Shapiro Succeeds Howard as Alumni Society President

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Elsie Sterling Howard CW’68 and Leonard Shapiro W’64. 
Photo by Addison Geary

“God is crying that you’re leaving office,” joked Leonard Shapiro W’64 to Elsie Sterling Howard CW’68, the outgoing president of the University of Pennsylvania Alumni Society. He was referring to the rainy weather braved by those attending the UPAS board meeting early on Saturday morning of what would be a mostly soggy Alumni Weekend—at which Shapiro was elected to succeed Howard as president.
    Besides being a member of the UPAS executive committee, Shapiro is an alumni trustee, serving on the budget and finance and the facilities and campus-planning committees, a member of the Agenda for Excellence Council and the board of overseers of the Graduate School of Education. He is past-president of the Mid-Atlantic Regional Advisory Board and a target-school representative for his local secondary-school committee. When not volunteering for Penn, he is president of Emerald Realty Advisors, LLC, in Bethesda, Md.
    Howard professes herself “thrilled with Lenny as my successor. He has been a fantastic supporter—creative, energetic, dependable, thorough.” As a member of the executive committee and an alumni trustee, “He is very well-versed in the process piece, as well as being a terrific motivater of people.”
    At the board meeting, he called her a “transformative” leader. “Elsie took what I perceived to be a relatively moribund organization—sort of stuck—and didn’t question small pieces but went to the essence of every function and asked the people responsible for oversight to really turn everything over and transform each facet of what Alumni Relations did,” he says. Howard’s “high energy and strong desire to adopt best practices available in alumni relations offices around the country energized this whole office, and the result was that we have new programs and dynamic activities.”
    Howard’s five-year tenure as president—“the longest ever,” she says—has seen numerous changes in Alumni Relations at Penn. One major focus—a natural one, for someone who heads her own public-relations firm—was improving communications. “I think we have changed the way we communicate with alumni,” she says, through greater use of e-mail listservs and the World Wide Web; increasing the print circulation of the Gazette, which has grown from about 90,000 to 140,000 in recent years; and developing new communications vehicles such as the Red&Blueprint, a newsletter for alumni leaders.
    She also cites successful efforts to attract “a whole new generation of leaders” through annual alumni-leadership forums on campus and at regional conferences, and generally “being all over the country as opposed to being rooted in Philadelphia and expecting all of our alumni to come back.”
    One successful new outreach effort has been the Penn On The Road program, which brings panel discussions by alumni and faculty experts in a variety of subjects directly to alumni groups around the country. Another is PennCares, in which alumni have organized community-service activities in their cities (see story on page 46).
    A complementary goal to increasing off-campus offerings was to “make the two weekends on campus—Homecoming and Alumni Weekend—worth returning for,” she adds. Holding the Alumni Award of Merit gala during Homecoming festivities in November “is new for us over the past five years. [And] at Alumni Weekend, you can actually eat the food now,” she says. “We wanted to make our traditional experiences more valid for people who have high expectations and high standards, but we didn’t want to relinquish the sense of Penn.”
    Finally, she notes as a personal goal her wish to invigorate senior alumni leadership and make service on the UPAS executive committee, which oversees the Office of Alumni Relations, comparable to “the prestige of being on the Board of Overseers of SAS or Annenberg,” for example. “I feel we have that now.”
    Howard, who lives in Miami Beach, received the Alumni Award of Merit in 1988. She is active in Reunion planning for her Class, founding president of the Dade County Alumni Club and has chaired the secondary-school committee for her area. She says that she has “loved every moment” of her time as UPAS president. “There is no bad part to the job.”
    Her next volunteer assignment will be chair of the Penn Fund, the University’s annual-giving program, where she hopes to replicate some practices instituted in Alumni Relations. “The truth is, most alumni want to share in the future of the University. Some people are able to give, some people are able to do, and some people are able to do both. We need to ensure that the alumni population has the opportunity to do as much collectively as it wants to and as much individually as he or she wants.”
    Looking ahead to his term in office, Shapiro explains his decision to take on the job of UPAS president this way: “I love the University of Pennsylvania. I feel a strong lifetime connection to it. I have great affection and admiration for its professional and volunteer leadership. I saw an opportunity for me to continue what Elsie had started, and I hope I am the right person for the job.”
    Beyond refining the work of the past five years of “transforming the Alumni Relations office into something that answers the needs of alumni,” Shapiro adds, “I am personally committed to the concept of regionalization—focusing more energy out where the alumni are. Very few of the alumni actually get back to campus, and I think we have a responsibility to get out to them and give them services and programs and support to connect them to the University.” 

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