40th Anniversary in Focus: Loyalty to alma mater spurs grad to join, help alumni association

By: Rich Shopes

Posted: March 31, 2016

Editor’s note: The story here is part of a series of 40 stories commemorating USF Sarasota-Manatee’s 40th anniversary this academic year. For more about USFSM’s history, please visit usfsm.edu/anniversary.

The joke in the mid-1980s was that USF at Sarasota was operated by New College of Florida. Never mind that USF Tampa controlled both institutions at the time.

Diana Michel, USFSM Class of ’88, never liked that joke. So when she graduated, she accepted an invitation to try to change perceptions about the small campus then housed at New College.

“Jerry Hill, the development officer at the time, approached me the day of graduation and said, ‘How would you like to be a part of this?’” she said, adding that he wanted to boost awareness about the Sarasota campus by bringing back the old Alumni Association chapter.

Michel agreed, saying she felt a tug of loyalty to her alma mater after years of night classes while holding down a customer service job at Wellcraft Marine in Bradenton.

With a degree in business management and marketing, she transitioned to a marketing position, then launched her own marketing business before settling into her current job at Michael Saunders & Co.

“Basically, the university allowed me to be where I wanted to be and move up in my career,” she said.

To rebuild the chapter, USF’s alumni association in Tampa supplied the names of USF at Sarasota grads (now USF Sarasota-Manatee) along with those from the larger USF System.

Michel, working with alums Roger Frazee, Dr. Anila Jain, Charles Baumann and a handful of others, took it from there. Sending out letters and calling from home, the team added new members and hosted meetings, dinners and special events such as the Goombay Bash to bring people onto campus.

Impressed by their effort, Dr. David Schenck, who was dean at the time, suggested the group go a step further and devise a huge, annual campus-awareness event. He turned to Michel and the others to brainstorm ideas. What emerged was Brunch on the Bay.

The group, including Michel, organized that first Brunch and has since hosted numerous others. Launching it was truly a group effort, she said.

“We were all looking to get things donated and each one of us had a specific job,” she said. “I worked with the printing companies to make the flyers and signs and with the media to get the word out. It was difficult. We had never done this before so we didn’t have a starting point. We were starting from scratch.”

Among other jobs, her role was to urge attendance by community and businesses leaders. Expecting 200 guests, the group was stunned to learn that close to 600 tickets had been snapped up. The Brunch, which has since grown to 1,000 guests, now serves as USFSM’s largest fundraiser for college scholarships and remains a must-do on the Sarasota-Manatee social calendar.

Michel, however, insists she’s received more in return from helping the Alumni Association than she ever gave the group.

In addition to assisting in the chapter’s rebirth, she served three terms as a board of directors member and one as board president in 1990. She’s also served on USF’s National Alumni Association board.

“The wonderful thing about having an affiliation with the local campus is that it allowed me to have that college experience and to involve other people at USF in my life,” she said. “Many of these people have become my dearest friends, and I owe that to my affiliation with the Alumni Association.”

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