For Rita Pietropinto-Kitt, the decision to become an alumni leader was an obvious one.
The new Columbia Alumni Association (CAA) board chair was very involved during her time at Columbia College and the School of the Arts—holding positions as senior class president, resident assistant and director, and orientation coordinator—and knew that she wanted to stay involved with the University.
"It went hand in hand with my nature," she told The Low Down. "I had such a love for Columbia. I loved every moment that I was a student there. I wanted to stay integrated and connected with the place that gave me so many resources and opportunities so transitioning from a passionate student to a committed alumni volunteer seemed natural. It was a way to stay close and give back to Columbia."
Pietropinto-Kitt got her foot in the door as the student representative on the Columbia College Alumni Association (CCAA) board, shifting to a vice president for young alumni initiatives role after graduation.
(Pietropinto-Kitt pictured in 2016 with husband Tom Kitt '96CC and two of their children)
"It was quite an eye-opener for me to have an inside glimpse of these alumni leaders who were asking important questions about student life, student wellness, academics, and networking opportunities," she said of her introduction to the CCAA. "I was inspired to see alumni so committed to dedicating their time and talents to the current needs and shaping the future of Columbia. I wanted to be a part of that endeavor."
Now as CAA board chair, Pietropinto-Kitt sees her volunteerism as a way to support both her specific Columbia Schools and the University alumni community as a whole.
"I really take to heart what [CAA President Donna MacPhee '89CC] speaks to about the duality of the role," she said. "We have a unique opportunity at Columbia to be part of a specific School, immersed in our own disciplines, but then able to harness the vibrancy and resources of a greater University. It's a remarkable and stimulating environment. Being part of the CAA was a very natural progression for my volunteer efforts, and another way that I could serve my undergraduate School, graduate School, and, in turn, the University as a whole."
Pietropinto-Kitt added that she felt lucky to come on board at the CAA early on and found the organization "fascinating."
"How can a governing alumni body really work toward shaping the concept of one Columbia and creating a synergy between Schools in terms of common goals?” she told The Low Down of her goals when joining the CAA board. "I was very intrigued with and inspired by that idea. What does it mean to embrace your own school identity and then commit to being a University Citizen? What is the common experience? How do we embrace the unity in diversity?
"I am continually in awe of the talents of the Columbia students and alumni across all Schools," Pietropinto-Kitt added. "At a University level, we have a unique opportunity to harness those talents and create networks across disciplines, Schools, professions, and points of interests to further the richness of the Columbia experience for students while on campus and alumni years after they graduate."
(VIDEO: Pietropinto-Kitt speaks on receiving the Alumni Medal in 2016.)
Pietropinto-Kitt encourages all alumni to get involved, regardless of their prior level of engagement with the University.
"There are many ways to get involved," she said. "This is an open door and a community ready to embrace our alumni and students."
The board chair said attending a CAA event is a great way to start.
"It's a wonderful surprise when you come to an event and see how welcoming everyone is," she said. "You can meet staff and make connections."
Pietropinto-Kitt also recommends making known what your specific interests are.
(Pietropinto-Kitt speaks at Columbia Alumni Leaders Weekend 2015)
"Some people are going to love the idea of fundraising because they feel comfortable and can do it without effort because it ties into the work they do," she said. "Some people have young children and don't have a lot of free time, but would love to help plan family events. Some feel deeply connected with the student journey and want to be a mentor to students, host a dinner for incoming students, or provide networking opportunities through their own work."
She told The Low Down there are "ample opportunities," to do all of these things.
"It can be at the alum's own pace," she said. "Our alumni are successful and busy, but I encourage everyone to make one new connection with Columbia. Whether it’s attending an event, being a mentor to a recent graduate, making a welcome phone call to an incoming student, or hosting an event. The personal connections with our alumni is what makes our community strong."
Pietropinto-Kitt looks at volunteering at Columbia as a personal gain.
"I remember I had anxiety about graduating," she said. "It would have been a tremendous loss to leave this community that means so much to me, but [as an alumni leader] I actually don't have to leave, and my connections with Columbia have only deepened over time."