On June 12, at American Family Insurance’s corporate headquarters in Madison, Wis., the sea of red resembled that of a game day at Camp Randall. The company’s University of Wisconsin-Madison alumni networked and talked, often realizing for the first time that people they’d worked with for years had the same alma mater.
“Looking at some of the nametags, not only did I not know some of my coworkers were fellow Badgers, but even fellow Wisconsin School of Business alumni,” said Lori Krumberger, a ’95 graduate. “It’s beneficial to be making those connections. Maybe in the future I’ll be bouncing ideas off of them.”
The American Family tailgate is a part of a series of events designed to connect alumni to each other and back to the University, as well as foster relationships between the WSB and organizations with Badger pride.
“The program started out with the question: How could we better connect to alumni while connecting them to each other and back to campus?” said Heather Garrison, assistant director of alumni relations at the Wisconsin School of Business.
Garrison piloted the program in October 2013 at General Mills in Minneapolis, where there was already an organized network of UW-Madison alumni. She reached out to a handful of passionate Badgers — later named corporate champions — who worked to create a master list of alumni at the company. Once the list was finished, the company’s Badgers were all invited to a tailgate style event sponsored by the Wisconsin School of Business.
Since then, Target, 3M, CUNA Mutual Group, and American Family have played host to their own alumni events. With more than 400 Badgers in the company and eight employees who volunteered as corporate champions, American Family’s UW-Madison network is the largest thus far.
The event included time for both networking and a scheduled program featuring UW-Madison Chancellor Becky Blank as the keynote speaker. Classic tailgate favorites like burgers and nachos were served to the 145 alumni who attended.
During the program, the corporate champions group presented opportunities to give back to the University, including volunteering with Madison Business Mentors and giving back financially.
“I earned an excellent degree for a reasonable cost, and I got a scholarship,” said Corporate Champion Carrie Grahn, who graduated in 1994 with a degree in Risk Management & Insurance and Marketing. “I just feel like I need to give back.”
Dan Kelly, American Family’s CFO and a Wisconsin School of Business alumnus, introduced Blank, who spoke about her goals as chancellor and how American Family contributes to and benefits from the Wisconsin Idea. WSB Dean François Ortalo-Magné also spoke at the event, thanking American Family for its continued support of UW-Madison students.
Corporate Champion Luke Jonas, an ’03 graduate of the School of Human Ecology, said he hopes these alumni events will strengthen each American Family Badger’s connection to UW-Madison.
“I hope it sparks people to do other things related to the University,” Jonas said. “There are many events that we’re planning not just for the University, but for Madison locally, charitable things and volunteering. Hopefully this [event] sparks something or helps them remember their alma mater.”
The alumni tailgate series will continue with an event at Kohl’s on July 17 in Milwaukee and with events at Google and Intuit in California later in the year.