Alumni embark on service trips

The average traveler on a Yale alumni cruise is about 70 years old. But with new service trips and lower prices, the Association of Yale Alumni is trying to attract a younger and more diverse group.

The economic downturn has hurt the travel industry, and Yale Educational Travel, a division of AYA that organizes alumni trips, was no exception, falling by about 13 to 16 percent in the 2009 academic year. Yale Educational Travel canceled 14 out of its 45 planned trips, said Judith Cushingham ’87, director of Educational Travel. But cheaper vacations, such as service trips, leadership workshops and discounted tours, are contributing to a turnaround through their lower prices and service initiatives. In the 2010 academic year , Yale has only canceled one educational trip, Cushingham said.

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“The traditional programs are definitely high-end travel,” AYA Director Mark Dollhopf ’77 said. “They’re a great value but still expensive. We’re trying to develop different travel programs at different price points with the level of service that can be expected.”

The AYA began its service trips in 2007 to address changes in alumni interests, said Remy Shaber ’98, coordinator of service tours.

“At Yale, there’s such a strong interest among students in service,” he said. “We saw that the interest continued among alumni, but there wasn’t really an outlet for alumni to engage in service opportunities.”

Because the AYA is a non-profit organization, and the cost of Yale Educational travel programs is only enough to cover expenses, the service trips operate at a loss, while another exchange trip for alumni leaders breaks even.

Since the trips were introduced, Yale alumni and students have completed three service trips, with an upcoming trip in March to Monterrey, Mexico, Shaber said.

The service trips appeal to a more youthful and diverse group than the traditional Yale Educational Travel opportunities because younger alumni are more attuned to the concept se, Dollhopf said.

“It’s a different model of alumni engagement,” Dollhopf said. “Older alumni relate to the University in a different way than younger alumni do.”

Out of the 65 alumni who went on the service trip to the Dominican Republic in 2008, 32 were age 30 or under, while 16 of the 43 alumni who went on a service trip to Mexico last year were 30 or under, Cushingham said.

Selby Jacobs ’61 said there is also funding available for young alumni, which opens the trips up to more people.

Randy Wilmot ARC ’89 said he agreed that the service trips attract a younger group because they are more affordable and because young professionals are interested in giving back without committing too much of their time.

“It’s not that there’s a new generation of Yalies interested in service work,” Wilmot said. “The older alums brought a breadth of knowledge from their careers that young alumni couldn’t bring. But the younger alumni brought a lot of energy.”

The service tours also engage more alumni of color and a greater number of alumni from Yale graduate and professional schools, Dollhopf said.

On both the tour to the Dominican Republic and the tour to Monterrey, 13 of the attendees were alumni of color. But minorities rarely attend the other programs, Cushingham said.

The Yale Global Alumni Leadership Exchange Program (YaleGALE) is an alternative form of service travel that has also been popular, Kathy Edersheim ’87 said. On YaleGALE trips, Yale alumni leaders — such as members of the AYA board, class officers, club officers, or leaders of shared interest groups, such as athletic alumni associations and graduate school alumni associations — go to foreign universities to share practices in alumni relations. And because travelers are hosted by people of the target nation, and because they meet through meals, meetings and lectures, YaleGALE offers an opportunity for cultural interaction, Dollhopf said.

Edersheim said the upcoming trip to Turkey has already sold out at 65 participants.

“You have the opportunity to be an expert and to be hosted,” Edersheim said. “You’re not going on your own. You don’t feel like a tourist.”

So far, YaleGALE has worked with Australian National University and the University of Tokyo, Edersheim said. In July, YaleGALE will travel to Turkey to work with various universities, Edersheim said.

Because YaleGALE attracts alumni who remain heavily involved with the University, most of the attendees graduated in the 1970s and early 1980s, Edersheim said.

In addition to the cheaper service trips, Yale Educational Travel introduced Basic Blue, a less expensive alternative to standard trips, in 2010. Basic Blue organizes fewer group activities than other Yale Educational Travel trips, granting travelers more independence and a higher level of flexibility, Dollhopf said.

This also cuts costs, he added. The price of the 12-day trip to France starts at $3,727, much less than the $6,990 for a standard AYA 12-day trip to France, according to the Yale Educational Travel brochure. Still, Dollhopf said since 2010 is the first of year of Basic Blue, it is too early to gauge interest numerically.

In offering Basic Blue and special family travel opportunities, Dollhopf said, the AYA hopes to attract a younger group of attendees.

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