Duan Hobbs, C'13, SPCS Alumni Association President

April 22, 2021
SPCS Alumni Association president encourages alumni engagement in SPCS experience

Interviewed by Olivia du Bois, ’22

Duan Hobbs, C’13, out-going president of the SPCS Alumni Association Board of Directors, shares insights into how SPCS students and graduates can engage with the alumni association. In this Q&A session, Hobbs describes his background and role at SPCS, explains how to get involved with alumni association events or the board, and details how the board and the alumni association have adapted to pandemic times.

du Bois: Can you tell me a little bit about yourself and your time at SPCS?

Hobbs: Sure. So, I graduated from the Weekend College back in 2013 with a bachelor’s degree in Liberal Arts. I’m currently serving on my second year of my second term on the board (of the alumni association). Last year, I was the vice president. I’m currently the president. I work at Columbia Gas of Virginia. I’ve been there roughly six years as a major accounts manager. My wife, Kesia, and I have two kids, Jaiden, 20, and Kingston, 11.

And what do you do as president of the alumni association?

I guess it depends on who you ask, but I guess my prominent role is really to be the leader of the board, similar to a CEO of a company. I try to lead as a coach. I do the normal stuff, you know, facilitate meetings for the board of directors and the executive board. But as president, I really try to bring the team together. That’s why I look at it as being a coach, as much as anything. Part of the responsibility of a coach is to put the players in the right place to succeed. And that’s really my goal of serving as president: making sure our team is as effective and efficient as we possibly can be.

Do you have a coaching background outside of SPCS?

Well, I have coached my daughter in basketball for about four years when she was about nine through 13. I also coached my son when he was five and six years old. And I used to coach football, as well, for a couple of years. So, nothing major, you know, just recreational coaching. But it does teach you a lot, especially with the five- and six-year-olds. The football team members were 13 and 14, so you can really talk to them like adults, but when you’re coaching five- and six-year-olds, you really have to simplify it, knowing that their attention span is about 30 seconds. You have to be nimble, and you have to simplify everything you’re trying to do. But it’s really rewarding seeing those kids get better each week.

It must really help to have that coaching background for a position such as this.

Yeah, it definitely doesn’t hurt. I try to use everyone’s strengths and help support their weaknesses. But that’s kind of my outlook on it.

What function does the alumni association have at SPCS?

What we’ve been focusing on is really engaging with students and alumni. That’s probably our 1A goal. 1B is promoting scholarship. We do fundraisers, and we give back a little chunk of change to the university to go toward scholarships. In this COVID-19 environment, engagement is more important than ever, I would say. Since we can’t meet in person, and we can’t have our typical events, we’ve transitioned to the virtual events route to keep that high level of engagement. Because the engagement and fundraising kind of go hand-in-hand, right? You want to keep people engaged, so they’re more apt to give is kind of the nuts and bolts of it.

Speaking of engagement, who can serve on the board, and how do they get to be in those positions?

So, any graduate of an SPCS degree or certificate program is eligible to be on the board. There is a process. You can nominate yourself; you can nominate a peer or someone that you think would be great on the board. They will submit the nomination. In the March-April timeframe, our governance committee will prepare a ballot, and we vote on who we accept as new board members.

Is it just the board that votes for the new board members?

Correct, yes. Kind of a natural progression is if a student is part of the SPCS Student Government Association (SGA). We’ve gotten a lot of post-SGA members on the board of the alumni association. So, hopefully we can beef up that feeder system. So, if there’s still some interest in volunteerism and supporting alumni once students graduate, we would love for them to be a part of the SPCS Alumni Association Board of Directors.

What kind of benefits do SPCS graduates get through the alumni association?

So, it’s really like you’re just continuing to be a student in a sense, because you can still take advantage of the UR campus and career services. If you’re a graduate, you may want help revising your resume or you’re looking for another job; Career Services is available. If you want to continue your education, the Osher Institute is available and, I believe, certain SPCS classes are at a reduced rate. And I don’t know if I mentioned the access to Boatwright Library. So even though you’ve graduated, technically, you still have a pretty large use of the facilities at UR.

It sounds like it's really an extension of the SPCS/Richmond community a little bit.

Correct. It very much is.

What kind of opportunities for involvement in the alumni association are there for graduates?

So, we're always looking for ideas from our alumni, right? As a board, it’s roughly 16, 17 of us. But we also want to know what do the alumni and current students want to do? So, we’re always looking for ideas for new events, especially in this virtual environment we’re in. We’re also looking for volunteerism whether it’s assisting at one of our events — and this would be more of the in-person events under normal circumstances. They’re welcome to attend our monthly meetings. 

And there’s also, if they’re thinking about, “I just want to put my name in the hat, if the alumni association needs me,” they can go on the website and there’s a get involved online form they can complete, and someone will reach out to them. In addition, they can be on the board of the alumni association. Ultimately, that’s what we would like. But if they don’t want to make a time commitment or effort commitment, they can pop in and help us when we have our events.

Do you have a personal favorite special event that the alumni association puts on?

Yeah. So, I would say there’s two. Last year, we were able to do our first Red Zone Homecoming mixer behind the end zone of the football game for homecoming. Traditionally, we would do kind of the standard tailgate in the Robins Center parking lot. But we took it to another level last year where we invited alumni to join us in the tent. We got sponsors for that event to help offset some of the cost. And it turned out to be a really good event. We received some fantastic feedback, and I think roughly somewhere between 40 and 50 folks attended. So, we had planned to do that again this year, but obviously with COVID-19 we were unable to. 

And I will say the second is our brewery event. We do these as a fundraiser, or — I spoke earlier about the scholarship dollars — that's one way we can get the scholarship dollars to donate back to the university. We’ve been doing this for, I believe, two or three years. Our brewery events started at Hardywood Park Crafter Brewery and then transitioned to Kindred Spirit Brewing. We attempt to coordinate timing of the event with UR Here Giving Day. We use it twofold: one, as engagement and, two, as the fundraiser. So, those are my two favorite events.

You’ve mentioned COVID-19 a little bit, but what does the alumni association look like now, during pandemic times?

So, this year we made a decision to work through the summer. Typically, we don’t have meetings in the summer, but with half of the board being in their first term, we thought it made sense to acclimate them and start building some momentum.

And then we found out the rest of the year we wouldn’t be meeting in person. That posed a challenge. So, we’ve been meeting every month via Zoom. In lieu of the in-person events, we have had virtual events almost every month, kicked off with Shelby Driskill and Dr. Lauranett Lee. They did a virtual presentation on their research on the Westham Burial Grounds. We’ve done a Kahoot UR trivia game. And a friend of mine, Katherine Wintsch, was gracious enough to do her presentation about her book Slay Like a Mother. We were able to give away 60 autographed books for those attending. 

So, we’ve still continued to focus on engagement, even though we can’t be in the same room, but we’ve just changed the medium to a virtual platform.

And has attendance been pretty good for that?

I would say yes. Really more than I anticipated. And I continue to tell them, being the board, let’s keep the momentum going. Because, it is a challenge to engage folks when, you know, you can’t do your typical events. So, it has made us think about how we can do things differently.

Hobbs earned a bachelor’s degree through Weekend College in 2013. Weekend College has recently been revamped as our Online Interdisciplinary Studies program, an entirely online bachelor’s degree-completion program.