Alumni Association Q&A: Greater Chicago Chapter vice president

Editor’s note: The Alumni Association and a local alumni chapter traditionally co-host a mixer the night before each away football game. Stay updated and follow the Greater Chicago Chapter on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and join the group’s LinkedIn page

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — If you’re one of the thousands of Penn Staters visiting Northwestern for this weekend’s game, Caitlin Bencel can’t wait to meet you.

The 2007 liberal arts graduate serves as vice president of the Penn State Alumni Association’s Greater Chicago Chapter, and she and the group have a busy few days ahead of them.

No worries — they’re ready and thrilled for everything they have planned.

The chapter will host a networking event Thursday night, Oct. 5, and co-host an alumni mixer Friday night at the Chicago Sports Museum — both of which are sold out — with everyone gearing up for Saturday’s game against Northwestern.

Learn how and why Bencel is eager for the weekend, and why she’s inspired to serve as a volunteer leader. Check out the Alumni Association’s Q&A with her below, and visit the Alumni Association’s website to find an alumni group near you.

Penn State Alumni Association: What are your expectations for this weekend, and how long have you been planning for the Penn State-Northwestern game?

Caitlin Bencel: We have been looking forward to the opportunity to host a weekend of events for Penn State alumni and supporters for quite some time. We’ve been discussing ideas for roughly the past year and a half, and we dove into the planning back in March. Our chapter received very positive feedback from the networking event and mixer we hosted for the 2015 Penn State-Northwestern matchup, and we were especially focused on taking this weekend’s events to the next level since Penn State football won’t return to Evanston for several years.

I expect this game to bring together alumni from around the country for a spirited weekend that will be enjoyable for everyone. We are offering a networking happy hour on Thursday as an opportunity for alumni to make connections to further their careers, expand their outreach, and meet new people. Friday night is the pep rally mixer for alumni, supporters, and their families to enjoy. We are hosting it at the Chicago Sports Museum, so attendees of all ages will not only get to experience the excitement of a Penn State event, they’ll also get to have fun with the interactive sports exhibits. There are some special Penn State additions to the museum specifically for our event, which is exciting. Both the happy hour and pep rally have sold out well in advance, so I anticipate excitement to be unlike anything we’ve seen at away games before! Of course, there’s the game on Saturday, and with the Penn State Alumni Association’s official tailgate, the BTN Tailgate show, and the opportunity to also tailgate with supporters before and after the game, so there really is something for everyone this weekend.

Penn State Alumni Association: How much of an opportunity is this weekend for the Greater Chicago Chapter, and what will your messages be for alumni/Penn Staters you meet? And following up, what’s your message when you meet Penn Staters who don’t have any experience or prior knowledge of the Greater Chicago Chapter?

Caitlin Bencel: Any time the team comes to play an away game is an important opportunity for the local chapter in the area because the chapter receives additional exposure. Because the Greater Chicago Chapter is in a major city and our team is doing so well, we have the added benefit of a particularly high interest in visitors traveling here for the game. This provides us a unique chance to showcase the dedication our chapter has had to Penn State and the Chicagoland community.

When we meet Penn Staters who are not aware of the chapter, we highlight the many benefits of becoming a member. The benefits include networking with other Penn State and Big Ten alumni, making a positive impact on the Penn State and Chicagoland communities through fundraising and volunteer events, attending social opportunities like football watch parties and monthly dinners, and having access to football tickets and special merchandise.

New members are a critical part of any organization because they ensure the continuance of the organization. New members are the next generation of volunteers, and they provide new insights into how we can better the chapter. Finding out their interests is the best way of engaging new members to become active within the chapter. For example, when we meet new alumni at the football watch parties, we’ll encourage them to assist with running the 50/50 or welcome table, and if they attend our annual THON fundraiser (THON in the Second City), we’ll ask if they’re interested in helping plan the next year’s event. We can then encourage the members to participate in similar events, and their opportunities for involvement grow.

Penn State Alumni Association: On a personal level, how exciting is it when Penn State football comes to Northwestern and Penn Staters converge on the city? 

Caitlin Bencel: I am truly grateful to have the opportunity to watch my beloved Nittany Lions play less than five miles away from my house and see so many Penn Staters in Chicago. There are nearly 6,000 Penn State alumni in the Chicagoland area, but sometimes it’s easy to feel outnumbered by other Big Ten schools that are closer to the city. This is our weekend to show Chicago and the other schools that Penn Staters travel well and support our teams wherever they may go. I’m excited to see so many Nittany Lions throughout the city and hear “We Are!” along Michigan Avenue.

Penn State Alumni Association: What are some things you’re especially looking forward to this weekend? Seeing the Pep Band, cheerleaders and Nittany Lion? The game? Tailgating? Are there are Chicago-area traditions that you brought with you from Penn State?

Caitlin Bencel: I can honestly say I’m looking forward to everything about this weekend. Thursday’s networking happy hour and Friday’s pep rally mixer will bring in alumni and Penn State supporters from around the country, and it is always a pleasure to meet alumni and hear how the Penn State Alumni Association has impacted their lives after college. The Pep Band, cheerleaders and Nittany Lion will be at the mixer, and they always give me a bit of nostalgia for my days at Penn State; seeing them provides a sense of being back at Beaver Stadium on a game day. The team is going into the game 5-0, so I have a lot of excitement around the possibility of them advancing to 6-0 and seeing it happen in person. I was also at the Iowa game, and watching the Nittany Lions topple two teams who have surprised us with unexpected wins in the past would be a thrill.

We incorporate Penn State traditions into our game watches by playing the popular stadium songs and Blue Band recordings, counting one-armed push ups, and giving out the Citizens Bank buttons. We also have a few talented cowbell and triangle players who bring Penn State traditions to our football game watches for touchdown and first down celebrations. They’ll make guest appearances at the tailgates on Saturday, so if you hear them, be sure to join in on the fun!

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Last Updated October 05, 2017