Q & A with UConn’s Alumni Trustees

Grace Merritt

5 min read

We talked to current alumni trustees Bryan K. Pollard ’85 (CLAS) and Jeanine Armstrong Gouin ’87 (ENG) about why they serve, what it’s like, and their favorite memories of UConn.

 

Q: What made you want to run for alumni trustee?

Bryan: It was my passion for UConn. I had such a great experience as a student, and I enjoyed working with the former Alumni Association and other committees I’ve served on over the years. It was the natural progression of my service to the University. I thought it would be a great way to work with some phenomenal people and I have not been disappointed. I really wanted to make sure that the University continued to be a vibrant place and a place that affords students the opportunities that I was afforded. I wanted to be part of making sure the University is getting the recognition its due as a real asset not only for our state, but also for our country and the world.

Jeanine: I didn’t know an alumni trustee was a thing until I got a phone call from one of my contacts at the School of Engineering. She said ‘Jeanine, do you mind if we nominate you for the alumni representative of the Board of Trustees?’ It took me very little time to go from ‘Yes, I’ll do this’ to ‘Oh my gosh, I really want to do this’ because the more I found out about it, the more I thought it would be wonderful to be a part of this. Fast forward four years later, and it has been an absolute honor.

 

Q: What work do you do behind the scenes in your trustee committees?

Jeanine: Bryan and I are both on at least five committees each. There’s a tremendous amount of information exchanged to inform committee members so we can make well-informed, good decisions. By the time you get to full board meetings, a huge amount of coordination, analysis, and vetting of programs, ideas, and finances has been done at the committee level. Almost every committee meets once a month outside of the trustee meeting with significant preparation beforehand. Multiply that by several committees and it’s a lot. Board members are amazingly available and willing to roll up their sleeves to do the work.

Bryan: Echoing what Jeanine was saying, there are so many things that go into running a University that I had no clue about before becoming a trustee. Jeanine and I are both on the joint audit committee. I’m also on the student life committee, which is really interesting and phenomenal, as well as the committees on diversity, equity, and inclusion, and honorary degrees.

 

Q: What has been your proudest moment as a trustee?

Bryan and Jeanine both said the moment that stood out to them was when about 100 students came to a Board of Trustees meeting to advocate for increased mental health services at the University.

Bryan: They were just so compelling and impassioned. They spoke from the heart about their experiences, the need they had, and the pain that a lot of them were in.

Jeanine: The students were so courageous. They were amazingly honest. They came in and they were respectful and passionate. We were in the middle of our agenda when the students came in. It was absolutely unsaid and understood that our job was to be there to listen and then to take information to heart and do what we could do moving forward.

Bryan: I was so proud of the way the board reacted, the way we stopped everything to listen. About 30 to 40 students spoke for two hours. There were a lot of people fighting back tears. I thought, ‘Wow, we are really making a difference.’ And if we can help address some of the concerns that the students are expressing, then that’s what being a trustee is all about and that’s why I’m here.

Jeanine: Someone might come to the conclusion that being on the Board of Trustees is all about dollars and cents. It’s about so much more. There’s so much empathy and care for all parts of the university.

 

Q: What inspired you to start giving back to UConn?

Jeanine: I was in my 20s when I was approached by someone I had previously worked with who was also a UConn grad. He told me about an advisory board that was looking for members for what was, at the time, the School of Civil Engineering. They were hoping to have a little more diversity because there were no women on the board at that point. I was flattered and said, ‘Sure I’d love to.’ That was the bug that bit me. I’ve been involved ever since. I have so much gratitude for what UConn gave to me all those years ago. I just feel so strongly about giving back in ways that I can. I can’t give a million-dollar endowed scholarship, but I can do a lot of other things. If other people realized how rewarding it was to maintain that connection, I think more people would be involved. Giving back feels right and it’s an honor to be able to do it.

Bryan: I’d been active in the Student Alumni Association as an undergrad. As I started my career in Connecticut, I got reconnected with my UConn friends and people who were active and someone suggested I come to a meeting or two of the former Alumni Association. Then one thing led to another. It was something that I wanted to do because I felt UConn had given me so much as a student and was responsible for so many positive things in my life. I wanted to make sure the current students had that experience and that people who don’t really know that much about UConn learned about how great it is.

 

One last question: What’s your favorite UConn memory?

Jeanine: It was a spring day. I was walking outside and it was beautiful. I love the spring, the flowers, and the smell of the air. I had just taken one of my final exams and had a good feeling about it. I remember feeling overwhelmed by a new sense of ‘I’m gonna be OK, I’m gonna do well, I’m gonna do this!’ I went into engineering in the early 1980s when girls rarely went into that field. My high school guidance counsellor tried to talk me out of it. I came from a place where I didn’t know if I could make it. Society at the time didn’t really give young girls a whole lot of encouragement to pursue engineering. I just remember this one moment in time feeling like I was given the ability to solve problems and do good things. I was going to graduate and I was going to be successful. It was a feeling that UConn had given me something that I could carry within me for my whole life. It felt like the most amazing gift that I had received. And no one could ever take it away from me because it was inside of me. From that day forward I just felt like I owned this, it’s mine, and I can take it and do good things with it. The feeling has stayed with me for my whole career.

Bryan: Jeanine, I absolutely love that story. I had the good fortune of winning a scholarship and internship/summer job was sponsored by what was then the Office of Student Minority Affairs.  I was invited to attend a reception in the Wilbur Cross Library for the scholarship recipients.  The program coordinator told me that Alice Melville ’83 (CLAS), one of the other recipients, would be attending the reception, that she was from my home area, and that perhaps we could carpool to our summer jobs. When I arrived at the reception, I checked in and said to the attendant, ‘My name is Bryan Pollard and I was told to meet Alice Melville here.’ And they said, ‘Okay’ and pointed out Alice, who was across the room. And I looked at her and I thought, ‘I’m going to marry her. She’s totally out of my league. I don’t know how this is going to work but it was love at first sight.’ And I went over and I met her. As beautiful as she is, she was so very, very nice and kind. We became friends for a couple of years and then started dating, and now we’ve been married for 31 years!

 

Find more information about Alumni Trustees.

 

 

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