Like so many Madison graduates, I wasn’t as involved as I should have been, or hoped to have been, after graduation. Sure, I came back for Homecoming and attended the Alumni Association CrabFest, but I wasn’t really pulling my weight as an alum. Four or five years after graduation, my wife, Stephanie, and I sat down at our kitchen table with our good friend, from JMU’s Office of Annual Giving. She explained to us how little support JMU was getting from Virginia’s state government and how important our support was for JMU students to continue having the same awesome experiences we had. She politely challenged us to ask ourselves, “Why aren’t we giving back?” There was no good excuse, so we got our butts in gear and started making a small monthly donation. At first, all we could manage was $10 a month. But every year we were able to increase that gift and started spreading it across several different funds that we were passionate about. Even though those initial gifts were small, it put us on the path to regular giving.
I’m lucky enough to work for an organization that values higher education and matches gifts to JMU. However, like me, many of my fellow JMU alums at Deloitte either weren’t giving back or weren’t taking advantage of Deloitte’s matching gifts program. With just a little time and effort, I started a campaign across Deloitte to increase our giving and make sure all of our alumni gifts were being matched. Before long, participation started increasing and our Deloitte team was making an impact on campus. It was also a great way for our Dukes at Deloitte to stay connected and show their JMU spirit.
My alumni journey continued in 2013 with a nomination to serve on the Alumni Association’s Board of Directors. What an incredible group to be a part of! I’ve never felt so much Purple Pride in one room. Every time I’m on campus for one of our meetings, I would leave feeling energized and inspired to make an impact within our JMU community. I served as Treasurer of the Alumni Association from 2014-2016 and just finished up my 2-year term as President Elect. I became President of the JMU Alumni Association Board of Directors on July 1, 2018 and will serve for two years. The alumni who have served in that position before me – Heather Hedrick, Larry Caudle, Jamie Jones Miller, and others – have left me with big shoes to fill, but I’m excited about the challenge and the opportunity to serve our University and our alumni.
Serving on the Board of Directors for the Alumni Association kicked my JMU experience into another gear. My Madison Network has exploded! While nothing will ever surpass the four years I spent on campus as an undergrad, Round 2 of my Madison Experience has been incredible. I’ve met hundreds of people and have made tons of new friends – people that I never knew until the past five years. There are so many incredible people working to make a difference at JMU right now, both on campus and off, and I consider myself lucky to know a lot of them.
I’ll leave you with a few challenges that I give to all JMU alumni:
- Rock your JMU gear whenever and wherever possible. I often hear a “Go Dukes!” when I’m wearing my purple and gold while walking through an airport, eating at a restaurant with my family, or shopping at the grocery store. You never know when one of those interactions will open your next personal or professional opportunity. The Madison Network is everywhere! My wife and I visited Kotor, Montenegro on vacation last summer. As usual, I was wearing some JMU apparel and sure enough, I got a “Go Dukes!” while walking through the town square. Let’s paint the world purple!
- Find your passion and get engaged. There are so many ways to get involved!
- The colleges and majors on campus are always looking for mentors, speakers, or alumni to serve on their Advisory Councils. Faculty love having alumni come back to speak to their classes or mentor their students on a project.
- Get involved with your local chapter! The JMU Alumni Association has more than 20 regional chapters around the country, including San Francisco, Denver, and even London! Chapter events are a great way to connect with some local Dukes in your community.
- Passionate about sports? Join the Duke Club! Or better yet, join the Duke Club AND get back to campus for a game. JMU teams have already won four CAA Championships in 2017-2018 and that doesn’t even include the Spring sports! JMU Football led the NATION in FCS regular season attendance this past season. Let’s support all of our student-athletes with our attendance and our cheers.
- Give back. There are over 2,000 different funds you can make a gift to. You can give to the school where you majored or to scholarship funds that support specific programs on campus. Find your passion and make a difference in the lives of JMU students with your funding. JMU can’t do it without your support. State funding alone isn’t going to cut it. Every gift makes a difference, regardless of the amount. Start small if you have to, but make giving a habit. Every Duke, Every Year.
As I mentioned above, my second Madison Experience has been almost as great as my first. Take advantage of the opportunities available to you as a Duke. You never know when a new connection with a fellow alum might lead to a new friendship or professional opportunity. We know our fellow alums – they are always willing to “open doors” for another Duke. Give it a shot! You’ll be glad you did.
Eric Bowlin is a 2002 graduate of James Madison University, having majored in Accounting, with a concentration in Accounting Information Systems. During his time at JMU, Eric was on the JMU Drumline, was a JMU Drum Major, and was a Student Ambassador. He has spent his entire career at Deloitte, where he is a Senior Manager in their Risk & Financial Advisory practice. Eric is the President of the JMU Alumni Association and a season ticketholder for JMU Football. Eric lives in Midlothian, Virginia, with his wife, Stephanie (’01) and two Future Dukes, Ainsley (9) and Parker (6). On home football game days, you can find him and his family in F lot (formerly Godwin Field) tailgating with the “Richmond Row” crew.