Young alumni give back through service to the U

Three recent graduates reflect on the transformative role that the University of Miami has played in their lives, and how this fuels their commitment to give back to their alma mater.
why we volunteer collage
From left, Melissa Jordon, Brianna Hathaway, Austin Payne

’Canes for life

Melissa Jordon, B.A. ’14, J.D. ’16, recalls her first impressions of the University of Miami: “Everyone was walking to their classes, teachers were having lessons outside, it was just so picturesque and perfect—it was like being in a movie.”

The University checked all her boxes and more. It had a competitive 3+3 Program, offering her an accelerated track to obtain her bachelor’s degree and juris doctorate. It also had a stellar football program, much to the excitement and approval of Jordon's father. But perhaps most significantly, she found in the University a tight-knit community of people dedicated to helping and uplifting one another.

“A very unique thing about the U and its culture is that people want to help each other to succeed,” she said.

That fellowship extended itself to the University’s robust alumni network. Her first job was with a fellow alum. Again, when applying for jobs after law school, her connection with the U was a bonding point for Jordon and her prospective boss, helping her to land the position.

“There’s just such a commitment to help fellow young alumni succeed,” she said. “A ’Cane for life really does mean a ’Cane for life.”

Inspired by the role that the University played in her life, she wanted to give back.

“I wanted to help people succeed in the same way that the University allowed me to succeed—from people I’ve met along the way to the experiences I’ve been able to have—I wanted to pay that forward,” Jordon said.

She got involved with the Young Alumni Leadership Council (YALC), which, according to Jordon, strives “to be a resource for young alumni to stay connected to the U, to engage with their community, and to make an impact in their careers through mentorship, career guidance, and networking, all while promoting the University.”  

She says her work with the council has brought her even closer to the U: “[YALC] enabled me to become further immersed with the University and to maintain relationships with faculty, staff, fellow alumni, and even colleagues in my field—it’s just a wonderful way to stay connected.”

Jordon’s commitment to her fellow young alumni has earned her the recognition of the organization: “I'm just so absolutely thrilled to be the president-elect and to continue serving YALC as the president for the Universitys centennial year. I'm just so excited to be able to celebrate the U and I really want to highlight what a significant milestone this is.”

To those considering getting involved, Jordon says: “Go to events. Connect with people. There are so many resources that you may not be aware of. You just have to make that first step, that one leap, and the rest should just fall into place. Everyone is here to help their fellow alums, but they need to know who you are in order to do that.”

’Canes care for ’Canes

Brianna Hathaway, B.A. ’16, was first attracted to the University of Miami for its strong athletics program. After attending a soccer training camp as a prospective student, she took a student-led tour of the campus.

While touring the grounds, she was impressed to see that her tour guide seemed to have a genuine camaraderie with fellow students. 

“The idea kind of struck me, like, ‘Oh, even though there might be like 10,000 undergrads, people really do know each other here,’” Hathaway recalled.

Even though her prospects for a college athletic career ended early due to a knee injury, Hathaway still chose to attend the University.

“I felt like everybody embodied the idea that ’Canes care for ’Canes,” she said. “I interpreted the community to be really excited about where they were, students wanted to be engaged and to give back to the school.”

She was inspired to join the student government.

“One of the things that drove me to run for student government was the desire to make a difference in people's lives,” she said. “Because I was so involved in undergrad, it made me want to stay involved as an alumna.”

After graduating, Hathaway joined the Young Alumni Leadership Council (YALC), eventually going on to head the organization as its president.

“The purpose of the YALC is to keep young alumni engaged and to make sure that they know there’s always a place for them at the University, and that the doors are always open to them,” she said.

Hathaway feels privileged to give back to her ’Cane community. “I love giving back, I love being a part of the U, and I love still feeling connected to the University.”

Not only that, but the opportunity provided her with valuable networking opportunities and professional development resources.

“I really value the ability to have these connections, to gain a strong network of individuals, and to know leaders throughout campus as we build a better U and try to make it the best it can be,” she said.

Hathaway says her involvement has only grown her love and appreciation for her alma mater, and she encourages others to get involved.

“One of the biggest benefits you have as an alum is the opportunity for mentorship and networking. Set yourself up for the future by taking advantage of all that the Alumni Association has to offer. We want to help you find a way to succeed in your professional life, not just your university life. To give you the resources to be a mentor, to ask for a job, and to increase your professional wealth by staying connected as a young alumnus.”

“It starts with one person.”

A third-generation ’Cane, Austin Payne, B.B.A. ’15, was raised on stories of the opportunity and promise the University holds for those in its orbit. 

“My grandfather came from nothing, but he was given a football scholarship to attend the University of Miami, and that opened doors left and right for him,” Payne said. “As a result, he became a successful man.”

Payne’s father came to the U from the Midwest, leaving everything he’d ever known behind to become a Hurricane. It proved to be a momentous decision. 

His mother originally attended the University of Florida, but, according to Payne, “she transferred to the University of Miami, where she made lifelong friends, became actively involved, and ultimately met my father.”

Payne said that “Knowing the value and importance of the University in their lives, I always felt a special connection to the University.”

With an appreciation for the role that the U held in his life and the lives of those that came before him, Payne wanted to give back.

“Seeing the impact that the University had on me, I wanted to ensure that it could continue to be a catalyst for others,” he said.

He volunteered his time with various student organizations and found a passion for serving others.

“I had a strong understanding of what I was hoping to achieve out of my time as a student, which was an opportunity to make a positive impact on others, but it became more than I had ever imagined,” he said.

He realized that the University of Miami community encompassed more than students, faculty, and alumni. It also included those who root for the institution, those who want to see it thrive, and those who have been positively transformed by its existence.

“I realized a lot of people consider themselves part of the community simply because they had a son or a daughter, or a grandson, or a granddaughter that went to the University, or they’re invested in seeing it succeed—at the end of the day, we’re one large community, we’re Hurricanes,” he said. “It deepened my appreciation for what it means to be a part of this community. It made me more passionate, and more invested in wanting to give back.”

He joined the Young Alumni Leadership Council (YALC) to mobilize young alumni to be an even greater force for good on behalf of the University.

“There’s many stories like mine, except all are different in their unique ways, but the University makes it possible for incredible things to happen in the world,” he said. “When you think about it, it starts with one person and that multiplies to ten people, then a hundred, and then a thousand. It keeps growing; you get a lot of change makers that make a difference, hopefully for the better, but it starts with one person—that’s all it takes.”

Discover all the ways you can volunteer for the U

Alumni and friends of the University find many different ways to volunteer with and for the U: on-campus, in their communities, in-person, or virtually.

Get involved in any of the U.S.-based or international ’Cane Communities, sign up to host a networking event in your area, share your professional expertise as a speaker or panelist, mentor students, or nominate yourself or a fellow ’Cane for a volunteer leadership role.

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