Nearly 500 alumni flooded campus on Thursday for a weekend of lectures, fireside chats and presentations that showcased the entrepreneurial pursuits of Yale graduates.
The assembly of the Association of Yale Alumni, an annual event that takes place during the weekend of the last home football game, is a leadership program that attracts large numbers of alumni delegates back to campus each year. This year’s assembly marks the 74th time that alumni have gathered on campus for this event, with the theme being “The Entrepreneurial Spirit at Yale.”
“Entrepreneurship is not something we typically associate with Yale,” Assembly Chair Darcy Pollack ’87 said. “We think of Yale as being a bastion for the liberal arts and a wonderful traditional academic education. But if you think about startup ventures or entrepreneurial thought, you tend to think of schools like Stanford and MIT.”
Pollack said the first day of every assembly weekend is devoted to a Yale-related theme that reconnects alumni to current campus happenings, while the second day is focused on alumni leadership training.
People often overlook how entrepreneurial and innovative the University is, Pollack said, due to Yale’s focus on the liberal arts. She added that as an entrepreneur, she has personally been struck by the great number of entrepreneurial ventures on campus, such as the Yale Entrepreneurial Society and InnovateHealth Yale.
Director of Entrepreneurial Programs at the Yale School of Management Kyle Jensen said this year’s theme was “brilliant” considering the University’s recent efforts to fund entrepreneurial efforts.
“We are investing heavily in entrepreneurship at Yale — expanding our curriculum and our resources for Yale founders, whether students, faculty or staff,” Jensen said.
Both Jensen and Pollack agreed that the entrepreneurial theme of this year’s assembly was conducive to student and alumni collaboration, resulting in an assembly format that was much more interactive than assemblies of the past.
A majority of the roughly 29 participating students were leaders of startups on campus, Pollack added.
“Typically, assembly has been a lot of talking heads — a lot of straight panels and speeches,” she said. “So we tried to shake it up a bit. Our opening session was a start up showcase, which was kind of like a demo day, and then we broke up into smaller sessions where we paired up students from on campus ventures to talk to alums.”
Alumni interviewed said they enjoyed exchanging entrepreneurial experiences with current students.
John Boak ’70, who attended the conference and spoke to students about his experiences as a self-employed artist and designer, said he loved hearing from students about their budding ventures. He added that graduates today are emerging from a Yale that is very different than the one he graduated from, in which the emphasis is placed more on career prospects than on exploring ideas.
On Friday afternoon, alumni ate lunch with University President Peter Salovey in Commons, where Salovey updated them on the state of the University. During the lunch, the Yale-Jefferson Public Service Awards were presented to two students and an alumnus in honor of their charitable endeavors.
Friday evening was reserved for the Yale Medal Dinner, where five recipients were honored for their service to the University. AYA Director of Strategic Initiatives Stephen Blum ’74 said the Yale Medal is the highest award that can be given to a Yale alum for something they do as a volunteer.
The assembly closed with the Alumni Village tailgate at the Yale Bowl, prior to Saturday’s football game against Princeton.
Blum said Alumni Village is the “mother of all tailgates” — a place where over 1,000 alumni gather before the game to catch up with old friends and classmates.
Seven of eight students interviewed said they were unaware that the alumni assembly took place last weekend, although they all said they noticed the increased number of alumni on campus.
Assembly is one of the most important alumni events of the year, said Blum, as the University has anywhere from 160,000 to 180,000 alumni living in the world at one time. He noted that this number continues to grow each year, due to longevity and the increasing number of undergraduate and graduate students attending Yale each year.
“At every stage of their lives, all Yalies have so much to offer each other,” Students and Alumni at Yale President Mendy Yang ’15 said. “Events like the Assembly are [important for this reason] — they are opportunities where alumni can come back and not just connect with each other and get involved with opportunities outside their normal routines, but also a chance to meet current students and really strengthen the Yale network.”
The first assembly took place in 1972.