Cox alumni connected for life
Jim Bernard had a job in real estate finance in Dallas when the economy crashed in 2008, leaving both him and his wife unemployed. Bernard received his MBA from the Cox School of Business in 2002 while working in Dallas, so having a job was second nature; not having one was frightening.
Unemployment left Bernard, a member of the Cox Alumni Association Board of Directors, with few options. He found himself seeking connections and personal support and although he had not spoken to him in years, he turned to Kevin Knox, the assistant dean of external relations and the executive director of the Cox Alumni Association.
“I thought renewing that connection would ultimately be worthwhile, not just professionally but personally,” said Bernard, “Frankly, I needed as much personal support as anything else. Kevin was great, quick to introduce me to folks and share what he had and what he knew.” With Knox’s help, Bernard got back on his feet and is now living and working in Austin.
Cox has a network of 40,000 alumni worldwide who are passionate about promoting the school and helping more high-school students find out about SMU, according to Knox. The Alumni Association has become stronger since the arrival of Dr. Albert Niemi, the dean of the Cox School of Business, say students and alumni. Niemi came to SMU from the University of Georgia in 1996 and brought his colleague Knox with him. Together, Niemi and Knox have built up a solid alumni network that is very involved with the school.
“There had not been a lot that had gone on prior to our arrival,” Knox said.
Knox has been a critical player in the creation of the Executive Board and Alumni Board for the Cox Alumni Association. He works closely with the Alumni Board to create events for prospective students and alumni and knows most of the members very well.
Knox asks that all Cox alumni who remain involved with the school do three things: help recruit future students, send their company recruiters to SMU to hire students, and make a gift to the school.
“We’re not looking at the dollar, we’re looking at the percentage,” said Sharon Gambulos, the associate director of annual giving and stewardship for Cox. According to Gambulos, the school is hoping to have 100 percent participation from their alumni. In the last fiscal year, which ended May 31, 2014, 92 percent of the Alumni Board members and over 5,000 undergraduate Cox alumni made gifts to the school.
“I don’t think there is a business school with better professors and a faster growing finance program than Cox,” said Ryan Arndt, a graduate of SMU and a current student in the Cox Master of Science in Finance program. “I am excited about the opportunities that are presented to me at Cox now, and what I will have in the future when I become an alum.”
Arndt is excited to represent Cox after he graduates and hopes to remain very involved with the school and provide other students with opportunities similar to those that he had.
Mark Galyardt is one of the original members of the Cox Alumni Association Board of Directors. He received his MBA from Cox in 1988 and met Knox when Knox was working at the University of Georgia. According to Galyardt, the members of the board are asked to attend two meetings a year: one at homecoming and another in the spring. This year the spring meeting is at SMU-in-Taos, which he says the members are excited about attending.
Galyardt lives in Atlanta and promotes SMU Cox and SMU in the Atlanta area. He enjoys speaking with prospective students and he and his wife are active in the SMU Atlanta Alumni group.
Galyardt and other SMU alumni in the Atlanta area got together a few years ago because they felt it was important to promote SMU in more schools in Atlanta. They put a program together in December 2013 and had a luncheon in Buckhead, an affluent district of Atlanta, for college counselors at several private schools. The goal was to drive more applications from the Atlanta area into SMU and, according to Galyardt, it worked.
Galyardt believes that Dean Niemi, Knox, and members of the Executive Board and the Alumni Board are a “really strong group” that succeed at their goals: promoting the brand of Cox and being accessible for prospective and current students.
In 2009, Bernard moved to Austin and ended his period of unemployment by rebooting a real estate development and homebuilding company with three partners.
“Being surrounded by the ‘ocean of orange’ was a bit overwhelming… and I went to UT as an undergrad,” said Bernard about being in Austin and trying to find financial support and employees for his company.
He considered the number of SMU graduates that must be in Austin and decided to do something to get them all together. He suggested this to Knox who, according to Bernard, “gave his support, organized the invitations, and contributed to the cost.”
The event was a success and led to Knox asking Bernard to join the Alumni Association Board, which Bernard says is “a tremendous group of exceptionally talented, successful and diverse folks.” Through this board, Bernard has made several friendships and business connections that he cannot put value on.
“College is crazy expensive, so the quality of the experience and the
richness of the relationships have to justify the costs,” Bernard says, “I
guess that’s why I stay involved…to offer what I can with full knowledge that
what I receive in return is many times richer.”