Alumni Relationships

Alumni Relationships

Thomas William Wakefield


Development of strong relationships with alumni is critical to educational organizations, including academic departments of surgery. This chapter examines alumni relations from five differing perspectives, two focused on surgical alumni and three relevant to institutional needs more generally. Interviews with key individuals involved in alumni engagement provide the basis for this work.


Dr. Frederick A. Coller served on the faculty of the University of Michigan (UM) from 1920 until his retirement in 1957. He was chairman of the Department of Surgery at Michigan from 1930 until 1957. While departmental chair, Coller also served as President of the American College of Surgeons in 1948. In 1946 and 1947, former residents convened to discuss ways to demonstrate appreciation for residency training.1 Thus was born the idea of the Frederick A. Coller Surgical Society. The society was formed on October 20, 1947, commemorated in a letter to 33 former residents. In the spring of 1949, it was decided to hold an annual dinner at the time and place of the American College of Surgeons annual meeting; the first meeting
of the Coller Surgical Society took place on the sixth floor of the University Club in Chicago, October 19, 1949. This was the meeting Dr. Coller was to be installed as President of the American College of Surgeons. Dr. Coller began a tradition, an annual address concerning the affairs of the Department, essentially a state of the Department address.

Subsequent dinners were held in Boston in 1950, San Francisco in 1951, New York in 1952, and Chicago in 1953. In 1954, the meeting occurred in Atlantic City, New Jersey. Until 1954, the meetings were get-togethers of surgeons, residents, and friends of Dr. Coller. At the 1954 meeting, a decision was made to start clinical meetings to occur the week before the yearly meeting of the American College of Surgeons. The first clinical meeting occurred in Ann Arbor, October 1955.

From the beginning, the Frederick A. Coller Surgical Society became a vehicle for establishing ongoing, inclusive relationships between surgeons trained by a Coller-trained surgeon. At a typical meeting, former trainees, current faculty, and current trainees (most with their spouses or significant others) exchange knowledge and cultivate friendships. From informal social gatherings to the formal scientific program to the ending banquet, the society brings together many diverse individuals who have trained at Michigan or have been trained by a Michigan-trained surgeon. The Frederick A. Coller Surgical Society has been very successful keeping the Michigan family together.

The Coller Society has given out a number of awards over the years to trainees which have spearheaded academic careers. The Jobst Award for Research in Vascular Surgery, the Resident Research Award, and the Coller tour program are three such awards. The author was fortunate to win the Jobst Travel Award as a trainee in 1982 and, during the Coller tour in 1984, was able to visit three institutions as a chief resident in General Surgery, the University of Chicago (with Chris Zarins, Bruce Gewertz, and George Block), the Mayo Clinic (with Jeb Hallet, Peter Gloviczki, and Larry Hollier), and Washington University (with Brent Allen and Greg Sicard). Friendships with these surgeons have lasted to the present time.

In the past 5 years, members of the Coller Society decided to form a Foundation, whose purpose “is to provide surgical education and conduct medical research and to implement programs to accomplish these ends.” Based on donations from members of the Society, the Frederick A. Coller Foundation now presents a traveling award. The Foundation reinforces the idea that Coller Society members see real value in the Coller Surgical Society. It is a prime example of how to engage surgical alumni. Other important alumni organizations in the Departments of Surgery and Cardiac Surgery include the Reed Dingman Society in Plastic Surgery and the John Alexander Surgery in Thoracic and Cardiac Surgery.


The Michigan Section of Vascular Surgery has a long history of reaching out to alumni via a yearly alumni dinner at national Vascular Surgery Society meetings. James Stanley, Professor Emeritus of Surgery and the head of Vascular Surgery for 29 years, organized these dinners in the late 1970s. In 1987, when Vascular Surgery became an independent section in Surgery, the Section began to host these annual dinners.

The first formal Michigan Vascular Surgery dinner was held in Toronto, Ontario. All Vascular Surgery faculty and trainees, including the Vascular Surgery fellows and General Surgery residents interested in vascular surgery or involved in vascular research, were invited. In addition, prior faculty who had left Michigan and were at other institutions were also invited, along with surgeons from Europe and South American who had spent time in research at Michigan. Spouses were included in these dinners. In the first few years, these dinners were held in Chicago (at the top of the John Hancock Building), Manhattan (at the World Trade Center), Los Angeles (at the Hotel Bel-Air), New Orleans (at Commander’s Palace), and Washington DC (the Willard Hotel).

Dinners continue today, now at national meetings of the parent organization, the Society for Vascular Surgery. After socializing, attendees are encouraged to discuss current work. Additionally, there often is a member of the University of Michigan Department of Surgery and members of the University of Michigan Samuel and Jean Frankel Cardiovascular Center Development team, who attend and make contact with alumni who may want to be more involved in supporting their surgical “alma mater.” Alumni of the Section of Vascular Surgery have been very generous over the years as a result of close alumni engagement. The Section has benefitted greatly from these relationships which have led to seven endowed professorships, four endowed lectures, one endowed research fellowship, a number of other endowed educational funds, and yearly support of research laboratories.

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May 5, 2022 | Posted by in GENERAL SURGERY | Comments Off on Alumni Relationships

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