Earlier this year, the Virginia-Maryland College of Veterinary Medicine’s Alumni Board of Directors elected its next president, Jeff Alexander. 

Alexander grew up in Mechanicsville, Virginia. After high school, he attended Virginia Tech, where he earned a B.S. in Biochemistry and Nutrition in 1994. He then went on to receive his DVM from the college in 1998.

After seven years in private practice in the Richmond area, he furthered his training at Virginia Commonwealth University's (VCU) medical school, receiving a Master of Public Health in 2008. Returning to the veterinary college, Alexander completed a Ph.D. in Biomedical and Veterinary Sciences, specializing in veterinary medical informatics with advisor Jeff Wilcke, in 2015. While in the Ph.D. program, he received several awards for his work related to veterinary information systems and public health research. While in the Ph.D. program, he was named a Stamps Scholar and received several awards.

In his spare time, Alexander enjoys spending time with his wife and young daughter, as well as playing goalie for his rec-level ice hockey team. He is an avid Virginia Tech football and basketball fan.

We recently sat down to chat about his new role, being a Hokie, and what it means to give back as an alumnus.

Can you describe your role as president? 

In some ways, the president simply leads the organization, although many other people do a lot, and I certainly don't want to discount their efforts. The president is the representative leader for the board, and the day-to-day activities include presiding over the meetings, and doing some things that have to do with ceremony, and getting face time with deans and administrators to pass along concerns from alums and from the board itself. 

How long have you been involved in the board?

I've been on the board for six or seven years now. For a while, the board was pretty sparse, just a handful of people, and so Lynn Young, who is retired now, called me up and asked "Hey, Jeff, would you like to be on the board?" and I said "Absolutely! I'd love to be able to serve and give back."

Being on the board helped me get back involved with the college. 

What have you enjoyed the most about being on the board?

On a self-serving level, I like getting to see classmates more frequently than in the past and getting to know some alums I wouldn't ordinarily get the chance to meet because we've graduated too far apart and reasons like that. I enjoy getting to travel to Roanoke and Blacksburg once or twice a year.

On another level, I enjoy helping out with problem solving and increasing alumni participation. 

The most rewarding part has been the camaraderie and the fellowship, using multiple people’s backgrounds, ideas, and thoughts to solve a common problem. 

Why is alumni participation important to you?

When I left school, it was not a top priority to give back or become an active participant as an alum. I had a lot of stuff going on: trying to find a job, house, that sort of thing. But once you sit back, you realize the ways in which the alumni can be stronger as a group. With more participation and the more voices you have, the broader your perspective, and it increases diversity of thought and creative processes. 

A lot of people think that the alumni group is just there to raise money for the school. That's part of it, but from our standpoint, it's not the main part. We would like to find ways for alums to give back with their time, with their expertise, mentoring students and helping out in other ways. Once they get involved in that, they see that there's a benefit both ways: you're helping students in school, but you're also getting benefit from it as well. 

What have you been most proud of from your time on the Alumni Board of Directors?

I'm super proud of my involvement with Connect. Connect is a way for alums to give back to the college, engage in continuing education and mentorship activities. Getting all of that pulled in is a herculean effort—Cassie Wagner and her group have done a great job, and I'm so proud of what they've been able to accomplish. Cassie bounces these ideas off of the board, and we give feedback. That’s made me really proud. 

You've completed your bachelors, DVM, and PhD here: why do you enjoy being a Hokie?

There's nothing like it, right? It's like the catchphrase: "This is home." 

When people ask me, "Oh, when were you in Blacksburg?" my first response is either "Which time?" or "I was there for fourteen years as a student... I'm just a slow learner!" 

Blacksburg is a very special place, and you really get a sense of family when you're there. That really translates out into the real world, too. I'm proud to be an alum and connected to what's going on. 

How can the alumni board help current students?

The first thing that comes to mind is Mentor Day, which is associated with the state VMA.  Getting folks together for this mentorship program is huge. 

We are also involved with the white coat ceremony where we can introduce ourselves to the new students and welcome them to the profession. 

As much as veterinary medicine is about animals, it's about people: that's where you create and foster relationships. If we can get to the students right out of the gate, we can plant a seed that tells them that we're here to help, this organization is here to help any way you can, and once you're out in practice, the alumni association is something you want to be involved in because it's beneficial for everyone.