By Julie Young
In 1988, Virginia Commonwealth University celebrated the 150th anniversary of its founding with an event known as Founders Day. The VCU Alumni Association subsequently started the Alumni Stars program to honor accomplished graduates during the annual celebration. Since 2008, the Alumni Stars ceremony has been a stand-alone biennial event, recognizing graduates from each VCU school who have a record of professional or humanitarian achievements.
Orchestrating the event throughout the years was an energetic VCU alumna, Diane Stout-Brown (B.S.W.’80/SW). To any colleague or graduate who worked alongside her, attended an event or met her in person, Stout-Brown was the real alumni star.
The senior director of VCU Alumni retires Dec. 20 after 30 years of university service. She began her VCU career as assistant director for student/alumni engagement, working her way up to her current position, even serving as interim executive director of the alumni organization.
Her responsibilities have included student programs, alumni engagement, membership and marketing, volunteer development and coordination, and special events development. Before joining VCU, she developed skills in fundraising, special events and programs with nonprofit organizations, including the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation and the American Cancer Society.
Before retiring, Stout-Brown shared some favorite memories and her second-act plans, which include selling real estate.
How did your social work degree help prepare you for relating to alumni?
When I came to VCU, I was a suburbanite who grew up in conservative, homogenous Chesterfield County, Virginia. The School of Social Work and VCU taught me that the world is incredibly multicultural. It viewed others with an open and accepting mind, something I value highly. I felt like I was finally in an environment where I belonged.
Tell us how you transitioned from working at nonprofits into alumni engagement.
My field placement in the School of Social Work was with the Voluntary Action Center at the United Way, where I placed volunteers in a variety of service agencies. It led the way to other positions in nonprofits working with volunteers.
I worked with a good number of grass-roots volunteer boards for the American Cancer Society and other organizations. I enjoyed working with people who gave their time, talent and resources because of a passion or cause they believed in. I wanted to return to my alma mater because of the diversity and open-minded philosophy. When I started, the VCU Alumni Association was a nonprofit, run by a volunteer board with numerous committees. There were very few programs in place and so I had the opportunity to create some wonderful programs to engage alumni and students.
Tell us about your favorite event/moment and what made it memorable.
There are a lot of special memories. I think the most special ones are the ones where I’ve been absolutely frantic and nervous and then things came together at the end. Alumni Stars has been fantastic over the years. I especially enjoyed the years when we allowed alumni to speak from the heart because it put special meaning into the event. It showed how much of an impact higher education made on someone who went on to use their knowledge and gifts to make the world a better place. It was also fun to connect with our School of the Arts faculty and put together interesting entertainment.
The core of your success would seem to be how deeply you care about all alumni. How did you ensure that Richmond Professional Institute graduates were not overlooked through the years?
RPI graduates are extremely devoted and passionate. How can we not support this? This group of alumni has a high regard for their education and the experiences they had at RPI. They thirst for engagement and involvement. They cherish their history and want to be a proud part of VCU today. My role has been to help guide and facilitate projects with them so they can have a lasting legacy. I’ve developed some good friends from this group.
In all of the events you’ve overseen, there must have been a few bloopers or crazy tasks along the way.
Where do I begin? I guess the most memorable is when we were planning an alumni Life member reception at Robertson House. It was to be held before a Jay Leno performance in the Siegel Center. Everything was all set, and then a hurricane came through and there was no power in the city. I had to purchase lanterns and battery-operated lights for the bathrooms. The caterer had to change the menu to cold items instead of hot. It actually turned out to be very nice and certainly gave everyone a conversation topic.
What are your plans and hopes for retirement?
I’m looking forward to giving my 88-year-old parents more of my time. They live independently in their home, and I want them to get the care and attention they gave me over the years. Whenever I was stressed before some event, my mom would always ask if there was anything she could do to help out. She even volunteered to direct traffic when I was coordinating the state tournament of Odyssey of the Mind. Of course, I didn’t take her up on it, but she has given much to me over the years and allowed me to work a full-time job with peace of mind while my kids were little.
VCU has been a huge part of life and now I’m eager to explore other parts of the world. I want to travel, go to museums and concerts, drive to the beach in the middle of the week, read, do crafts, learn to play the violin, hike, organize my house and, of course, take lots of walks with my dog, Andy. Most importantly, I want to enjoy leisure time with friends and family and not have to always be in a rush or worried about not getting something done. I won’t be 100 percent retired because I have obtained my real estate license and will be working as a Realtor, helping people find their dream homes.
What is the one thing you would like to leave with the VCU Alumni staff as you start the second journey of your life?
Our staff is so amazing that I don’t know of anything they don’t have already. I would say to keep the alumni close, always stand behind them while they shine and always embrace VCU for the institution that it is. You are ones who have the benefit of having the most insight when it comes to VCU’s alumni. Don’t hesitate to stand up for them and to help others understand that even things that seem insignificant can blossom into much, much more.
What would you like your legacy to be?
I think my legacy has been ensuring that the RPI alumni were able to get their sculpture and history wall installed on campus so they will be remembered in perpetuity. Bob Lindholm (B.S.’50/H&S) was the first RPI Alumni Council chairman. When Bob became ill and was dying, I asked his daughter to let him know I was thinking of him. His daughter sent me an email telling me what Bob had dictated to her on his death bed. He dictated the sweetest note and as I think about it, I can still hear his gentle voice. He was so appreciative of me, VCU and the support we had given RPI during his term as chairman. He was extremely grateful that we were able to get the sculpture “Tableith” (to honor RPI) installed. I know Bob would be so proud today if he could see the “RPI” on VCU’s seal.
My other legacy would be the Alumni Stars program, which grew from Founders Day in 1988 into a university tradition that has honored more than 250 alumni who are stars in their professions.
VCU has been a grand journey. I am forever grateful to my VCU family and all of the alumni I have met along this journey. Please stay in touch and feel free to reach out to me at firstname.lastname@example.org.