You Graduated from Howard! Now What?

Getting involved in the Howard alumni network can lead to unexpected and greater things

Howard students on campus

When Ric Swiner (BA ’94) attended a local Howard University Alumni Association game night in Raleigh, North Carolina in 2017, he had no idea it would lead to a boost in his videography business. At the event, Swiner, who majored in broadcast journalism and is a former television reporter, partnered in a game of spades with Kandace L. Harris, (B.A. ’97, M.A. 01, Ph.D. ’05), a fellow Howard graduate and incoming HUAA national president.

“When we met, Kandace mentioned that Shaw University needed videography services for graduation,” said Swiner, who has run Sypder Web Developers for 20 years. “That one connection created a five-year relationship with Shaw. Now, Shaw is my biggest client.”

Swiner encourages newly-minted alum as well as seasoned alumni to take advantage of the networking opportunities that participating in local alumni chapters provide. “I urge everyone to cultivate and maintain the relationships you formed at Howard. You never know what positions your classmates may end up holding, which may help if you’re in the market for a job or if you’re building your business.

Not only did Swiner’s business grow because of a relationship with Howard, he also snagged his first job through a Bison referral from the late Dr. Lee Thornton, who taught in the School of Communications. “My first job was in network news thanks to Dr. Thornton. So, I also advise graduates to also keep in touch with their professors.”

You never know what positions your classmates may end up holding, which may help if you’re in the market for a job or if you’re building your business.

Sometimes younger Bison might not find themselves in circles with those who matriculated at Howard decades earlier, said Swiner whose business continues to work with Shaw University, capturing videos of homecoming, awards and charter day events. “The alumni club provides a natural setting to network with alumni of all ages,” he said.

Kandace L. Harris, who is now Associate Dean of Mike Curb College of Art, Media, and Communication at California State University, Northridge, said she and Swiner came very close to winning the alumni club’s spades tournament trophy. “By participating in that tournament, we raised two things that day: money for Howard student scholarships and our social capital. It is the classic example of opportunity meeting preparation,” Harris said. “What I love about this story is it demonstrates the purpose and mission of HUAA to foster connectivity and engagement of alumni, while fundraising for the University and students.”

We are one Bison family. We will always be there for our alumni.”

The best way to get involved is to participate local alumni chapter events, which will help you benefit from Howard’s vast network of 102,000 living alum, said Sharon Strange Lewis (B.A. '84) director of the Department of Alumni Relations. The University is making it much easier for alumni to be active. Two years ago, annual dues were discontinued for the national organization. Anyone who graduates or is awarded an honorary degree is eligible to be a member, as well as those who successfully completed at least one year of study and withdrew from Howard in good standing. “As soon as you graduate, you’re already a member of the national alumni association,” Strange Lewis said.

Strange Lewis said Howard’s alumni perks continue to evolve.  “We are expanding our team so that we have more alumni engagement opportunities that will satisfy the needs of all of our alumni populations,” she said. “We wanted to ensure we created an environment that had a portfolio of offerings.”

“Life is more complicated,” Strange Lewis said. “There are a lot of things vying for our attention, time and money. We want to make things as easy as possible to help our alumni engage with and support the University. We are one Bison family. We will always be there for our alumni.”

Strange Lewis shared these tips to use alumni resources as well as create, maintain and maximize alumni connections:

  1. Get active nationally. Vote in HUAA elections and participate in events.
  2. Find your club. Locate and join the local alumni chapter closest to you. Several also have active social media pages that list events and scholarship fundraisers.
  3. Get involved! Many chapters host fun gatherings, meetings, as well as sendoffs for local, newly-accepted Bison. This is a great way to get to know alumni who might live nearby.
  4. Engage on social media. Development and alumni relations can be found on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook. The national alumni association can be found on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook. Follow, comment and share! Also look for local chapters online.
  5. Patronize Bison businesses. A great way to get to know more alumni is to support their entrepreneurial efforts. The Bison Business Directory currently includes 831 businesses owned, founded or operated by Howard University alumni—many of which offer discounts for fellow alum. New submissions are accepted quarterly. The current submission window is open now through June 8, 2022.
  6. Join the book club. The Howard Alumni Book Club is free and meets virtually, which makes it convenient to interact with Bison from multiple locations and generations. Recent book selections include: “Caste,” by Isabel Wilkerson (BA ’84) and “An American Marriage” by Tayari Jones.
  7. Visit Founders. Did you know that as an alum, you can still visit Founders Library and use the printed materials? The library, which was named a “national treasure” by the National Trust for Historic Preservation, opened in 1939  includes the University Archives and Museum. It also includes the Moorland-Spingarn Research Center, which now houses one of the most comprehensive collections of Gordon Parks photography. So, whether you’re researching, visiting or simply miss studying for finals, stop in.
  8. Wear it. A surefire way to meet fellow Bison is to don some Howard gear. Grab some in person or online from the Howard University Barnes and Noble Bookstore, which offers a 10% discount for alumni.
  9. Take advantage of discounts. Geico also offers a discount for Bison.
  10. There’s an app for that. Use the Howard University Alumni App for Apple and Android to stay up to date on discounts, events and other offerings. Alumni who graduated before 2019 can sign in using the email address the University has on file for you. Disruptions due to the pandemic delayed adding logins for classes who graduated from 2019 to 2022. Alumni from those years will be able to login to all of features of the app in the coming months.

Charlie Lewis (BBA ’89), who will serve as HUAA national president until July 1, 2022, said the mission of the 59 active alumni association local clubs revolves around engagement, service, and fundraising. “We are working on all cylinders to get people involved with events like a night at the museum, career fairs, workshops, walks and athletic events,” Lewis said. After popular sporting events, there is often a fundraising reception. “HUAA tries to build programming for alumni age 21 to 91.”