The Technique sat down with Carli Walker, President of SAA and a South Carolina native, whose first choice college was Tech. A member of Alpha Gamma Delta sorority, Walker is an active presence on campus.
Technique: Where did you first find out about SAA, and why did you decide to join?
Walker: Where I found out is right over at the Campanile. When we have our fall kickoff, we usually have five big locations all around campus. My freshman year, … I saw the Chick-fil-A tent and wanted to get some free food. The Marketing Chair for SAA at the time said, “Let me describe our organization then you can get … all the stuff we have out.” I thought it sounded really cool. I started coming to his marketing planning meetings. I was lucky enough to have an advisor, Catie Miller, who saw that I was involved and liked being on the committee. So I applied for chair. I was Marketing Chair (the position of the guy who talked to me at the Campanile), and then I was VP Membership, then President.
Technique: What are your responsibilities as president, and what does the role mean to you?
Walker: It’s a huge honor. We’re the largest student organization on campus; we just hit our goal of 4500 people. We have over 100 events in the year which is crazy. I’ve been president for 3 semesters now, and to be at such a prestigious institute and to be president of the largest organization is amazing. I get to meet with the Board of Trustees for the Alumni Assn. when they have their meetings which are open to some select students like me and the president of SGA, and we can give input on our organizations. We need to respond to them saying, “These were our goals, here’s what we hit, you’re giving us money, and we’re using it for these things.” I’m the face and contact for when other Tech organizations want to partner up with us. We get to do huge events like the Gift to Tech that’s coming up. It’s a lot of pressure, I guess, but it’s a lot of fun.
Technique: What are some challenges you’ve seen or things you’ve improved upon within the organization?
Walker: The very first one was coming in the middle of another president’s term. I felt a strong need to establish myself or be respected. I think I was a little strict at first because I didn’t know what to do with myself, but the team was very supportive. When we started back in the Fall, I sat in on interviews to help our advisors pick new team. The new team is amazing, and they’re a really young team. To us, their age doesn’t matter, if they’re involved and want to do the work, that’s important to us. For our executive team, we do require you to have been on leadership, but that’s the only qualification. We were worried about how young they were, that it might be difficult to train all of these people at one time, so we transitioned our older students—fourth- and fifth-years—and put them into an advisory position. They do have official executive roles, but they’re paired with a younger member on leadership. My personal challenge was I wanted to be able know all the alumni who walk around the house by name like our Board of Trustees, the President/CEO. We have a lot of alumni who are recurring and sitting in on committees and interact with the Board. I really wanted to know their names. I really wanted to develop the team, and I think that’s worked out a lot because they are some of the most mature people and they’re like 19-20 years old.
Technique: Of Tech’s entire campus, 4500 members is a huge portion of that.
Walker: There are just over 4500 members, and that’s students and graduate students. Our actual alumni base is about 145,000. When you look at the breakdown, we have it by college and by year. We look at these numbers to see where we fall off. Typically, sophomores are our hardest retention. That’s what Tech calls the “sophomore slump”; I suppose they get overwhelmed with classes. We did focus groups and market research, but if we can hit our freshmen hard enough, then when they become sophomores, our retention numbers will be better. Instead of trying to target the sophomores who aren’t in it right now, if we get the freshmen, we won’t have that problem next year. It means way more to us if we have 3000 members last year and 4500 this year if 3000 of this year are the 3000 from last year. That means we did something right.
Technique: SAA members can be matched up with an alumni mentor. Did you have a mentor in your first few years at Tech?
Walker: My current mentor is Liz Raisig, a VP for BBC Network. I want to go into marketing and business, and I want to do entertainment and media—I love music, TV and film—so finding someone who is a VP of BBC … she’s so awesome. She’ll take time to call me when she’s in manhattan. The year before, it was Angela Mitchell, who is a prominent tech alum. She and her husband, Jimmy, do a lot of work with the Alumni Assn. The year before that was Nicole Holubar, and she now works at the Alumni Assn. My father went to Clemson but did not graduate. No one else in my immediate family went to college, so I’ll be the first one to graduate. That was a big thing for me that I was happy about, but that means I don’t have any precedence: when I came here, I didn’t know what to get involved in. We have a strong tradition at Tech that your parents went here, you go here, your kids will go here, but I didn’t have that. I needed someone to help me understand how many classes I have to take or what I should get involved in. Nicole stressed that SAA was something I really cared about. It wasn’t the first club I thought of joining when I came here either. Angela was great in helping me start to consider which sort of internship or job opportunities there were for me. I have specific aspirations—entertainment and media aren’t a normal thing … in the business school. She really helped me figure out my passion.
Technique: Do you have any final words for the Tech community, SAA members, and alumni?
Walker: For Tech and for the Tech students, I would say thank you for the best four years of my life. I didn’t know if I was going to be able to go to this school, and now I’m getting to be involved in my favorite organization on campus and be president of it. That’s the biggest honor ever. To the students, even if it’s not SAA—though I encourage every student to be involved in SAA—do something fun. SAA is a professional organization, but we also have so much fun. We do all kinds of spirit days and all kinds of events that really are to help Tech students loosen up. To the alumni, we can never say thank you enough. [I hope] that one day I can be like them, that Tech students will give back to Tech and appreciate the feeling and the tradition of giving back to the school, even if while they were here, they thought it was difficult. It will mold us to be better people.