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Wichita Falls Living Magazine

Members Staying United

Apr 09, 2021 09:17AM ● By Heather Martin
For the MSU Alumni Association, the pandemic proved the power of the pivot.

Written by Kayla Weinkauf  |  Photos by Stephanie Ellison 
& Submitted by Leslee Ponder, Alumni Engagement Liason


New Year’s Eve celebrations: bright, bubbly toasts, laughing with loved ones, sparklers and screaming. (And a perfectly acceptable excuse for adults to toot kazoos and adorn silly hats and glasses!) All the glitter and glee that signals the hope a new year brings. A chance to reflect on the last year and make commitments to undergo necessary changes on the path to a happier, healthier you. 

The hope of 2020 was abruptly taken hostage by the unexpected: a world-wide pandemic. 2020 should have been a celebratory fresh start. Instead, it unfolded day by day, with fresh challenges. A “new normal” of masks and social distancing forced us to adapt the way we work, educate, and celebrate. We turned to the comfort of our community during that uncertain time. Their support sustained our spirits and allowed us to find joy amidst sorrow. The MSU Texas Alumni Association was no exception. They did not let the pandemic stop them from celebrating the accomplishments and joys of their former students or from offering support to current students through service and leadership. They pivoted to hosting online events so their Mustangs could continue to run as a team. 

 

Leslee Ponder serves as the Alumni Engagement Liaison at Midwestern State University. She said keeping everyone safe was the top priority as they began hosting online events in February. “The pandemic forced us to cancel all in-person events, including all of our annual Homecoming festivities. That was a tough decision for us to make,” Ponder stated. Each year at Homecoming, the MSU Texas Alumni Association hosts the Golden Grads 50-year Reunion. The association also hosts an Alumni Awards Ceremony where they recognize the outstanding graduates from each college and present the Arthur F. Beyer Distinguished Alumnus Award, as well as the Alumni Association Spirit Award. “We decided to push our Homecoming celebrations back a year and double up with the Class of 1971. We are optimistic that Homecoming 2021 will happen and will be twice the fun!” she stated.

 

The MSU Alumni Association partners with the Alumni Relations Office to identify, cultivate, and strengthen relationships among former students, graduates, and friends. The association promotes and enhances the university's mission and commitment to academic excellence, productive scholarship, and personal growth. Originally founded in 1926 by thirty former students of Wichita Falls Junior College, the association now has over 4,000 alumni members living in all fifty states and across numerous foreign countries. Finding exciting ways to engage such a vast membership is no easy feat. “Before the pandemic, we hosted a number of in-person events throughout the states of Texas and Oklahoma. Since the pandemic began, we have had several online events and learned to enjoy screen time with our alumni. Our DFW Holiday Party was quite lively! We played MSU Trivia, online Christmas games, and gave out fantastic prizes!” Ponder said.

Whether in-person or online, Alumni Association membership gives alumni various ways to stay connected. “Our association recognizes academic excellence, awards student scholarships, recruits new students, and serves as leaders to our undergraduates—all of which help make our university stronger.” she added. Continuing to build a stronger community, both at Midwestern State, and in Wichita Falls, is at the heart of the association’s activities. “The Alumni Association is a diverse group of individuals bonded by tradition, scholarship, and pride.  At MSU Texas, we are more than just alumni, we are a family.” stated Alumni Association President Jeff Hughes. “The association builds a bridge between past and current students. Membership allows us to keep in touch with the university and stay plugged in to all the progress on campus. We give current students a direct link to their past heritage.” he continued.

 

For Hughes, celebrating his Wichita Falls heritage and pride has been a life-long commitment.  “Wichita Falls is a great community to live in! I was born and raised here and could not imagine living anywhere else!” Hughes beamed. Diann Taylor, the Alumni Association First Vice President, shared the same enthusiasm Ponder and Hughes expressed. “My degree at Midwestern provided me the opportunity to be an educator and administrator for 41 years.  I was truly blessed to serve the students and parents in WFISD.” Taylor continued, “My family loves all the cultural, social, educational, and athletic events available in our community. Living in Wichita Falls allowed my husband and me to build a future and a business, raise our son (whom is also an MSU Texas alumnus), and serve our community. Being a member of the Alumni Association keeps me in touch with other alumni and allows me to watch MY university grow.” Taylor shared.

There is a clear commitment to staying connected across the Midwestern family. Each alumni association member proudly takes ownership of the future impact the university will have on their students and their community. “It is my desire that our legacy educate future Mustangs and provide scholarships and awards to incoming students to support their academic endeavors. In addition, that it creates an enriching learning environment that develops lifelong learners who grow socially and academically while attending MSU.” The Alumni Association has set the bar high. Fortunately, their perseverance and positivity are even higher.  Ponder said, “I believe we will be able to host in-person events again soon. But I know that these online events will stay with us and allow us to reach many more alumni that cannot attend our physical events. I am very much looking forward to our 100-year celebration as we approach the 2022 school year!” 
The MSU Texas Alumni Association is proof that there is power when we pivot. We can create new ways forward and rise to the challenges set before us. Whether it is a happy high-five from a classmate, or the friendly face of a fellow alum across a Zoom screen, Mustangs continue to stay united and connected. 

“It is the people that you connect with that make a difference.” Taylor smiled. †

 



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