The Importance of our International Alumni Community

Posted by Miranda Benson, '17 on Thursday, December 1, 2016 at 10:50 PM PST

Father Sundborg visits a group of Dubai-area alumni in December 2013.


When you think of regions where Seattle University alumni tend to live, there are probably a few  that come to mind: Seattle, San Francisco, Portland, maybe even some East Coast cities like New York or Washington, D.C. While these certainly are some of the most popular regions, there are also some that you probably didn’t think of, like Japan, the Middle East, Thailand and China. Despite international students being a growing part of SU’s campus population, they become alumni that, because of their distance, are often overlooked. Vice President for University Initiatives Jim Hembree, PhD, is working to change that.  

Among other strategies, Jim and President Stephen Sundborg, S.J., have been hosting receptions in the Middle East since 2013. “Fr. Sundborg has been building our relationship with international alumni and has been traveling frequently to the Middle East,” Jim explained. Fr. Sundborg and other university officials have visited the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Japan, Thailand and many other countries for meetings, receptions and alumni gatherings. Now, Fr. Sundborg is extending that list to include China and Southeast Asia, home to nearly two-thirds of our international alumni, at a reception in Hong Kong on December 20. Prior to that event, alumni in and near Dubai are invited to a reception on December 12.

Fr. Sundborg’s and Jim’s trips are not just for fun—though they certainly are that. They are part of Seattle U’s larger strategic mission to engage international alumni. “As a Jesuit university that has a diverse perspective, we need to globalize our alumni programs so that our alumni are involved, regardless of where they’re from or where they live. That way, our SU alumni community will really and truly be a global community.”

Not every visit or gathering is an ornate affair, Jim explains, but even the simplest lunch meetings are overflowing with hospitality. “Here, we’re lucky if we can schedule an hour to have a meeting,” Jim noted. “There, you go for lunch, then you go see three or four different sites, then you go into people’s homes. The hospitality of our international alumni is so heartwarming.”

Jim views our international alumni not just as friends and community members, but also as valuable contributors to Seattle U’s alumni network. “Our international alumni are a very accomplished and distinguished group of people,” Jim explained. One example is Dr. Peter Lee, ’63, from Hong Kong who was one of the first international students at Seattle U, as well as the man responsible for introducing Coca Cola to the Chinese market. Dr. Lee recently established SU’s Peter Lee Endowed Lectureship in East Asian Culture and Civilization, which brings to campus experts that explore the impact of East Asian ideologies on modern global issues.

Another key player is Mohamed Alabbar, ’81, founder and chairman of Emaar Properties, one of the largest real estate development companies in the Middle East and the developer of the world’s tallest building,  Burj Khalifa in Dubai.

What Jim values about international alumni is not just their significant accomplishments—it’s how they use their Seattle U experience to better the world around them. “When international students graduate and go back home, they’re changed. So they go back to their home countries and they embody SU’s inclusive values for a diverse global community.”

In an effort to keep our international students engaged as alumni, the Seattle University Alumni Association and the International Student Center are partnering to launch a new International Alumni Chapter. The goal is to engage international students who have stayed in the greater Seattle area after graduating. As the chapter develops, the plan is to extend the chapter into international communities as well. 

Jim says he’s thrilled about what the launch of the new International Alumni Chapter means for this community.  Of what’s to come after that, Jim says, “There’s still so much to explore.”

If you are interested in attending the reception in Dubai or Hong Kong, contact Margaret Fielder at

Dubai Reception
Monday, December 12, 7:00pm
The Palace Downtown Dubai

Hong Kong Reception
Tuesday, December 20, 6:30pm
The Dynasty Club

Interested in leading or contributing to the International Alumni Chapter? Contact Peter Graziani at