UCL celebrates connections in seven US cities
23 November 2023
A month-long programme saw alumni representing seven decades of study attend UCL socials and networking events in cities across the United States, culminating in the UCL Friends & Alumni Association (UCLFAA) Annual General Meeting in Manhattan.
The US is home to one of the university’s largest overseas alumni populations, with more than 22,700 graduates residing in the country. UCL has continued to expand its stateside events offering as it builds towards its 2026 bicentennial, enabling new connections, fostering networks, and providing opportunities to hear from the institution’s senior leaders.
The 2023 trip – which began in San Jose on 10 October and finished in New York on 10 November – comprised almost a dozen functions, including two held during a maiden visit to Chicago in partnership with the newly formed UCL Chicago Alumni Group and UCLFAA Co-Treasurer Simon Harris (BSc Economics and Geography 2007).
Returning to the Golden State
Early stops in San Jose, San Francisco and Los Angeles were a celebration of a long overdue return to California, with UCL last having hosted an in-person alumni event in the state in Spring 2019 prior to the onset of COVID-19 restrictions.
The opening reception in San Jose was held in conjunction with UCL Electronic and Electrical Engineering, and attendees enjoyed insights from Miguel Rio (Professor of Computer Networking) and Dr Rob Thompson (Vice Dean – Enterprise, UCL Engineering) over cocktails at the 19th century-themed Five Points bar.
The following evening saw both academics in discussion with San Francisco-based graduates at a relaxed social in Union Square.
The West Coast leg of the trip concluded with back-to-back gatherings in Los Angeles, where women alumni working in the creative arts met for industry-focused networking before a well-attended rooftop reception featuring panoramic views of the city’s iconic downtown skyline.
"Thank you very much for this event, which has brought our alumni closer together,” said Xiafei Deng (MA Music Education 2018).
The East Coast and a Chicago debut
It was followed by a welcome return to Massachusetts, with the UCL Boston Alumni Group having grown at impressive rate since the last such event in May 2022. In fact, its post-pandemic success was in part the inspiration for the next leg of the journey – a maiden visit to the Midwest.
Boston Group lead Daniel Hawkins (BA Geography 2000) is an enthusiastic participant in UCL’s Coffee Connect programme – and when he was matched with Chicago resident Alexandra LeFlore (MA English: Shakespeare in History 2014), it wasn’t long before they were discussing her plans to establish a similar group in the Windy City.
“Daniel told me about his alumni club in Boston and I said, ‘why don't we have one in Chicago?'," said Alexandra. “I was sure there would be a huge network of UCL alumni in Chicago, and earlier this year, we had our first event in downtown Chicago at Tony's Rooftop Bar.”
Collaborating over coffee
Read more about Daniel and Alexandra’s inspirational conversation in ’Coffee Fixes’ (Portico Magazine, Autumn 2023)
The two-day celebrations began with a networking dinner hosted by UCLFAA Co-Treasurer Simon Harris, before two dozen UCL graduates attended a fully fledged social (and engaged in a competitive game of ‘Trivia’) co-organised by Alexandra and her fellow volunteers at the Chicagoland beer pub.
Fresh faces and old friends in New York
UCL’s final stop in New York began with a special function for Junior Year Abroad alumni based in the tristate area, held in recognition of their contribution to student life and the alumni community of which they are an integral part.
The Veterans Day weekend also saw the closing alumni social of the tour, before the UCLFAA’s Annual General Meeting provided the forum for a number of congratulations, with Tres Seippel (MSc International Real Estate and Planning 2012) stepping into the position of Co-Treasurer and Dr May Akrawi (BSc Biochemistry 1988 and PhD Molecular Biochemistry 1995) taking up the role of President.
It was also an opportunity to show our immense gratitude to Mark Cleary (BA Scandinavian Studies 1978), who has stepped down as President of UCLFAA after four years in which he has led the organisation from strength-to-strength and maintained its steadfast support of UCL’s mission.
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With the trip at an end, UCL can reflect on a truly incredible month in which the advice and advocacy of our US alumni community has once more demonstrated its invaluable role in our success as a leading global university.
As we sit on the cusp of our third century, we are privileged to hold such friendships, partnerships, and relationships, and look forward to sharing plans for an exciting and inspiring celebration of this milestone in UCL’s history.
An iconic view
A print of UCL’s Wilkins Building – from an original watercolour by outgoing UCLFAA President Mark Cleary – is available to buy from the UCL Shop.
All proceeds will support the One UCL Fund, helping us to achieve our vision of a truly diverse, open and global student community where the brightest people thrive, regardless of their circumstances.