The new president of the Harvard Alumni Association (HAA) summarizes the theme of his year-long term in four words: "Participate in Harvard’s future."
That’s the message James R. Ullyot ’62, M.B.A. ’66, of Minneapolis, hopes to send to Harvard alumni everywhere. "It’s an invitation to our 322,000 alumni around the world to join us at a very exciting time in the University’s history," he says, citing development of a new undergraduate curriculum, early planning for expansion in Allston, and other forward-looking initiatives.
Alumni wondering how to participate can start with Post.Harvard, the University’s on-line community. At Ullyot’s behest, the website’s homepage (www.haa.harvard.edu) sports a new link with his four-word slogan. "If you click on it, you’ll find 20 to 30 different ways to stay informed and connected," he says. Suggestions range from joining local Harvard clubs to hiring current students for summer jobs.
Using the Web is a natural move for Ullyot, a veteran technology executive who specializes in on-line networking. Currently, he’s chairman of Creative Communications Inc. of Bloomington, Minnesota, a small business that, among other things, designs and hosts websites.
That same expertise prompted him to help get the HAA on-line in the early 1990s, when the Internet was still little-known outside the geek universe. Ullyot persuaded HAA staff to let him set up an electronic bulletin-board system in the association’s headquarters. In those pre-Web days, computer-savvy alumni could dial into the system over telephone lines to join on-line discussions. Eventually, that system evolved into the far more sophisticated Post.Harvard, which today provides e-mail and other services to more than 150,000 alumni users.
Ullyot’s electronic efforts earned him a 1999 HAA Award; its citation praised him as "our fearless guide through technological gateways, ushering the HAA ‘from the age that is past to the age that is waiting before.’"
That award also acknowledged Ullyot’s long-time leadership in state and national Harvard activities. He is former president of both the Harvard Club of Minnesota and the Harvard Business School Club of Minnesota; he has also served as an HAA regional director and cochair of the association’s communications committee. A longtime admissions interviewer, he organized a 1993 fundraising effort that helped finance a short film shown to prospective students nationwide.
Ullyot’s dedication to Harvard may have genetic roots. His family’s other Harvard alumni include his brother, Daniel ’58, and Daniel’s sons Theodore ’89 and Jonathan ’91. His own daughter, Elizabeth, is an incoming freshman, and Ullyot acknowledges that his outreach efforts are partly on her behalf. "One of the extraordinary things about Harvard when I was there was the constant contact between students and alumni" through House and College events, he recalls. "I hope Elizabeth and her classmates will have a chance to experience the alumni community the same way I did."
Ullyot, who succeeds James V. Baker ’68, M.B.A ’71, of Surrey, England, will serve as HAA president until Harvard’s 354th Commencement, next June. Between now and then, he also hopes to help dispel what he sees as two widely held myths about the association.
The first, Ullyot says, is the perception that HAA staff and officers "are fundraisers in disguise." In reality, he explains, the HAA focuses on delivering services rather than soliciting donations.
Even more prevalent is the idea that the HAA serves only alumni of Harvard College. Not true, says Ullyot. "We’re reaching out to people from all of Harvard’s schools," he emphasizes. "This is truly a University alumni association."