FIU Alumni Association President Michael Hernandez ’04, MPA ’11 shared the following message with his fellow board members on April 21, 2021, at his final board meeting as president. Hernandez is succeeded by alumna and board member Gina Duarte-Romero ’91, M.Ed. ’08.
My Fellow Board Members – It has been a decade since Bill Draughon and Duane Wiles invited me to lunch in Coral Gables to ask me to consider becoming a member of this Board of Directors. I agreed and was fortunate to have been accepted as a member after my good friends and SigEp brothers Alberto Padron, Frank Peña and Eddie Hondal advocated for me all those years ago.
I have watched this alumni association mature from one representing an emerging university, to one that represents a university that has arrived. It is no longer a question of ‘when’ FIU will be recognized for its essential, indispensable role in South Florida and across the country. Our university already is given proper recognition. U.S. News & World Report has taken notice:
- FIU is a Top 50 Public Research University;
- We have the #2 Undergraduate International Business Program;
- The #3 International MBA;
- Are Top 15 in our Part-Time Law Program;
- Our College of Law graduates routinely have the highest Bar passage rates in Florida;
- Our College of Medicine is respected for its service-learning NeighborhoodHELP program;
- For those of us who also work at the university, we took pride being recognized by Forbes as the second-best employer in Florida;
- And as we all know, FIU has been designated Research I Doctoral Universities – which is the Highest Research Activity classification given by the Carnegie Foundation.
Indeed, we have much to be proud of.
Our university is also tackling the world’s major challenges – from adapting to sea-level rise and Climate Change, to ensuring DREAMers and immigrants have an opportunity to earn a college education and opening doors to a better life, to offering low-income families medical care. FIU – a university where over a quarter of its undergraduate students are the first in their families to attend college – does not shy away from confronting challenges. It embraces them and helps our elected officials and policymakers identify solutions.
That is why FIU is also recognized as a solutions-center for the world’s challenges.
For these reasons, each of the volunteers on this Board know that FIU has arrived.
The world – and FIU – was very different when you honored me with the presidency in the Spring of 2019.
Our university President Mark B. Rosenberg challenged us to continue to grow the alumni association, diversify it so that it represented all parts of our great institution, increase fundraising and continue telling the FIU Story to the world.
So our work began…
At our retreat in June 2019, members of this BOD stepped up and contributed $1,500 each to Panther scholarships awarded by this alumni association. Collectively, we raised over $20,000 that afternoon for our students.
Powered by the largest gathering of alumni at an annual meeting ever with over 600 in attendance right here at the Biltmore Hotel in Coral Gables, our Board went on to welcome 17,000 graduates into the FIU Alumni Association in 2020. Later that Summer, we also proved Panthers are everywhere – even in the Big Apple – as we hosted the largest event in New York City for the Next Horizon capital campaign at the New York Public Library with 400 guests.
Two of our young alumni and former student leaders Krista Schmidt and Leo Cosio approached me about relaunching the Young Alumni Network. Today, we have 30 executive committee members who engage alumni 35 years and younger. We even hosted our first-ever virtual GROWTH conference which attracted hundreds of participants virtually.
We were on a roll.
Then Covid-19 impacted our world, South Florida and the university in ways we could not have imagined.
Some of us lost relatives and friends to the virus. Others were working during it and risking their health to serve others and provide for their families during the pandemic. For example, Ben Sardinas operated a testing center nearby and manufactured personal protective equipment. I’m certain Panthers were everywhere in the community and country keeping others safe.
Covid-19 certainly presented challenges, but as Dr. Rosenberg says, “At FIU, we don’t ask for a lighter load. We ask for broader shoulders.”
And that’s what this board did.
Despite all our challenges this alumni association board – each of you – can be proud of what we accomplished together in the most challenging of circumstances FIU has ever faced:
- Board members collaborated with staff and volunteers to create 15 virtual events for our alumni ranging from our book club, networking events and panel discussions. This included the Panther Fan Chat series we created in collaboration with FIU Athletics featuring basketball head coaches Jeremy Ballard and Jesyka Burks-Wiley thanks in part to our staff and Alumni Super Fan J.C. Alexander.
- We created the first-ever FIU 305 Give Day on March 5, 2020, resulting in 533 Panthers from 16 states collectively contributing $12,643 within 24 hours. This program was recognized by the Council for the Advancement and Support of Education with an industry award in 2021 for its creativity and uniqueness.
- We hosted the 2nd Annual FIU 305 Give Day on March 5, 2021, which resulted in 45 percent growth in donations, 26 percent growth in donor count and 41 percent growth in total dollars raised.
- We renewed our national partnership with GEICO in 2020, securing a multiyear, major sponsorship to help us provide programs and events for alumni.
- We increased the number of active volunteers from 452 to 694. These volunteers signed up to be mentors, lead Panther Networks and serve on committees.
- We recruited Board of Directors from the Herbert Wertheim College of Medicine, and other parts of the country making the current board the most academically diverse it has ever been. Every College at FIU is represented by a member on the Board of Directors. To the best of my knowledge, that has never happened before. That’s progress.
- We established the FIUAA’s first-ever Diversity and Inclusion Committee with former board member and now Trustee Chanel Rowe ’14.
And let me touch on Chanel’s new service role for a moment. The Alumni Association Board of Directors has matured to the point that one of our own was appointed by the Florida Board of Governors to the body which governs our university. That proves that leaders on this Board can be future Foundation Board members and even Trustees. That’s progress as well.
And although we were sad to see our former Executive Director Duane Wiles move on, we welcomed an alumni relations professional in Brian Breittholz as our new leader after an extensive search process I co-chaired with our Vice President Dr. Pablo Ortiz.
Brian, we know you will be successful in this role because you have a wonderful team behind you, especially our friend Sara Ducuennois, who did an amazing job leading our alumni association during the transition and also supported the search process.
I step aside knowing that I gave our alumni association my all. I learned from my friend and predecessor Maria Garcia who inspired me during her term as President. Thank you, Maria. And now I pass the gavel to someone who has become a good friend, adviser and confidante in Gina Duarte-Romero. I’m looking forward to helping her and our new Executive Committee which includes my good friends and SigEp Brothers Sean Gazitua, J.C. Alexander – as well emerging leader Sylvia Fumero, Ivonne Debesa who has never missed an important FIU sporting event anywhere in the country, and Lemar White who will undoubtedly continue his great work for FIU in Washington, D.C.
Miguel, thank you for being a friend and for your service to our Board. You will be missed as your term of service comes to an end. I hope you will come back and perhaps even become a board member again.
Arman, Dwayne, Donovan, Corey, Alex, Jorge, Jaclyn, Brittany, Alex, Ana, Manny, Cisely, Gabriel, Swensen, Malik and Dustin – Thank you for committing to serving our university and alumni association.
If I may offer this advice for our new Executive Committee and each of our volunteer board members: Remember who we represent.
- 57,000 students;
- 260,000 graduates – all of which are members of this alumni association;
- The 4th-largest university in the United States; and
- One of the fastest-growing alumni associations in North America.
This is who we are.
Thank you for the honor and privilege to have served you and Panthers everywhere. It’s been an amazing journey. But let’s keep it going. Let’s continue growing, fundraising, advocating for Panthers everywhere, supporting our university however and whenever we can.
Thank you all.
Keep those #PawsUp!