As outgoing and incoming presidents of the Association of Rice Alumni (ARA) Board, Bryan Guido Hassin ’01 ’02 and Monique Shankle ’86 know a lot about volunteering and the vast number of volunteer hours it takes to keep alumni programs relevant and engaging. We asked Bryan and Monique about their volunteer paths, who inspires them and how they’ve focused their efforts over an unusually challenging year.
How did you become a volunteer at Rice?
Bryan: I began volunteering with Rice Young Alumni shortly after graduating. As an entrepreneur, I believe in constructing the future we want, so I found building an engaged alumni community very rewarding. I met so many amazing fellow alumni in the process. This led me to volunteering in more and more Rice alumni organizations, and at this point the ARA can’t get rid of me!
Monique: As an undergraduate at Rice, I began volunteering with the performing arts organization, The Peoples Workshop for the Visual and Performing Arts. I enjoyed helping others, meeting new people and being active in the Houston community. After graduation, I also began working with Rice Volunteers for Admission (RAVA). I was able to meet aspiring students and provide my perspective on life at Rice. From there, I’ve worked with a number of campus organizations, including serving as the chair of the Association of Rice University Black Alumni and as a member of the ARA Board.
What is the ARA doing to engage all members of the Rice community?
Bryan: The value of the Rice alumni community is a product of its membership. If some members of our community feel less welcome or less included, it is detrimental to our entire community.
We launched a major DEIJ initiative last year to ensure that all Rice alumni — regardless of race, gender, sexual orientation, degree, profession, class year, or any other identification — feel valued, represented, and included in our community. This includes specific programming for alumni leadership, future alumni (students), and, of course, existing alumni.
Monique: One key element of our education programming is the Rice 21-Day Equity Challenge, which launched this fall. This was designed to help participants understand the key concepts that impact diversity, equity, social justice and inclusion. During the challenge, alumni received educational resources in the form of articles, videos, and suggested activities for personal growth. In addition, the ARA hosted virtual discussion forums spaced over the 21-day challenge period.
What inspires you to volunteer?
Bryan: I had a wonderful experience at Rice, and the Rice community continues to benefit me, both professionally and personally. Although I don’t think I will ever completely repay everything I have received from Rice, I find volunteering to be a wonderful way to pay those benefits forward — to other alumni and to future alumni.
Monique: My top three reasons for volunteering at Rice are: (1) I love Rice! I love the people. The campus is beautiful, and Rice has so much to offer to students and the entire Houston community. (2) I volunteer because we need alumni of diverse backgrounds to be involved in the life of the university and to encourage prospective and current students of diverse backgrounds to see Rice as a place where they can thrive. (3) Part of my DNA includes helping others and always working to leave a place better than when I found it.
What has the pandemic taught you about engaging alumni and volunteerism?
Bryan: Virtual versus in-person programming has very clear tradeoffs. On the one hand, more Owls than ever before have been able to participate in alumni programming. On the other hand, we miss out on personal interactions. I think it is clear that virtual engagement is here to stay. Even as things open up for in-person attendance, we will offer blended models of participation, and we will continue to work to provide the benefits while addressing the shortcomings.
Monique: Engaging the alumni through the pandemic turned out to be a complex but positive experience for Rice. At a moment’s notice, the university put virtual programming in place in order to keep the university running at its usual pace.
Rice held hundreds of virtual events during the pandemic. The most impressive event was Owl Together, which was a bold undertaking. I am so proud of the alumni office staff and their work to keep Homecoming and Families Weekend alive during this period. Another event that stood out was Life After Rice: Black Alumni in Law, which was sponsored by the Association of Rice Alumni and presented in partnership with the Association of Rice University Black Alumni, the Office of Academic Advising, and the Rice Pre-Law Society. Students made new connections with Black alumni lawyers and were able to hear from role models who looked like them.
Who do you look up to as volunteers who have made a difference?
Bryan: Jeff Rose ’77, Gloria Tarpley ’81, and George Webb ’88 (among many others) are alumni volunteers who continuously inspire me to up my volunteer game. They are successful and busy in their professional lives and yet always find time to give back to their alma mater. They will call me up out of the blue to discuss ideas they have about how Rice might better fulfill its mission. They remind me of our shared duty to Rice and how much impact we can have through our efforts.
I would be remiss not share that I am inspired daily by Rice’s alumni office as well. Many of these tireless staff members are not alumni of Rice, and yet they bring their whole selves — heart, mind, and body — to their jobs every day, working toward goals that benefit all of us. Especially in challenging times like these, I take inspiration from their commitment.
Finally, I must add Courtney Hall ’90 to my list of those who inspire. A former ARA Board member, Courtney died suddenly earlier this year before beginning his term on the Rice Board of Trustees. I was always inspired by how Courtney, an NFL football player and venture capitalist, always had time to help out his fellow Owls, and this is something I have tried to emulate. Now that Courtney is gone from this mortal world, it is up to all of us volunteers to keep his legacy alive by living values of humility, service, and volunteership.
Monique: My family consistently encouraged volunteerism and emphasized helping others. In particular, my great-great uncle Theodore H. Wilson and my mother Barbara Rachal Williams, both from the small community of Fodice, Texas, taught me about helping others. My uncle and his wife volunteered to raise my mother when it appeared that my grandmother might die shortly after childbirth. He also volunteered his time to help others in business and personal situations. After the passing of the Civil Rights Act, as the country was becoming more integrated, he worked to assist those who may not have been literate or did not possess the confidence to execute certain business matters on their own. My mother volunteered as the church secretary for decades. She also volunteered to transport elderly neighbors to their doctors’ appointments in the nearby towns of Crockett, Texas and Lufkin, Texas. I also watched neighbors teach GED classes at the old schoolhouse to help those who had not completed their education. Volunteerism was all around me, and it became a part of my life. I, along with my two sisters one of whom is also a two-time Rice graduate, was inspired to carry out a family tradition of volunteering in the community.