The UNC Bear family seems to have a unique knack for giving back.
Alumni teach and provide healthcare in their communities. They perform research that improves quality of life. They advocate for those whose voices are not heard. They run businesses on a foundation of ethical practices. They create scholarships and endowments.
And even in hard times, they give directly back to UNC with their time and knowledge, supporting and inspiring current Bears.
“Even through the hardship so many have faced this year, alumni from across the country have stepped up in support of UNC, providing career insight through virtual classrooms and programs, sharing career opportunities with students and fellow alumni, giving to the funds and programs they care about most, and connecting with fellow alumni locally through regional groups,” says Cristóbal Garcia '08, associate director of Alumni Relations. “Alumni volunteers show us that as UNC Bears, we are in this together.”
Ronna Sanchez and Jill Trotter are two of those alumni volunteers who continue to give back to the university that shaped them.
Ronna Sanchez ’80, ’82, ’88, ’00, an Honored Alumna and a Long Island, N.Y., native, came to UNC after she heard her father tell her that the farthest she could go for college was Colorado. He maintained that he said “Ohio,” but by the time they realized the miscommunication, Sanchez had missed the deadlines to apply anywhere else.
She chose UNC, ended up working as a Resident Assistant, met her husband, married him in Centennial Hall on campus, got a job as a Hall Director, and then worked other staff jobs.
“I loved going to school, and so while I was there, I thought it'd be a crime to be on a college campus and not go to school,” she says. “I ended up getting my master's and then my Ph.D.”
In addition to taking classes, she advised the University Program Council, helping those students put on events and grow outside the classroom.
“We did budgeting and marketing and public speaking,” she says. “We worked on different skills so that they'd be better prepared for when they graduate.”
She stayed in various roles at the university, including as director of the University Center, until a leukemia diagnosis forced her to leave that role to protect her immune system. When the opportunity then arose to serve on the Alumni Board, still impacting students and giving back to UNC, she took it.
Highlights of serving on the Alumni Board, for Sanchez, included reviewing scholarship and Honored Alumni applications each year — seeing what Bears are capable of accomplishing. She also helped write the letter to the Colorado state legislature promoting the proposed Campus Commons.
“Giving back” within a community isn’t an empty phrase for Sanchez. When she needed a bone marrow transplant, her friends hosted a bone marrow drive on UNC’s campus. The blood bank sent 50 test kits. Then ended up needing 200.
“That just shows how much people care about each other at UNC,” Sanchez says.
She also gives back to other initiatives she cares about in the community, writing grants for Greeley’s Salida del Sol Academy, and volunteering with the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society and with organizations that do bone marrow drives.
For alumni interested in becoming more engaged, Sanchez recommends several paths: Attend events. Tell prospective students about UNC. Connect with people wearing Bear gear at the airport or around town. Share UNC events and initiatives on social media. Encourage fellow Bears to get involved.
“I would just encourage alumni to get involved with UNC in big ways, small ways,” she says. “I think any alum would probably agree that they got a lot from UNC, and so I think that's important to give back.”
There was never a time Jill Trotter ’87 wasn’t a Bear. She’s the daughter of two UNC graduates, including an Honored Alumnus. She grew up attending UNC events and saw the name of the university change to the University of Northern Colorado and the colors change from purple and gold to blue and gold.
Her mom, Barbara Herdman, can still tell you endless stories about the old days during a stroll around Central Campus. Her dad, the late Donald Herdman, has two UNC scholarships in his name.
Like Sanchez, Trotter married a fellow Bear, and after graduation and a few years in Denver, they came back to Greeley. Trotter started volunteering with her sorority, Alpha Phi, teaching members how to create the image they wanted to portray of themselves, putting her Communications degree to work.
She did that for more than 20 years, eventually stepping down and then being asked to join the Alumni Board, becoming its chair in 2018. In that position, she, like Sanchez, helped raise funding for the Campus Commons (and her husband’s company won the roofing contract — he was thrilled, Trotter says, to give back to his alma mater in that way), and continues to work on many other initiatives.
Trotter says it’s especially satisfying to provide students the resources they need to succeed, no matter their backgrounds.
“I have followed so many students into their alumni life, and it's been really gratifying to watch them grow so much at UNC,” she says.
She makes decisions to volunteer “if my heart’s really in it,” she says.
“We really believe in UNC in so many different ways,” Trotter says of herself and her husband. “They (UNC) look after each and every student, because of the smaller classes, the smaller size.”
In her role as Alumni Board chair, she enjoys being able to spread positive news and answer questions about UNC via her own network.
“I like being known as a resource for UNC,” she says. “I like being known as a light for the university.”
Get Involved with the UNC Bear Network
Building community comes naturally to UNC Bears. With the help of the Bear Network, you can find your home in a new city, strengthen your career connections or share UNC's spirit of service in your hometown. Connect to your UNC community today.
Know of a volunteer we should honor?
The 2021 Honored Alumni Awards are a great way to recognize outstanding alumni professionals and volunteers. UNC is accepting nominations through November 20, 2020.