Going the Distance: Queen’s Student Alumni Association (QSAA)

The Queen’s Student Alumni Association (QSSA) reminds students of an often forgotten fact: the Queen’s experience doesn’t end after four years.

While QSAA may be known for bringing high profile speakers back to campus, they do more than that. Offering hired leadership positions as well as a Backpack to Briefcase program to teach career skills are just some of the other ways that QSAA ensures students get exposure to a wide breadth of tools before they graduate.

I spoke with three of QSAA executive members, including vice president of events, Taylor Jennings, ArtSci ’15, vice president of volunteers, Jessica Beakbane, Comm ’14, vice president of marketing and communications, Hillary Maynard, ArtSci ’14, about the ways in which QSAA does more than bring alumni back to campus:

Q: What were your reasons for getting involved in QSAA?
Jennings: I was actually external, this coming in year … I liked what QSAA stood for, connecting the student body to alumni.

Maynard: What’s so unique about QSAA in comparison to a lot of other opportunities at Queen’s is you get to see the whole other side to Queen’s like the administration side, and just being in Summerhill is so unique and a lot of other clubs don’t really have access to all the amazing people who work upstairs in alumni relations and in administration.

Beakbane: To be totally honest my sister was actually the QSAA president and I loved the events she was putting on and the people she got to meet because we get to connect with … so many alumni. That whole connection has just been something that I feel I couldn’t find elsewhere.

Q: What has been the most pivotal or successful events you’ve organized?
Jennings: This year we got to partner with the Equity Office and hosting Melissa Vassallo back for the launch of the Accessibility Hub … It was an amazing experience being able to work so closely with staff and advancement in bridging that gap and creating a better Queen’s community as a whole.

Maynard: One of the really cool things about that event was I walked in there just expecting it to be students, but it was people from the Kingston community [and] people who worked at Queen’s [as well] … I can’t really speak to other schools, but I know that one thing we really strive to do is make campus very accessible and more equitable so it was a really unique event.

Q: Who would you say have been the most notable recent speakers?
Beakbane: Probably just falling within the last year, we had Olson come back. She’s a celebrity chef. She came back and brought cookbooks that people could sign, spoke about her experience being a celebrity chef.

Maynard: Just celebrating Queen’s – like the education we get and where it can take us – we bring back speakers from various fields … Someone like me in history, I’m not sure where I’m going, but to see that different speakers have taken different career paths is really encouraging.

Jennings: Justice Hugh Fraser was one of the most notable that we brought back this year ... So through [my role] I got to know him on a personal level and even now we still communicate via email. So that was something that I kind of love about having this role is making those personal connections, but then being able to spread that to our ambassador team and introduce him to other ambassadors, introduce him to like the athletics department and spread him throughout the Queen’s community.

Maynard: My favourite person I’ve gotten to meet through QSAA, I met last year and her name is Jess Joss. She’s the outgoing QUAA [Queen’s University Alumni Association] president … She was a history grad like me, so that was kind of the first thing we had in common that we built off of and I really consider her a mentor… She’s an entrepreneur … She was very involved and kind of put that towards something that was very unique and very applicable in today’s world like working online.

Q: What is one of the biggest things you’re anticipating end of this year?
Jennings: So we have our final event for the year... called Grad Bash … for graduating students. It’s a time for these students from across faculties to come to Grant Hall and celebrate the end of their student career… One of our mottos is Queen’s spirit never dies, so we’re really trying to capture the fact that Queen’s really is a community that once you’re apart of as a student, you’re never leaving past graduation.

Maynard: We’ll have alumni coming back … letting them know what the QUAA can do for them … It will be a celebration for all graduating students to come to and do the oil thigh, but I think it has a bigger purpose.

Q: What would be the most surprising thing that students often don’t know about QSAA?
Beakbane: We hire around 26 ambassadors at the beginning of the year [that] join the team and then we have an ELT, executive leadership team, of five. And people don’t realize we have kind of such a large group on campus ... So the fact that we give so many leadership opportunities within our team to plan events, I don’t think people actually know that side of our organization.

They just see the events that we put on, even though all the planning that goes into bringing back someone like Anna Olson takes about a year plus to put that altogether and that’s really done through the student side of our organization.

Q: How long in advance are you planning for speakers to come to campus?
Beakbane: So for instance, Andrew Feustel, NASA astronaut, his timing, it took us about five years to get him back on campus … But that took so long because [of] his space mission that he did and then he was training again so NASA actually had to approve for him to come back to Queen’s. So things like that, that’s timing we just have to play by ear each year. So it can be really anywhere from a year to five to try and get the best back.

Q: Most hyped-up or well-attended events?
Beakbane: I would say Andrew Feustel. We filled Grant Hall… Anna Olson, we were able to fill the BioSci auditorium with 300-400 people. So those are probably the two biggest profile events that we’ve had within the past five years.

Q: How much autonomy do you have as students choosing which alumni to invite back as speakers?
Maynard: It’s really us as a leadership team sitting down, deciding whom we want and then seeing if it’s realistic. Like Anna Olson [and] Andrew Feustel, we were so lucky … but we’re not always that lucky.

Jennings: This year we sit down as a team and if we are really passionate about bringing someone back to campus, we reach out to those people to see if it’s something that they can fit into their schedules. Even us working now with some big profile names, we’ll reach out to them now, but they might not be able to come back in another five years, but we still try to make that contact, if down the road it’s someone the student body will appreciate having on campus.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

GradBash 2014 will take place this Friday, April 4 from 3 to 5 pm at Grant Hall.

For more information on QSAA please visit: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Queens-Student-Alumni-Association

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