Medical Alumni Association’s $75,000 donation to the UST Hospital and the Faculty of Medicine and Surgery, and the P100 million raised by College of Commerce alumni to put up the UST Alfredo Velayo College of Accountancy.

Added benefits

For the help alumni give, UST gives benefits to them in return.

UST offers several discounts through its Alumni Card: a five per cent discount on UST Hospital service fee, a 50 per cent discount on the library fee of the UST Central Library, a five per cent discount on prices of books sold at UST Publishing House Bookstore, a P1,000 discount on the wedding fee at the UST Chapel, free entrance to the UST Museum of Arts and Science Gallery, and a one-year subscription to the Thomasian Courier.

Other universities, such as De La Salle and Ateneo, also have alumni cards—the De La Salle Alumni Association Card and the Ateneo Alumni Association VISA Credit Card (AAA VISA Card).

Both cards offer access to their respective university facilities and offer discounts in restaurants, hotels, health and beauty shops, etc. However, the AAA VISA Card is also beneficial to its university as a certain percentage of the expenses incurred by the cardholder are donated to Ateneo’s programs such as scholarship programs, faculty development, student affairs and development, and sports programs.

Despite the odds, Cabral is confident that PAAO can hurdle all the obstacles along the way.

“We are on the right track,” she said.

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